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Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse: sound editors talk ‘magical realism’

By Randi Altman

Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t your ordinary Spider-Man movie, from its story to its look to its sound. The filmmakers took a familiar story and turned it on its head a bit, letting audiences know that Spider-Man isn’t just one guy wearing that mask… or even a guy, or even from this dimension.

The film focuses on Miles Morales, a teenager from Brooklyn, struggling with all things teenager while also dealing with the added stress of being Spider-Man.

Geoff Rubay

Audio played a huge role in this story, and we recently reached out to Sony supervising sound editors Geoff Rubay and Curt Schulkey to dig in a bit deeper. The duo recently won an MPSE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing — Feature Animation… industry peers recognizing the work that went into creating the sound for this stylized world.

Let’s find out more about the sound process on Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

What do you think is the most important element of this film’s sound?
Curt Schulkey: It is fun, it is bold, it has style and it has attitude. It has energy. We did everything we could to make the sound as stylistic and surprising as the imagery. We did that while supporting the story and the characters, which are the real stars of the movie. We had the opportunity to work with some incredibly creative filmmakers, and we did our best to surprise and delight them. We hope that audiences like it too.

Geoff Rubay: For me, it’s the fusion of the real and the fantastic. Right from the beginning, the filmmakers made it clear that it should feel believable — grounded — while staying true to the fantastic nature of the visuals. We did not hold back on the fantastic side, but we paid close attention to the story and made sure we were supporting that and not just making things sound awesome.

Curt Schulkey

How early did your team get involved in the film?
Rubay: We started on an SFX pre-design phase in late February for about a month. The goal was to create sounds for the picture editors and animators to work with. We ended up doing what amounted to a temp mix of some key sequences. The “Super Collider” was explored. We only worked on the first sequence for the collider, but the idea was that material could be recycled by the picture department and used in the early temp mixes until the final visuals arrived.

Justin Thompson, the production designer, was very generous with his time and resources early on. He spent several hours showing us work-in-progress visuals and concept art so that we would know where visuals would eventually wind up. This was invaluable. We were able to work on sounds long before we saw them as part of the movie. In the temp mix phase, we had to hold back or de-emphasize some of those elements because they were not relevant yet. In some cases, the sounds would not work at all with the storyboards or un-lit animation that was in the cut. Only when the final lit animation showed up would those sounds make sense.

Schulkey: I came onto the film in May, about 9.5 months before completion. We were neck-deep in following changes throughout our work. We were involved in the creation of sounds from the very first studio screening, through previews and temp mixes, right on to the end of the final mix. This sometimes gave us the opportunity to create sounds in advance of the images, or to influence the development of imagery and timing. Because they were so involved in building the movie, the directors did not always have time to discuss their needs with us, so we would speculate on what kinds of sounds they might need or want for events that they were molding visually. As Geoff said, the time that Justin Thompson spent with us was invaluable. The temp-mix process often gave us the opportunity to audition creations for the directors/producers.

What sort of direction did you receive from the directors?
Schulkey: Luckily, because of our previous experiences with producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord and editor Bob Fisher, we had a pretty good idea of their tastes and sensitivities, so our first attempts were usually pointed in the right direction. The three directors — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — also provided input, so we were rich with direction.

As with all movies, we had hundreds of side discussions with the directors along the way about details, nuances, timing and so on. I think that the most important overall direction we got from the filmmakers was related to the dynamic arc of the movie. They wanted the soundtrack to be forceful but not so much that it hurt. They wanted it to breathe — quiet in some spots, loud in others, and they wanted it to be fun. So, we had to figure out what “fun” sounds like.

Rubay: This will sound strange, but we never did a spotting session for the movie. We just started our work and got feedback when we showed sequences or did temp mixes. Phil called when we started the pre-design phase and gave us general notes about tone and direction. He made it clear he did not want us to hold back, but he wanted to keep the film grounded. He explained the importance of the various levels of technology of different characters.

Peni Parker is from the 31st century, so her robot sidekick needed to sound futuristic. Scorpion is a pile of rusty metal. Prowler’s tech is appropriated from his surroundings and possibly with some help from Kingpin. We discussed the sound of previous Spider-Man movies and asked how much we needed to stay true to established sounds from those films. The direction was “not at all unless it makes sense.” We endeavored to make Peter Parker’s web-slings sound like the previous films. After that, we just “went for it.”

How was working on a film like this different than working on something live-action? Did it allow you more leeway?
Schulkey: In a live-action film, most or all of the imagery is shot before we begin working. Many aspects of the sound are already stamped in. On this film, we had a lot more creative involvement. At the start, a good percentage of the movie was still in storyboards, so if we expanded or contracted the timing of an event, the animators might adjust their work to fit the sounds. As the visual elements developed, we began creating layers of sound to support them.

For me, one of the best parts of an animated film’s soundtrack is that no sounds are imposed by the real world, as is often the case in live-action productions. In live-action, if a dialogue scene is shot on a city street in Brooklyn, there is a lot of uninteresting traffic noise built into the dialogue recordings.

Very few directors (or actors) want to lose the spontaneity of the original performance by re-recording dialogue in a studio, so we tweak, clean and process the dialogue to lessen unwanted noise, sometimes diminishing the quality of the recording. We sometimes make compromises with sound effects and music to support a not-so-ideal dialogue track. In an animated film, we don’t have that problem. Sound effects and ambiences can shine without getting in the way. This film has very quiet moments, which feel very natural and organic. That’s a pleasure to have in the movie.

Rubay: Everything Curt said! You have quite a bit of freedom because there is no “production track.” On the flip side, every sound that is added is just that — added. You have to be aware of that; more is not always better.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated film with a unique visual style. At times, we played the effects straight, as we might in a live-action picture, to ground it. Other times, we stripped away any notion of “reality.” Sometimes we would do both in the same scene as we cut from one angle to the next. Chris and Phil have always welcomed hard right angle turns, snapping sounds off on a cut or mixing and matching styles in close proximity. They like to do whatever supports the story and directs the audience. Often, we use sound to make your eye notice one thing or look away from another. Other times, we expand the frame, adding sounds outside of what you can see to further enhance the image.

There are many characters in the film. Can you talk about helping to create personality for each?
Rubay: There was a lot of effort made to differentiate the various “spider people” from each other. Whether it was through their web-slings or inherent technology, we were directed to give as much individual personality as possible to each character. Since that directive was baked in from the beginning, every department had it in mind. We paid attention to every visual cue. For example, Miles wears a particular pair of shoes — Nike Air Jordan 1s. My son, Alec Rubay, who was the Foley supervisor, is a real sneakerhead. He tracked down those shoes — very rare — and we recorded them, capturing every sound we could. When you hear Miles’s shoes squeak, you are hearing the correct shoes. Those shoes sound very specific. We applied that mentality wherever possible.

Schulkey: We took the opportunity to exploit the fact that some characters are from different universes in making their sound signatures different from one another. Spider-Ham is from a cartoon universe, so many of the sounds he makes are cartoon sounds. Sniffles, punches, swishes and other movements have a cartoon sensibility. Peni Parker, the anime character, is in a different sync than the rest of the cast, and her voice is somewhat more dynamic. We experimented with making Spider-Man Noir sound like he was coming from an old movie soundtrack, but that became obnoxious, so we abandoned the idea. Nicolas Cage was quite capable of conveying that aspect of the character without our help.

Because we wanted to ground characters in the real world, a lot of effort was put into attaching their voices to their images. Sync, of course, is essential, as is breathing. Characters in most animated films don’t do much breathing, but we added a lot of breaths, efforts and little stutters to add realism. That had to be done carefully. We had a very special, stellar cast and we wanted to maintain the integrity of their performances. I think that effort shows up nicely in some of the more intimate, personal scenes.

To create the unique look of this movie, the production sometimes chose to animate sections of the film “on twos.” That means that mouth movements change every other frame rather than every frame, so sync can be harder than usual to pinpoint. I worked closely with director Bob Persichetti to get dialogue to look in its best sync, doing careful reviews and special adjustments, as needed, on all dialogue in the film.

The main character in this Spider-Man thread is Miles Morales, a brilliant African-American/Puerto Rican Brooklyn teenager trying to find his way in his multi-cultural world. We took special care to show his Puerto Rican background with added Spanish-language dialogue from Miles and his friends. That required dialect coaches, special record sessions and thorough review.

The group ADR required a different level of care than most films. We created voices for crowds, onlookers and the normal “general” wash of voices for New York City. Our group voices covered many very specific characters and were cast in detail by our group leader, Caitlin McKenna. We took a very realistic approach to crowd activity. It had to be subtler than most live-action films to capture the dry nonchalance of Miles Morales’s New York.

Would you describe the sounds as realistic? Fantastical? Both?
Schulkey: The sounds are fantastically realistic. For my money, I don’t want the sounds in my movie to seem fantastical. I see our job as creating an illusion for the audience — the illusion that they are hearing what they are seeing, and that what they are seeing is real. This is an animated film, where nothing is actually real, but has its own reality. The sounds need to live in the world we are watching. When something fantastical happens in the movie’s reality, we had to support that illusion, and we sometimes got to do fun stuff. I don’t mean to say that all sounds had to be realistic.

For example, we surmised that an actual supercollider firing up below the streets of Brooklyn would sound like 10,000 computer fans. Instead, we put together sounds that supported the story we were telling. The ambiences were as authentic as possible, including subway tunnels, Brooklyn streets and school hallways. Foley here was a great tool for giving reality to animated images. When Miles walks into the cemetery at night, you hear his footsteps on snow and sidewalk, gentle cloth movements and other subtle touches. This adds to a sense that he’s a real kid in a real city. Other times, we were in the Spider-Verse and our imagination drove the work.

Rubay: The visuals led the way, and we did whatever they required. There are some crazy things in this movie. The supercollider is based on a real thing so we started there. But supercolliders don’t act as they are depicted in the movie. In reality, they sound like a giant industrial site, fans and motors, but nothing so distinct or dramatic, so we followed the visuals.

Spider-sense is a kind of magical realism that supports, informs, warns, communicates, etc. There is no realistic basis for any of that, so we went with directions about feelings. Some early words of direction were “warm,” “organic,” “internal” and “magical.” Because there are no real sounds for those words, we created sounds that conveyed the emotional feelings of those ideas to the audience.

The portals that allow spider-people to move between dimensions are another example. Again, there was no real-world event to link to. We saw the visuals and assumed it should be a pretty big deal, real “force of nature” stuff. However, it couldn’t simply be big. We took big, energetic sounds and glued them onto what we were seeing. Of course, sometimes people are talking at the same time, so we shifted the frequency center of the moment to clear for the dialog. As music is almost always playing, we had to look for opportunities within the spaces it left.

 

Can you talk about working on the action scenes?
Rubay: For me, when the action starts, the sound had to be really specific. There is dialogue for sure. The music is often active. The guiding philosophy for me at that point is not “Keep adding until there is nothing left to add,” rather, it’s, “We’re done when there is nothing left to strip out.” Busy action scene? Broom the backgrounds away. Usually, we don’t even cut BG’s in a busy action scene, but, if we do, we do so with a skeptical eye. How can we make it more specific? Also, I keep a keen eye on “scale.” One wrong, small detail sound, no matter how cool or interesting, will get the broom if it throws off the scale. Sometimes everything might be sounding nice and big; impressive but not loud, just big, and then some small detail creeps in and spoils it. I am constantly looking out for that.

The “Prowler Chase” scene was a fun exploration. There are times where the music takes over and runs; we pull out every sound we can. Other times, the sound effects blow over everything. It is a matter of give and take. There is a truck/car/prowler motorcycle crash that turns into a suspended slo-mo moment. We had to decide which sounds to play where and when. Its stripped-down nature made it among my favorite moments in the picture.

Can you talk about the multiple universes?
Rubay: The multiverse presented many challenges. It usually manifested itself as a portal or something we move between. The portals were energetic and powerful. The multiverse “place” was something that we used as a quiet place. We used it to provide contrast because, usually, there was big action on either side.

A side effect of the multiple universes interacting was a buildup or collision/overlap. When universes collide or overlap, matter from each tries to occupy the same space. Visually, this created some very interesting moments. We referred to the multi-colored prismatic-looking stuff as “Picasso” moments. The supporting sound needed to convey “force of nature” and “hard edges,” but couldn’t be explosive, loud or gritty. Ultimately, it was a very multi-layered sound event: some “real” sounds teamed with extreme synthesis. I think it worked.

Schulkey: Some of the characters in the movie are transported from another dimension into the dimension of the movie, but their bodies rebel, and from time to time their molecules try to jump back to their native dimension, causing “glitching.” We developed, with a combination of plug-ins, blending, editing and panning, a signature sound that served to signal glitching throughout the movie, and was individually applied for each iteration.

What stands out in your mind as the most challenging scenes audio wise?
Rubay: There is a very quiet moment between Miles and his dad when dad is on one side of the door and Miles is on the other. It’s a very quiet, tender one-way conversation. When a movie gets that quiet every sound counts. Every detail has to be perfect.

What about the Dolby Atmos mix? How did that enhance the film? Can you give a scene or two as an example?
Schulkey: This film was a native Atmos mix, meaning that the primary final mix was directly in the Atmos format, as opposed to making a 7.1 mix and then going back to re-mix sections using the Atmos format.

The native Atmos mix allowed us a lot more sonic room in the theater. This is an extremely complex and busy mix, heavily driven by dialogue. By moving the score out into the side and surround speakers — away from the center speaker — we were able to make the dialogue clearer and still have a very rich and exciting score. Sonic movement is much more effective in this format. When we panned sounds around the room, it felt more natural than in other formats.

Rubay: Atmos is fantastic. Being able to move sounds vertically creates so much space, so much interest, that might otherwise not be there. Also, the level and frequency response of the surround channels makes a huge difference.

You guys used Avid Pro Tools for editing, can you mention some other favorite tools you employed on this film?
Schulkey : The Delete key and the Undo key.

Rubay: Pitch ‘n’ Time, Envy, Reverbs by Exponential Audio, Recording rigs and microphones of all sorts.

What haven’t I asked that’s important?
Our crew! Just in case anyone thinks this can be done by two people, it can’t.
– re-recording mixers Michael Semanick and Tony Lamberti
– sound designer John Pospisil
– dialogue editors James Morioka and Matthew Taylor
– sound effects editors David Werntz, Kip Smedley, Andy Sisul, Chris Aud, Donald Flick, Benjamin Cook, Mike Reagan and Ando Johnson
– Foley mixer Randy Singer
– Foley artists Gary Hecker, Michael Broomberg and Rick Owens

Efilm’s Natasha Leonnet: Grading Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

By Randi Altman

Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not your typical Spider-Man film… in so many ways. The most obvious is the movie’s look, which was designed to make the viewer feel they are walking inside a comic book. This tale, which blends CGI with 2D hand-drawn animation and comic book textures, focuses on a Brooklyn teen who is bitten by a radioactive spider on the subway and soon develops special powers.

Natasha Leonnet

When he meets Peter Parker, he realizes he’s not alone in the Spider-Verse. It was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the pair behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.

Efilm senior colorist Natasha Leonnet provided the color finish for the film, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category. We reached out to find out more.

How early were you brought on the film?
I had worked on Angry Birds with visual effects supervisor Danny Dimian, which is how I was brought onto the film. It was a few months before we started color correction. Also, there was no LUT for the film. They used the ACES workflow, developed by The Academy and Efilm’s VP of technology, Joachim “JZ” Zell.

Can you talk about the kind of look they were after and what it took to achieve that look?
They wanted to achieve a comic book look. You look at the edges of characters or objects in comic books and you actually see aspects of the color printing from the beginning of comic book printing — the CMYK dyes wouldn’t all be the same line — it creates a layered look along with the comic book dots and expression lines on faces, as if you’re drawing a comic book.

For example, if someone gets hurt you put actual slashes on their face. For me it was a huge education about the comic book art form. Justin Thompson, the art director, in particular is so knowledgeable about the history of comic books. I was so inspired I just bought my first comic book. Also, with the overall look, the light is painting color everywhere the way it does in life.

You worked closely Justin, VFX supervisor Danny Dimian and art director Dean Gordon What was that process like?
They were incredible. It was usually a group of us working together during the color sessions — a real exercise in collaboration. They were all so open to each other’s opinions and constantly discussing every change in order to make certain that the change best served the film. There was no idea that was more important than another idea. Everyone listened to each other’s ideas.

Had you worked on an animated film previously? What are the challenges and benefits of working with animation?
I’ve been lucky enough to do all of Blue Sky Studios’ color finishes so far, except for the first Ice Age. One of the special aspects of working on animated films is that you’re often working with people who are fine-art painters. As a result, they bring in a different background and way of analyzing the images. That’s really special. They often focus on the interplay of different hues.

In the case of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they also wanted to bring a certain naturalism to the color experience. With this particular film, they made very bold choices with their use of color finishing. They used an aspect of color correctors that are used to shift all of the hues and colors; that’s usually reserved for music videos. They completely embraced it. They were basically using color finishing to augment the story and refine their hues, especially time of day and progression of the day or night. They used it as their extra lighting step.

Can you talk about your typical process? Did that differ because of the animated content?
My process actually does not differ when I’m color finishing animated content. Continuity is always at the forefront, even in animation. I use the color corrector as a creative tool on every project.

How would you describe the look of the film?
The film embodies the vivid and magical colors that I always observed in childhood but never saw reflected on the screen. The film is very color intense. It’s as if you’re stepping inside a comic book illustrator’s mind. It’s a mind-meld with how they’re imagining things.

What system did you use for color and why?
I used Resolve on this project, as it was the system that the clients were most familiar with.

Any favorite parts of the process?
My favorite part is from start to finish. It was all magical on this film.

What was your path to being a colorist?
My parents loved going to the cinema. They didn’t believe in babysitters, so they took me to everything. They were big fans of the French new wave movement and films that offered unconventional ways of depicting the human experience. As a result, I got to see some pretty unusual films. I got to see how passionate my parents were about these films and their stories and unusual way of telling them, and it sparked something in me. I think I can give my parents full credit for my career.

I studied non-narrative experimental filmmaking in college even though ultimately my real passion was narrative film. I started as a runner in the Czech Republic, which is where I’d made my thesis film for my BA degree. From there I worked my way up and met a colorist (Biggi Klier) who really inspired me. I was hooked and lucky enough to study with her and another mentor of mine in Munich, Germany.

How do you prefer a director and DP describe a look?
Every single person I’ve worked with works differently, and that’s what makes it so fun and exciting, but also challenging. Every person communicates about color differently and our vocabulary for color is so limited, therein lies the challenge.

Where do you find inspiration?
From both the natural world and the world of films. I live in a place that faces east, and I get up every morning to watch the sunrise and the color palette is always different. It’s beautiful and inspiring. The winter palettes in particular are gorgeous, with reds and oranges that don’t exist in summer sunrises.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spike Lee on set.

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

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

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

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


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

Patrick J. Don Vito on editing Green Book

By Randi Altman

Universal Pictures’ Green Book tells the tale of an African-American piano virtuoso and his white driver. Based on a true story, this unlikely pair must navigate the Deep South in 1962 for a concert tour during a time most places to eat and sleep were segregated.

This unlikely pairing of the well-educated and sophisticated Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and the blue-collar Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) ends up teaching both men a lesson in understanding and acceptance, and turns into a life-long friendship.

L-R: Viggo Mortensen, Patrick Don Vito and Peter Farrelly

The film was nominated for five Golden Globes and won three: Best Screenplay, Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. The work of the film’s editor, Patrick J. Don Vito, has also been noticed, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing, in addition to an ACE Eddie nomination in the Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy) category.

We recently spoke to Don Vito, who had previously collaborated with the film’s director, Peter Farrelly, known for unapologetic comedy films such as There’s Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber and Hall Pass. Don Vito, whose resume includes other comedies such as Walk of Shame and My Life in Ruins, really enjoyed walking the line between comedy and drama in this film, which he says made for a fun but challenging edit.

Let’s find out more…

How early did you get involved in Green Book?
I got the script back in August of 2017, expressed a lot of interest to Pete and got hired! The movie started shooting right after Thanksgiving, and I began a few days before that. We set up shop in New Orleans, near where they were shooting.

So you were keeping up with camera?
Yes, I would get dailies every day and try to keep up with the footage. I’d cut during the week when Pete was shooting and he would come in on the weekend to look at cuts. We would discuss ideas, and I’d show him alternate cuts. We did that throughout the shoot, and when we were done shooting, we went to Ojai, where Pete lives, and cut there for six weeks. We then came back to Los Angeles to finish — we set up rooms at EPS-Cineworks.

So you were not on set but you were near set.
Yes. I popped in like the first day of shooting and said hello. I don’t think I ever went to the set again.

Do you prefer it that way?
I’m an editor. I like to tell the story. The set is a lot of sitting around, waiting and planning; you shoot for a couple minutes, then you stop and wait. I like to keep working, and in the cutting room it never stops. You’re always trying new things, looking at different takes and seeing what you can create out of something. It’s that process of always being engaged that I like. Every minute I spend on the set, I feel like I am falling behind. It’s different if you’re directing the film. I’ve directed some shorts, and that is fun because you are always busy and engaged.

Were there times when you realized a scene was close, but still needed something additional?
Yes, every once in a while something would come up and I’d say, “It would be great if we had an insert of this so I can bridge these shots together.” Or I’d say, “If there is time, can you get a shot of this?”

They had a second unit go out and get a bunch of insert shots to fill in gaps — driving shots and various things that we needed. That happened out of our discussions and asking, “What if we did that?”

How do you approach editing? Do you watch everything up front and then build selects?
Usually, but It depends on the scene and how I feel that day. I’ll watch everything and get a feel for what the scene is about and what I have available, and I’ll try to keep that in my head. Once the scenes are placed in the bin, it’s easier for me to visually remember where things are.

I’ll break down selects. Then if a scene is for some reason particularly difficult or causing me problems, I may jump around. I may start at the end of a scene and work backwards, or start in the middle and work out from there. It depends. I like switching it up and making my brain work a little differently each time. I try different tricks to kind of keep it fresh for me in my head.

What would an example of a trick be? Are there any scenes within the film that you can point to?
When Tony Lip’s wife, Delores, is reading the letter to her family and the guys are playing poker in the background — that scene was a little long. We had the entire letter being read on camera in the original cut. Then we went back to the table in the kitchen where the guys are playing poker and talking about Tony’s letters. “They’re not bad. You know? Oh, we had an artsy family.”

Originally, the joke was when the female family member says, “I want a letter,” and her husband answers, “Yeah, as soon as you make a meal.” That used to be in the middle of the scene. What I did was have Tony’s wife start the letter then cut over to the table and she’s now off-camera. You’re hearing her continue to read the letter while we are watching the guys play poker. Then we go back for the end of Delores reading the letter and the joke. It became a much better scene, and thanks to the joke it punched you right out into the next scene.

Essentially, it was just a little reorder, which we do once in a while. One thing I try to do with comedy is look at it as a mathematical equation. Say you have three jokes in a scene. You have A, B and C jokes. A is the funniest, B is not as funny and C is the least funny. You may have an idea of what the funniest joke is, but you don’t necessarily know which one it is until you play it for people. Once you have some screenings you know. You don’t want to end a scene on a B or C joke. You want to end on an A joke. So you can try to either remove a joke or try to reorder the scene so that it ends on the A joke. You want to build it from funny, funnier to funniest.

L-R: Patrick Don Vito and Mahershala Ali

This is such a serious topic, but the film’s got funny moments as well. How did you walk that line?
That was probably the most difficult thing about it. You don’t want the jokes to seem like a joke. You want them to come out of a scene naturally — out of the drama, characters or the emotion of the scene. There were a lot of options as far as jokes. At first I cut everything in to see what was working and what seemed too jokey. You start eliminating things that take it to a different type of comedy and you try to keep it more real. That was always the mantra from Pete: “Let’s keep it real. All the comedy needs to come out of the scenes and not seem like it’s too much of a joke.”

Had you worked with Pete before?
Yes, a couple of times. I worked on Movie 43 with him, which was a very different kind of comedy. I also worked on a pilot for him a few years ago called Cuckoo, which was a remake of a British series. It didn’t get picked up.

Do you find that you tend to get pigeonholed as an editor? You are either a comedy editor or an action editor, etc.?
I think that happens to everyone. Absolutely, and it can be tough. Even with this movie, the studio asked for a reference list of people. I think that was because they looked at my resume and saw a lot of comedies.

The movie I did right before this, but isn’t out yet, is a drama called Three Christs. It has some comedic elements but it’s pretty much a drama. I think that gave me a better chance at Green Book. It’s directed by Jon Avnet and stars Peter Dinklage, Richard Gere, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford and Julianna Margulies. It’s a true story, also from the ’60s, about a psychiatrist who has three patients who all think they’re Jesus Christ. He decides to put them in a room together while they are in a psych ward to see what happens. Will they give up their delusions? Will they fight over it? I’ve known Jon Avnet since I was an assistant editor on Up Close and Personal in 1996.

Ok, let’s turn to tools. You use Avid Media Composer. Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share?
It’s not a trick, but when I start a movie I have one of the assistants set up Script Sync, which is really helpful for when you’re in the room with the director and the producers and want to quickly get to different line readings.

Basically, you put the clips on the script itself and you can click on a line and hear every single line reading of that line. I know editors sometimes take every single line reading of dialogue and cut them next to each other in a sequence. I prefer to use Scrypt Sync and make select rolls.

Speaking of assistants, how did you work with yours on Green Book?
Petra Demas was my first assistant, and she was great. She would help organize my room, and when I needed help I could throw her a scene. So she would help me cut scenes now and again when she wasn’t busy.

I had another great assistant named Bart Breve’. He did all the Script Sync work and helped out with dailies with Petra. They would keep me up-to-date with footage to make sure I always had something to work on. Bart was a local in New Orleans, so when I came back to LA, we hired Aleigh Lewis who handled all the visual effects — there are over 400 in the movie.

You assume because it’s a period piece there will be some visual effects, but that’s a lot of shots.
Absolutely. Aleigh helped keep all the visual effects organized. I relied on her to organize the visual effects and show me the new ones as they came in, so I could give notes. Pixel Magic did the visual effects, including the piano playing.

I was wondering about that!
Mahershala Ali is a good actor, but that’s virtuoso piano playing! He did take lessons for a few months from the composer Kris Bowers, who played the piano in the movie. Mahershala learned where to put his hands and how to sit like a classical pianist. Kris would play the music and they’d shoot that, then Mahershala would sit and he would play. Then we’d combine the two into a take. It was mostly head replacement kind of stuff.

What were some of the other VFX shots?
A ton of them were getting rid of modern things in the shots… modern cars, signs, cameras on buildings … that kind of thing. On top of that, the car they were in had a tear in the roof inside the car and it’s supposed to be a brand new 1962 Cadillac. About 85% of the car scenes are visual effects shots. There is an amazing bridge shot where the Cadillacs are leaving NY on the George Washington Bridge. In that shot the blacktop and all the cars are CGI. Pixel Magic took a modern stock shot and created that. It’s pretty impressive.

Fotokem, who processed dailies for us and provided the color correction, even did a few visual effects. When we saw the film in such high resolution during the color correction, we noticed modern elements in some shots that we missed and needed to remove. They took care of that.

Were most of the driving shot greenscreen?
No. It was almost all practical. We drove in and around New Orleans. The only ones that were green screened were when they’re driving in the snow, and still some of them are practical because we actually did get some snow just outside of New Orleans. It started snowing, so they got the camera crew together and went out and shot. Who knew it was going to snow in New Orleans?!

Editor Wyatt Smith talks Mary Poppins Returns, Marvel Universe

By Amy Leland

Wyatt Smith’s career as an editor is the kind that makes for a great story. His unintended path began with an unusual opportunity to work with Mariah Carey and a chance meeting with director Rob Marshall. He has since collaborated on big musicals and action films with Marshall, which opened the door to superhero movies. His latest project — in which he was reunited with Marshall — saw him editing a big musical with a title character who is, in her own Disney way, also a superhero.

Smith’s resume is impressive: Doctor Strange, Into the Woods, 300: Rise of an Empire, Thor: The Dark World, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. When I had a chance to talk with him about Mary Poppins Returns, I first had to ask him how his fascinating journey began.

Wyatt Smith at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere.

Can you talk about what led you to editing?
Some things just happen unexpectedly. Opportunities arise and you just have to hear the knock and not be afraid to open the door. When they were building the now-closed Sony Music Studios in New York City, I knew a lot about computers. Avid was first coming in, and there were all these video engineers who weren’t as savvy with Macs and things like that because they were used to linear, old-school tape editing. I worked in the maintenance department at the studio, servicing online editing suites, as well as setting up their first Avid Media Composer and giving people some tutorials on how to use that.

Then a very odd circumstance came up — they were working on a Mariah Carey concert video and needed an additional editor to work at her house at night (she was working during the day with another editor). My father is in the music business and had ties to Mariah — we had met before — so they thought it would be a comfortable situation. It came out of nowhere, and while I certainly knew, technically, how to edit, creatively I had no idea.

That was my first opportunity to edit, and I never went back to anything else. That was the day. That was it. I started to edit music videos and concerts and little music documentaries. Years and years later that led me to work with Rob Marshall on a music project.

The Tony Bennett American Classic special?
Exactly. I had known the Bennett family and worked with them since Tony Bennett’s “Unplugged.” When Rob was brought on to direct an NBC special celebrating Tony’s career, he wanted to bring his whole film team with him, but the TV network and the Bennett family wanted somebody who knew the music world, and that style of deadline, which is quite different from film.

I was brought in to interview with Rob, and we had a wonderful experience making that show. When it was done, he said, “Next time I make a film, I want you to come along.” To be completely honest, I didn’t believe him. I thought it was very kind of him, and he is a very nice man, but I was like, yeah, sure. In 2008, I think it was the Friday before they started shooting Nine, he called and said, “You gotta get to London.” I immediately quit my job and got on a plane.

I’m guessing the music world was a heavy influence on you, but were you drawn toward movies as well?
I have always been a movie junkie. At an early age, I saw a lot of the big epics, including David Lean’s films — Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India — which just transported me to another place and another culture. I loved that.

That was back in the early VHS days, and I had just about every Bond film that had been released. I watched them obsessively. In high school, my closest friend worked in a video rental store, so we constantly had movies. It was always a huge thing for me, but never in my life did I dream of pursuing it. The language of film was never anything I studied or thought about until I was kind of thrust into it.

What was it like coming into this film with Rob Marshall, after so many years of working with him? Do your collaborations now feel different from when you first started working together?
The most important part is trust. When I first met Rob, aside from just not having any confidence, I didn’t remotely know what I was doing. We all know that when you have your actors and your sets if something’s not quite right that’s the time to bring it up. But 12 years ago, the thought of me going to Rob and saying, “I don’t know if that really works, maybe you should grab a shot like…” I’d never, ever. But over the years we’ve developed that trust. I’m still very cautious with things like that, but I now know I can talk to him. And if he has a question, he’ll call me to set and say, “Quickly put this together,” or, “Stay here and watch this with me,” and he’ll explain to me exactly what he’s going for.

Then, once we reach post, unquestionably that relationship changes. We used to cut everything from scratch and start re-watching all the material and rebuilding the film again. Now we can work through existing cuts because I kind of know his intentions. It’s easier for me to see in the scene work what he’s going for, and that only comes from collaborating. Now I’m able to get the movie that’s in his head on screen a lot faster.

Mary Poppins Returns

You were working with complex animations and effects, and also combining those with elaborate choreography and live action. Was there more preplanning for this than you might normally have done?
I wasn’t really involved in the preplanning. I came in about a month before shooting to mostly to catch up with the schedules of the second unit, because I’m always going to work closely with them. I also went through all the storyboards and worked with visual effects and caught up on their look development. We did have a previz team, but we only really needed to previz two of the sequences in the film — the underwater bath time and the balloon sequence.

While previz gives you methodology, shot count, rough lenses and things, it’s missing the real emotion of the story because it is a video game and often cut like a music video. This is no disrespect to previz editors — they’re very good — but I always want to come in and do a pass before we start shooting because I find the timings are very different.

Doctor Strange

Take a film like Marvel’s Doctor Strange. So much of it had been prevized to figure out how to do it. When I came into the Doctor Strange previz cuts early on, they were exciting, psychedelic, wild and really imaginative, but I was losing actors. I found that something that was running at four minutes wasn’t representing any of the dialogue or the emotional content of the actors. So I asked them to give me stills of close-ups to cut them in. After putting in the dialogue, that four-minute sequence becomes seven minutes and you realize it’s too long. Before we go shoot it, how do we make it something that’s more manageable for the ultimate film?

Were you on set during most of the filming?
There were days where Rob would pull me onto set, and then days or weeks where I wouldn’t even see him. I did the traditional assembly process. Even the film I’m cutting right now, which has a very short schedule, four days after they were done shooting I had a cut of the film. It’s the only way for me to know that it’s working. It’s not a great cut, but I know that the movie’s all there. And, most importantly, I need to know, barring the last day of shooting, that I’ve seen every single frame of every take before they wrap. I need the confidence of knowing where it’s all going. I don’t want to discover any of that with a director in post.

On a project this complex, I imagine you must work with multiple assistants?
When I worked on the second Thor movie, The Dark World, I had a friend who was my first assistant, Meagan Costello. She has worked on many Marvel films. When Doctor Strange came up — I think it was almost a year before shooting that I got the call from the director saying I was in —within five seconds, I called Meagan because of her experience, her personality and her incredible skill set. Toward the end of Doctor Strange, when the schedule for Poppins was starting to lock in, she said, “I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and I’ve always wanted to work in a music hall.” I said, “We can make that happen.”

Thor: The Dark World

She is great at running the cutting room, taking care of all of my little, and many, prima donna bugaboos — how things are set up and working, technically, cutting in surround, having the right types of monitors, etc. What’s also important is having someone spiritually and emotionally connected into the film… someone I can talk to and trust.

We had two second assistant editors on Mary Poppins once we were in post — two in the US and two in London. It’s always interesting when you have two different teams. I try to keep as much consistency as I can, so we had Meagan all the way through London and New York. For second assistants in London, we had Gemma Bourne, Ben Renton and Tom Lane. Here in the states we had Alexander Johnson and Christa Haley. Christa is my first assistant on the film I’m currently doing for Focus Features, called Harriet.

On huge films like these, so much of the assistant editor’s time is dealing with the vast deliveries for the studio, the needs of a huge sound and music team as well as a lot of visual effects. In the end, we had about 1,300 hundred visual effect shots. That means a lot of turnovers, screenings and quality control so that nothing is ever coming in or going out without being meticulously watched and listened to.

The first assistant runs the cutting room and the stuff I shouldn’t be thinking about. It’s not stuff I would do well either. I want to be solely focusing on the edit, and when I’m lost in the movie, that’s the greatest thing. Having a strong editorial team allows me to be in a place where I’m not thinking about anything but the cut.

Mary Poppins Returns

That’s always good to hear. Most editors I talk to also care about making sure their assistants are getting opportunities.
When I started out, I had assistants in the room with me. It was very much film-style — the assistant was in the room helping me out with the director and the producers every day. If I had to run out of the room, the assistant could step in.

Unfortunately, the way the world has evolved, with digital post, the assistant editor and editor positions have diverged massively. The skill sets are very different. I don’t think I could do a first assistant editor’s job, but I know they could do my job. Also, the extra level of material keeps them very busy, so they’re not with me in the room. That makes for a much harder path, and that bothers me. I don’t quite know how to fix that yet, but I want to.

This industry started with apprentices, and it was very guild-like. Assistants were very hands on with the editor, so it was very natural to become an editor. Right now, that jump is a little tricky, and I wish I knew how to fix it.

Even if the assistants cut something together for you, it doesn’t necessarily evolve into them getting to work with a director or producer. With Poppins, there’s certainly a scene or two in the film that I asked Meagan to put together for that purpose. Rob works very closely in the cutting room each day, along with John DeLuca, our producer and choreographer. I was wondering if there would be that moment when maybe they’d split off, like, “Oh, go with Meagan and work on this, while I work on this with Rob.” But those opportunities never really arose. It’s hard to figure out how to get that door open.

Do you have any advice for editors who are just starting out?
I love the material I’m working on, and that’s the most important part. Even if something’s not for you, your job is not to make it what you want it to be. The job is to figure out who the audience is and how you make it great for them. There’s an audience for everything, you just have to tap into who that audience is.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.

ACE celebrates editing with 69th Eddie Award noms

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) has announced the nominations for its 69th Annual ACE Eddie Awards, which recognize outstanding editing in 11 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be revealed during ACE’s annual black-tie awards ceremony on February 1.  ACE president, Stephen Rivkin, ACE, will host. Final ballots open January 11 and close on January 21.   

Here are the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):

BlacKkKlansman

Barry Alexander Brown 

Tom Cross, ACE

Bohemian Rhapsody

John Ottman, ACE 

First Man

Tom Cross, ACE

Roma

Alfonso Cuarón & Adam Gough 

A Star is Born

Jay Cassidy, ACE

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):

Crazy Rich Asians

Myron Kerstein

Deadpool 2

Craig Alpert, ACE, Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir and Dirk Westervelt

The Favourite

Yorgos Mavropsaridis, ACE

Green Book

Patrick J. Don Vito

Vice

Hank Corwin, ACE 

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

Incredibles 2

Stephen Schaffer, ACE

Isle of Dogs

Andrew Weisblum, ACE, Ralph Foster and  Edward Bursch

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Robert Fisher, Jr.

 

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):

Free Solo

Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

Carla Gutierrez

RBG

Carla Gutierrez

Three Identical Strangers

Michael Harte

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jeff Malmberg & Aaron Wickenden, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (NON-THEATRICAL):

A Final Cut for Orson: 40 Years in the Making

Martin Singer

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

Greg Finton, ACE and Poppy Das, ACE

Wild Wild Country, Part 3

Neil Meiklejohn

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Joe Beshenkovsky, ACE 

 

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Atlanta: Teddy Perkins

Atlanta: “Alligator Man”

Isaac Hagy

Atlanta: “Teddy Perkins”

Kyle Reiter

The Good Place: “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” 

Eric Kissack

Portlandia: “Rose Route” 

Jordan Kim, Ali Greer, Heather Capps & Stacy Moon

 

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Barry: “Make Your Mark” 

Jeff Buchanan

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Insecure: “Obsessed-Like”

Nena Erb, ACE 

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “Simone”

Kate Sanford, ACE

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “We’re Going to the Catskills!”

Tim Streeto, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION

The Americans: “Start”

Daniel Valverde 

Better Call Saul: “Something Stupid”

Skip Macdonald, ACE 

Better Call Saul: “Winner”

Chris McCaleb 

Killing Eve: “Nice Face”

Gary Dollner, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Bodyguard: “Episode 1”

Steve Singleton

Ozark

Homecoming: “Redwood”

Rosanne Tan

Ozark: “One Way Out”

Cindy Mollo, ACE & Heather Goodwin Floyd 

Westworld: “The Passenger”

Andrew Seklir, ACE, Anna Hauger and Mako Kamitsuna

 

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “A Random Killing”

Emily Greene

Escape at Dannemora: “Better Days”

Malcolm Jamieson & Geoffrey Richman ACE 

Sharp Objects: “Milk”

Véronique Barbe, Dominique Champagne, Justin Lachance, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée and Jai M. Vee

 

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:

Anthony Bourdain – Parts Unknown: “West Virginia”

Hunter Gross, ACE

Deadliest Catch: “Storm Surge”

Rob Butler, ACE

Naked & Afraid: “Fire and Fury”

Molly Shock, ACE and Jnani Butler

 

Director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Green Book

By Iain Blair

Director, producer and writer Peter Farrelly is best known for the classic comedies he made with his brother Bob: Dumb and Dumber; There’s Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; Me, Myself & Irene; The Three Stooges; and Fever Pitch. But for all their over-the-top, raunchy and boundary-pushing comedy, those movies were always sweet-natured at heart.

Peter Farrelly

Now Farrelly has taken his gift for heartfelt comedy and put his stamp on a very different kind of film, Green Book, a racially charged feel-good drama inspired by a true friendship that transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon line.

Starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it tells the fact-based story of the ultimate odd couple: Tony Lip, a bouncer from The Bronx and Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist. Lip is hired to drive and protect the worldly and sophisticated Shirley during a 1962 concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, where they must rely on the titular “Green Book” — a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for African-Americans during the segregation era.

Set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the valor and volatility of the civil rights movement, the two men are confronted with racism and danger as they challenge long-held assumptions, push past their seemingly insurmountable differences and embrace their shared humanity.

The film also features Linda Cardellini as Tony Vallelonga’s wife, Dolores, along with Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton as two-thirds of The Don Shirley Trio. The film was co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie and reunites Farrelly with editor Patrick J. Don Vito, with whom he worked on the Movie 43 segment “The Pitch.” Farrelly also collaborated for the first-time with cinematographer Sean Porter (read our interview with him), production designer Tim Galvin and composer Kris Bowers.

I spoke with Farrelly about making the film, his workflow and the upcoming awards season. After its Toronto People’s Choice win and Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali), Green Book looks like a very strong Oscar contender.

You told me years ago that you’d love to do a more dramatic film at some point. Was this a big stretch for you?
Not so much, to be honest. People have said to me, “It must have been hard,” but the hardest film I ever made was The Three Stooges… for a bunch of reasons. True, this was a bit of a departure for me in terms of tone, and I definitely didn’t want it to get too jokey — I tend to get jokey so it could easily have gone like that.  But right from the start we were very clear that the comedy would come naturally from the characters and how they interacted and spoke and moved, and so on, not from jokes.

So a lot of the comedy is quite nuanced, and in the scene where Tony starts talking about “the orphans” and Don explains that it’s actually about the opera Orpheus, Viggo has this great reaction and look that wasn’t in the script, and it’s much funnier than any joke we could have made there.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A drama about race and race relations set in a time when it was very fraught, with light moments and a hopeful, uplifting ending.

It has some very timely themes. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. I knew that it would resonate today, although I wish it didn’t. What really hooked me was their common ground. They really are this odd couple who couldn’t be more different — an uneducated, somewhat racist Italian bouncer, and this refined, highly educated, highly cultured doctor and classically trained pianist. They end up spending all this time together in a car on tour, and teach each other so much along the way. And at the end, you know they’ll be friends for life.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Viggo and Mahershala bring to the roles?
Well, for a start they’re two of the greatest actors in the world, and when we were shooting this I felt like an observer. Usually, I can see a lot of the actor in the role, but they both disappeared totally into these characters — but not in some method-y way where they were staying in character all the time, on and off the set. They just became these people, and Viggo couldn’t be less like Tony Lip in real life, and the same with Mahershala and Don. They both worked so hard behind the scenes, and I got a call from Steven Spielberg when he first saw it, and he told me, “This is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and he’s right.

It’s a road picture, but didn’t you end up shooting it all in and around New Orleans?
Yes, we did everything there apart from one day in northern New Jersey to get the fall foliage, and a day of exteriors in New York City with Viggo for all the street scenes. Louisiana has everything, from rolling hills to flats. We also found all the venues and clubs they play in, along with mansions and different looks that could double for places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as Carolinas and the Deep South.

We shot for just 35 days, and Louisiana has great and very experienced crews, so we were able to work pretty fast. Then for scenes like Carnegie Hall, we used CGI in post, done by Pixel Magic, and we were also amazingly lucky when it came to the snow scenes set in Maryland at the end. We were all ready to use fake snow when it actually started snowing and sticking. We got a good three, four inches, which they told us hadn’t happened in a decade or two down there.

Where did you post?
We did most of the editing at my home in Ojai, and the sound at Fotokem, where we also did the DI with colorist Walter Volpatto.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing. Writing is the hardest part, pulling the script together. And I always have fun on the shoot, but you’re always having to make sure you don’t screw up the script. So when you get to the edit and post, all the hard work is done in that sense, and you have the joy of watching the movie find its shape as you cut and add in the sound and music.

What were the big editing challenges, given there’s such a mix of comedy and drama?
Finding that balance was the key, but this film actually came together so easily in the edit compared with some of the movies I’ve done. I’ll never forget seeing the first assembly of There’s Something About Mary, which I thought was so bad it made me want to vomit! But this just flowed, and Patrick did a beautiful job.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It was a huge part of the film and we had a really amazing pianist and composer in Kris Bowers, who worked a lot with Mahershala to make his performance as a musician as authentic as possible. And it wasn’t just the piano playing — Mahershala told me right at the start, “I want to know just how a pianist sits at the piano, how he moves.” So he was totally committed to all the details of the role. Then there’s all the radio music, and I didn’t want to use all the obvious, usual stuff for the period, so we searched out other great, but lesser-known songs. We had great music supervisors, Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, and a great sound team.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
Very important. I love the buzz about it because that gets people out to see it. When we first tested it, we got 100%, and the studio didn’t quite believe it. So we tested again, with “a tougher” audience, and got 98%. But it’s a small film. Everyone took pay cuts to make it, as the budget was so low, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.


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.

Ren Klyce: Mixing the score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

There are space battles and epic music, foreign planets with unique and lively biomes, blasters, lightsabers, a universe at war and a force that connects it all. Over the course of eight “Episodes” and through numerous spin-off series and games, fans of Star Wars have become well acquainted with its characteristic sound.

Creating the world, sonically, is certainly a feat, but bringing those sounds together is a challenge of equal measure. Shaping the soundtrack involves sacrifice and egoless judgment calls that include making tough decisions in service of the story.

Ren Klyce

Skywalker Sound’s Ren Klyce was co-supervising sound editor, sound designer and a re-recording mixer on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He not only helped to create the film’s sounds but he also had a hand in shaping the final soundtrack. As re-recording mixer of the music, Klyce got a new perspective on the film’s story.

He’s earned two Oscar nominations for his work on the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi — one for sound editing and another for sound mixing. We reached out to Klyce to ask about his role as a re-recording mixer, what it was like to work with John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score, and what it took for the team to craft The Last Jedi’s soundtrack.

You had all the Skywalker-created effects, the score and all the dialog coming together for the final mix. How did you bring clarity to what could have been be a chaotic soundtrack?
Mostly, it’s by forcing ourselves to potentially get rid of a lot of our hard work for the sake of the story. Getting rid of one’s work can be difficult for anyone, but it’s the necessary step in many instances. When you initially premix sound for a film, there are so many elements and often times we have everything prepared just in case they’re asked for. In the case of Star Wars, we didn’t know what director Rian Johnson might want and not want. So we had everything at the ready in either case.

On Star Wars, we ended up doing a blaze pass where we played everything from the beginning to the end of a reel all at once. We could clearly see that it was a colossal mess in one scene, but not so bad in another. It was like getting a 20-minute Cliff Notes of where we were going to need to spend some time.

Then it comes down to having really skilled mixers like David Parker (dialog) and Michael Semanick (sound effects), whose skill-sets include understanding storytelling. They understand what their role is about — which is making decisions as to what should stay, what should go, what should be loud or quiet, or what should be turned off completely. With sound effects, Michael is very good at this. He can quickly see the forest for the trees. He’ll say, “Let’s get rid of this. These elements can go, or the background sounds aren’t needed here.” And that’s how we started shaping the mix.

After doing the blaze pass, we will then go through and listen to just the music by itself. John Williams tells his story through music and by underscoring particular scenes. A lot of the process is learning what all the bits and pieces are and then weighing them up against each other. We might decide that the music in a particular scene tells the story best.

That is how we would start and then we worked together as a team to continue shaping the mix into a rough piece. Rian would then come in and give his thoughts to add more sound here or less music there, thus shaping the soundtrack.

After creating all of those effects, did you wish you were the one to mix them? Or, are you happy mixing music?
For me personally, it’s a really great experience to listen to and be responsible for the music because I’ve learned so much about the power of the music and what’s important. If it were the other way around, I might be a little more overly focused on the sound effects. I feel like we have a good dynamic. Michael Semanick has such great instincts. In fact, Rian described Michael as being an incredible storyteller, and he really is.

Mixing the music for me is a wonderful way to get a better scope of the entire soundtrack. By not touching the sound effects on the stage, those faders aren’t so precious. Instead, the movie itself and the soundtrack takes precedence instead of the bits and pieces that make it up.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of music?
I think that would have to be the ski speeder sequence on the salt planet of Crait. That was very difficult because there was a lot of dodging and burning in the mix. In other words, Rian wanted to have loud music and then the music would have to dive down to expose a dialogue line, and then jump right back up again for more excitement and then dive down to make way for another dialogue line. Then boom, some sound effects would come in and the Millennium Falcon would zoom by. Then the Star Wars theme would take over and then it had to come down for the dialogue. So we worked that sequence quite a bit.

Our picture editor Bob Ducsay really guided us through the shape of that sequence. What was so great about having the picture editor present was that he was so intimate with the rhythm of the dialogue and his picture cutting. He knew where all of the story points were supposed to be, what motivated a look to the left and so on. Bob would say something like, “When we see Rose here, we really need to make sure we hear her musical theme, but then when we cut away, we need to hear the action.”

Were you working with John Williams’ music stems? Did you feel bad about pulling things out of his score? How do you dissect the score?
Working with John is obviously an incredible experience, and on this film I was lucky enough to work with Shawn Murphy as well, who is really one of my heroes and I’ve known him for years. He is the one who records the orchestra for John Williams and balances everything. Not only does he record the orchestra, but Shawn is a true collaborator with John as well. It’s incredible the way they communicate.

John is really mixing his own soundtrack when he’s up there on the podium conducting, and he’s making initial choices as to which instruments are louder than others — how loud the woodwinds play, how loud the brass plays, how loud the percussion is and how loud the strings are. He’s really shaping it. Between Williams and Murphy, they work on intonation, tuning and performance. They go through and record and then do pickups for this measure and that measure to make sure that everything is as good as it can be.

I actually got to witness John Williams do this incredible thing — which was during the recording of the score for the Crait scene. There was this one section where the brass was playing and John (who knows every single person’s name in that orchestra) called out to three people by name and said something like, “Mark, on bar 63, from beat two to beat six, can you not play please. I just want a little more clarity with two instruments instead of three. Thank you.” So they backed up and did a pick-up on that bar and that gentleman dropped out for those few beats. It was amazing.

In the end, it really is John who is creating that mix. Then, editorially, there would be moments where we had to change things. Ramiro Belgardt, another trusted confidant of John Williams, was our music editor. Once the music is recorded and premixed, it was up to Ramiro to keep it as close to what John intended throughout all of the picture changes.

A scene would be tightened or opened up, and the music isn’t going to be re-performed. That would be impossible to do, so it has to be edited or stretched or looped or truncated. Ramiro had the difficult job of making the music seem exactly how it was on the day it was performed. But in truth, if you look at his Pro Tools session, you’ll see all of these splices and edits that he did to make everything function properly.

Does a particular scene stick out?
There was one scene where Rey ignites the lightsaber for the very first time on Jedi Island, and there we did change the balance within the music. She’s on the cliff by the ocean and Luke is watching her as she’s swinging the lightsaber. Right when she ignites the lightsaber, her theme comes in, which is this beautiful piano melody. The problem was when they mixed the piano they didn’t have a really loud lightsaber sound going with it. We were really struggling because we couldn’t get that piano melody to speak right there. I asked Ramiro if there was any way to get that piano separately because I would love it if we could hear that theme come in just as strong as that lightsaber. Those are the types of little tiny things that we would do, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the score is how John and Shawn intended the mix to be.

It was also wonderful having Ramiro there as John’s spokesperson. He knew all of the subtle little sacred moments that Williams had written in the score. He pointed them out and I was able to push those and feature those.

Was Rian observing the sessions?
Rian attended every single scoring session and knew the music intricately. He was really excited for the music and wanted it to breathe. Rian’s knowledge of the music helped guide us.

Where did they perform and record the score?
This was recorded at the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California.

Are there any Easter eggs in terms of the score?
During the casino sequence there’s a beautiful piece of music that plays throughout, which is something like an homage that John Williams wrote, going back to the Cantina song that he wrote for the original Star Wars.

So, the Easter egg comes as the Fathiers are wreaking havoc in the casino and we cut to the inside of a confectionery shop. There’s an abrupt edit where all the music stops and you hear this sort of lounge piano that’s playing, like a piece of source music. That lounge piano is actually John Williams playing “The Long Goodbye,” which is the score that he wrote for the film The Long Goodbye. Rian is a huge fan of that score and he somehow managed to get John Williams to put that into the Star Wars film. It’s a wonderful little Easter egg.

John Williams is, in so many ways, the closest thing we have to Beethoven or Brahms in our time. When you’re in his presence — he’s 85 years old now — it’s humbling. He still writes all of his manuscripts by hand.

On that day that John sat down and played “The Long Goodbye” piano piece, Rian was so excited that he pulled out his iPhone and filmed the whole thing. John said, “Only for you, Rian, do I do this.” It was a very special moment.

The other part of the Easter egg is that John’s brother Donald Williams is a timpanist in the orchestra. So what’s cool is you hear John playing the piano and the very next sound is the timpani, played by his brother. So you have these two brothers and they do a miniature solo next to each other. So those are some of the fun little details.

John Williams earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Music Score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s an incredible score. One of the fortunate things that occurred on this film was that Rian and producer Ram Bergman wanted to give John Williams as much time as possible so they started him really early. I think he had a year to compose, which was great. He could take his time and really work diligently through each sequence. When you listen to just the score, you can hear all of the little subtle nuances that John composed.

For example, Rose stuns Finn and she’s dragging him on this little cart and they’re having this conversation. If you listen to just the music through there, the way that John has scored every single little emotional beat in that sequence is amazing. With all the effects and dialogue, you’re not really noticing the musical details. You hear two people arguing and then agreeing. They hate each other and now they like each other. But when you deconstruct it, you hear the music supporting each one of those moments. Williams does things like that throughout the entire film. Every single moment has all these subtle musical details. All the scenes with Snoke in his lair have these ominous, dark musical choir phrases for example. It’s phenomenal.

The moments where the choice was made to remove the score completely, was that a hard sell for the director? Or, was he game to let go of the score in those effects-driven moments?
No, it wasn’t too difficult. There was one scene that we did revert on though. It was on Crait, and Rian wanted to get rid of the whole big music sequence when Leia sees that the First Order is approaching and they have to shut the giant door. There was originally a piece of music, and that was when the crystal foxes were introduced. So we got rid of the music there. Then we watched the film and Rian asked us to put that music back.

A lot of the music edits were crafted in the offline edit, and those were done by music editor Joseph Bonn. Joe would craft those moments ahead of time and test them. So a lot of that was decided before it got to my hands.

But on the stage, we were still experimenting. Ramiro would suggest trying to lose a cue and we’d mute it from the sequence. That was a fun part of collaborating with everyone. It’s a live experiment. I would say that on this film most of the music editorial choices were decided before we got to the final mix. Joe Bonn spent months and months crafting the music guide, which helped immensely.

What is one audio tool that you could not have lived without on the mix? Why?
Without a doubt, it’s our Avid Pro Tools editing software. All the departments —dialog, Foley, effects and music were using Pro Tools. That is absolutely hands-down the one tool that we are addicted to. At this point, not having Pro Tools is like not having a hammer.

But you used a console for the final mix, yes?
Yes. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not an in-the-box mix. We mixed it on a Neve DFC Gemini console in the traditional manner. It was not a live Pro Tools mix. We mixed it through the DFC console, which had its own EQ, dynamics processing, panning, reverb sends/returns, AUX sends/returns and LFE sends/returns.

The pre-pre-mixing was done in Pro Tools. Then, looking at the sound effects for example, that was shaped roughly in the offline edit room, and then that would go to the mix stage. Michael Semanick would pre-mix the effects through the Neve DFC in a traditional premixing format that we would record to 9.1 pre-dubs and objects. A similar process was done with the dialogue. So that was done with the console.


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

Michael Semanick: Mixing SFX, Foley for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Michael Semanick from Skywalker Sound mixed the sound effects, Foley and backgrounds on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has earned an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing.

Technically, this is not Semanick’s first experience with the Star Wars franchise — he’s credited as an additional mixer on Rogue One — but on The Last Jedi he was a key figure in fine-tuning the film’s soundtrack. He worked alongside re-recording mixers Ren Klyce and David Parker, and with director Rian Johnson, to craft a soundtrack that was bold and dynamic. (Look for next week’s Star Wars story, in which re-recording mixer Ren Klyce talks about his approach to mixing John Williams’ score.)

Michael Semanick

Recently, Semanick shared his story of what went into mixing the sound effects on The Last Jedi. He mixed at Skywalker in Nicasio, California, on the Kurosawa Stage.

You had all of these amazing elements — Skywalker’s effects, John Williams’ score and the dialogue. How did you bring clarity to what could potentially be a chaotic soundtrack?
Yes, there are a lot of elements that come in, and you have to balance these things. It’s easy on a film like this to get bombastic and assault the audience, but that’s one of the things that Rian didn’t want to do. He wanted to create dynamics in the track and get really quiet so that when it does get loud it’s not overly loud.

So when creating that I have to look at all of the elements coming in and see what we’re trying to do in each specific scene. I ask myself, “What’s this scene about? What’s this storyline? What’s the music doing here? Is that the thread that takes us to the next scene or to the next place? What are the sound effects? Do we need to hear these background sounds, or do we need just the hard effects?”

Essentially, it’s me trying to figure out how many frequencies are available and how much dialogue has to come through so the audience doesn’t lose the thread of the story. It’s about deciding when it’s right to feature the sound effects or take the score down to feature a big explosion and then bring the score back up.

It’s always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw it all in there. I might need a line of dialogue to come through, so the backgrounds go. I don’t want to distract the audience. There is so much happening visually in the film that you can’t put sound on everything. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t know what to focus on. At least that’s my approach to it.

How did you work with the director?
As we mixed the film with Rian, we found what types of sounds defined the film and what types of moments defined the film in terms of sound. For example, by the time you reach the scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace into the First Order’s fleet, everything goes really quiet. The sound there doesn’t go completely out — it feels like it goes out, but there’s sound. As soon as the music peaks, I bring in a low space tone. Well, if there was a tone in space, I imagine that is what it would sound like. So there is sound constantly through that scene, but the quietness goes on for a long time.

One of the great things about that scene was that it was always designed that way. While I noted how great that scene was, I didn’t really get it until I saw it with an audience. They became the soundtrack, reacting with gasps. I was at a screening in Seattle, and when we hit that scene and you could hear that the people were just stunned, and one guy in the audience went, “Yeah!”

There are other areas in the film where we go extremely quiet or take the sound out completely. For example, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) first force-connect, the sound goes out completely… you only hear a little bit of their breathing. There’s one time when the force connection catches them off guard — when Kylo had just gotten done working out and Rey was walking somewhere — we took the sound completely out while she was still moving.

Rian loved it because when we were working on that scene we were trying to get something different. We used to have sound there, all the way through the scene. Then Rian said, “What happens if you just start taking some of the sounds out?” So, I started pulling sounds out and sure enough, when I got the sound all the way out — no music, no sounds, no backgrounds, no nothing — Rian was like, “That’s it! That just draws you in.” And it does. It pulls you into their moment. They’re pulled together even though they don’t want to be. Then we slowly brought it back in with their breathing, a little echo and a little footstep here or there. Having those types of dynamics worked into the film helped the scene at the end.

Rian shot and cut the picture so we could have these moments of quiet. It was already set up, visually and story-wise, to allow that to happen. When Rey goes into the mirror cave, it’s so quiet. You hear all the footsteps and the reverbs and reflections in there. The film lent itself to that.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of the effects?
The moment Kylo Ren and Rey touch hands via the force connection. That was a real challenge. They’re together in the force connection, but they weren’t together physically. We were cutting back and forth from her place to Kylo Ren’s place. We were hearing her campfire and her rain. It was a very delicate balance between that and the music. We could have had the rain really loud and the music blasting, but Rian wanted the rain and fire to peel away as their hands were getting closer. It was so quiet and when they did touch there was just a bit of a low-end thump. Having a big sound there just didn’t have the intimacy that the scene demanded. It can be so hard to get the balance right to where the audience is feeling the same thing as the characters. The audience is going, “No, oh no.” You know what’s going to come, but we wanted to add that extra tension to it sonically. For me, that was one of the hardest scenes to get.

What about the action scenes?
They are tough because they take time to mix. You have to decide what you want to play. For example, when the ships are exploding as they’re trying to get away before Holdo rams her ship into the First Order’s, you have all of that stuff falling from the ceiling. We had to pick our moments. There’s all of this fire in the background and TIE fighters flying around, and you can’t hear them all or it will be a jumbled mess. I can mix those scenes pretty well because I just follow the story point. We need to hear this to go with that. We have to have a sound of falling down, so let’s put that in.

Is there a scene you had fun with?
The fight in Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) room, between Rey and Kylo Ren. That was really fun because it was like wham-bam, and you have the lightsaber flying around. In those moments, like when Rey throws the lightsaber, we drop the sound out for a split second so when Kylo turns it on it’s even more powerful.

That scene was the most fun, but the trickiest one was that force-touch scene. We went over it a hundred different ways, to just get it to feel like we were with them. For me, if the sound calls too much attention to itself, it’s pulling you out of the story, and that’s bad mixing. I wanted the audience to lean in and feel those hands about to connect. When you take the sound out and the music out, then it’s just two hands coming together slowly. It was about finding that balance to make the audience feel like they’re in that moment, in that little hut, and they’re about to touch and see into each other’s souls, so to speak. That was a challenge, but it was fun because when you get it, and you see the audience react, everyone feels good about that scene. I feel like I did something right.

What was one audio tool that you couldn’t live without on this mix?
For me, it was the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console. All the sounds came into that. The console was like an instrument that I played. I could bring any sound in from any direction, and I could EQ it and manipulate it. I could put reverb on it. I could give the director what he wanted. My editors were cutting the sound, but I had to have that console to EQ and balance the sounds. Sometimes it was about EQing frequencies out to make a sound fit better with other sounds. You have to find room for the sounds.

I could move around on it very quickly. I had Rian sitting behind me saying, “What if you roll back and adjust this or try that.” I could ease those faders up and down and hit it just right. I know how to use it so well that I could hear stuff ahead of what I was doing.

The Neve DFC was invaluable. I could take all the different sound formats and sample rates and it all came through the console, and in one place. It could blend all those sources together; it’s a mixing bowl. It brought all the sounds together so they could all talk to each other. Then I manipulated them and sent them out and that was the soundtrack — all driven by the director, of course.

Can you talk about working with the sound editor?
The editors are my right-hand people. They can shift things and move things and give me another sound. Maybe I need one with more mid-range because the one in there isn’t quite reading. We had a lot of that. Trying to get those explosions to work and to come through John Williams’ score, sometimes we needed something with more low-end and more thump or more crack. There was a handoff in some scenes.

On The Last Jedi, I had sound effects editor Jon Borland with me on the stage. Bonnie Wild had started the project and had prepped a lot of the sounds for several reels — her and Jon and Ren Klyce, who oversaw the whole thing. But Jon was my go-to person on the stage. He did a great job. It was a bit of a daunting task, but Jon is young and wants to learn and gave it everything he had. I love that.

What format was the main mix?
Everything was done in Atmos natively, then we downmixed to 7.1 and 5.1 and all the other formats. We were very diligent about having the downmixed versions match the Atmos mix the best that they could.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m so glad that Rian chose me to be part of the mix. This film was a lot of fun and a real collaborative effort. Rian is the one who really set that tone. He wanted to hear our ideas and see what we could do. He wasn’t sold on one thing. If something wasn’t working, he would try things out until it did. It was literally sorting out frequencies and getting transitions to work just right. Rian was collaborative, and that creates a room of collaboration. We wanted a great track for the audience to enjoy… a track that went with Rian’s picture.


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

The A-List: The Big Sick director Michael Showalter

By Iain Blair

If life is stranger than fiction, then the acclaimed Oscar-nominated film The Big Sick is Exhibit A. Based on the unlikely real-life courtship between Pakistani comedian/writer Kumail Nanjiani and writer/producer Emily V. Gordon, it tells the story of Kumail (playing a version of himself), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents.

Michael Showalter on set.

When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, and then placed in a medically induced coma, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), whom he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.

The Big Sick is a crowd-pleasing rom-com, written by Gordon and Nanjiani, and produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, This is 40) and Barry Mendel (Trainwreck, The Royal Tenenbaums). But it also deals with drama, racism and the clash of cultures. It was directed by Michael Showalter, who co-wrote and directed the SXSW Audience Award-winning film Hello, My Name is Doris, starring Sally Field. He’s a founding member of the comedy groups The State and Stella, his other film credits include The Baxter, Wet Hot American Summer and They Came Together. He has also co-created numerous television projects, including Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) and Search Party (TBS).

We recently spoke with Showalter about making the film, which has been generating awards buzz (it won AFI’s Movie of the Year award), including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Is it true you actually gave Nanjiani his first big TV job, and what did you think when you first read this?
Yes. I’ve known Kumail a long time. I met him in New York in the comedy scene when he first arrived. I love his comedy and sensibility, and I also love him personally. He’s a great guy and we’ve worked together a lot over the years.

We hired him as a staff writer and actor for a Comedy Central series, Michael and Michael Have Issues. I did, and then I cast him in a supporting role in My Name is Doris. Then he sent me this script without saying much about it. I didn’t know it was based on their lives and that all this had happened — I just loved it and everything about it.

Kumail Nanjiani as “Kumail” and Zoe Kazan as “Emily” in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Sarah Shatz.

It’s definitely not your usual rom-com.
I kind of knew what sort of film they wanted it to be — more than just the genre, but the feel of it. I knew the tone they were going for, and that I could do that. So I begged them to hire me, and then I met with Judd and Barry and we spent eight months rewriting it — Kumail, Emily, Judd, Barry and me, and then I got hired and off we went.

The structure is very different from a normal rom-com. How challenging was that, and what sort of film did you set out to make?
You’re right, as usually the second act is where the characters fall in love, then they break up and then they get back together in the third act, but in this all of that happens right in the first act. Then the love interest isn’t even there for the entire second act — which is pretty challenging — and the film gets a lot darker in the second half. So we had to figure out how to keep it moving forward, and I wanted to make a film that’s very funny, first and foremost — a comedy.

But it’s a comedy that walks the line between comedy and drama, even tragedy, and I wanted to give full weight to both elements and not let it get too sentimental. I love theater and some of my favorite plays — like Angels in America — start off as laugh-out-loud comedies and then get really serious, and I love the way they allow those opposites to co-exist.

How involved was Judd Apatow in developing the film?
Judd was very involved in all aspects — tightening up the screenplay, casting and then editing. He’s so experienced, and a great collaborator.

How was the shoot?
We shot on digital, in New York, it was just 25 days, so pretty tight, but it went great thanks to a great line producer and crew. The biggest issue was that it’s set in cold weather and we shot in a heat wave.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s so creative and, of course, it’s where you actually make the movie.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Nassau, who cut My Name is Doris for you and Wanderlust for Judd Apatow. What were the main editing challenges?
As a TV showrunner and film director, my preferred way of working in post is to empower editors, and I rely on them the same way I do with a production designer or DP. I’m not big on micro managing, so I like to give the footage to my editor and then see what they do with it. And I go into production with a very clear game-plan. There’s not a lot of figuring it all out on the day. Then I’m very interested in the editor’s interpretation of the footage, and if it’s working, I give notes and we go along like that. I’m not the sort of director who’s in the room all the time, looking over the editor’s shoulder. I’m much more laissez-faire.

Where did you edit and post this?
Rob has his own editing suite at home in New York, so he did the assembly and director’s cut there while I was in LA. Then he came out to LA for the producer’s cut, and on any given day either me or Kumail, Judd and Barry — or all of us — would be there too, going over specific scenes and beats. But Judd had final cut, and once I’d done my cut, all the post became much more of a group endeavor.

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both crucial elements and we did it all in LA, working with Judd’s sound team, which does most of his projects. We wanted the sound to be very intimate and very clean, so you feel like you’re with the characters all the time and you hear everything they’re saying in these small, intimate places, as opposed to having a rougher, grittier sound design. Then composer Mike Andrews, who’s scored a lot of projects for Judd, like Bridesmaids, came on board and did a score that really mirrored the emotions of the characters, without over-scoring it.

Who was the colorist and where did you do the DI?
We did the digital intermediate and dailies at Technicolor Postworks NY, and Alex Bickel was the colorist. I’m very involved in all that. The color is very important, and we wanted a very warm, authentic look, as opposed to going more muted and drained-out. We experimented a bit and Alex did a great job.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things I’m working on but I can’t talk about them yet!


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.

Young pros with autism contribute to Oscar-nominated VFX films

Exceptional Minds Studio, the LA-based visual effects and animation studio made up of young people on the autism spectrum, earned screen credit on three of the five films nominated for Oscars in the visual effects category — Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and War for the Planet of the Apes.

L-R: Lloyd Hackl, Kenneth Au, Mason Taylor and Patrick Brady.

For Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the artists at Exceptional Minds Studio were contracted to do visual effects cleanup work that involved roto and paint for several shots. “We were awarded 20 shots for this film that included very involved rotoscoping and paint work,” explains Exceptional Minds Studio executive producer Susan Zwerman.

The studio was also hired to create the end titles for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which involved compositing the text into a star-field background.

For Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Exceptional Minds provided the typesetting for the end credit crawl. For War for the Planet of the Apes, the studio provided visual effects cleanup on 10 shots — this involved tracker marker removal using roto and paint.

Exceptional Minds used Foundry’s Nuke for much of their work, in addition to Silhouette and Mocha for After Effects.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Courtesy of ILM

Since opening its doors almost four years ago, this small studio has worked on visual effects for more than 50 major motion pictures and/or television series, including The Good Doctor, Game of Thrones and Doctor Strange.

“The VFX teams we worked with on each of these movies were beyond professional, and we are so thankful that they gave our artists the opportunity to work with them,” says Zwerman, adding that “many of our artists never even dreamed they would be working in this industry.”

An estimated 90 percent of the autism population is under employed or unemployed, and few training programs exist to prepare young adults with autism for meaningful careers, which is what makes this program so important.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this when I was young,” agreed Patrick Brady, an Exceptional Minds VFX artist.

Dee Rees talks about directing Netflix’s Mudbound

By Iain Blair

Change is good, and while there are only a handful of young, successful, black female directors shooting features these days, the tide is starting to turn. Case in point: Dee Rees, who is helping lead the charge with her powerful new feature Mudbound, which was nominated for two Golden Globes.

Set in the rural American South during World War II, it’s an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Writer Iain Blair and director Dee Rees.

On one side is the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture.

On the other side are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations and who also struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

The film was co-written by Rees, who made her feature film debut with Pariah, which won a ton of awards. She went on to direct the Emmy-Award-winning HBO film Bessie.

I talked recently with Rees about making the film and the push for more diversity in the industry.

What was your vision for this film?
A good old-fashioned sprawling Hollywood epic that they don’t make anymore, with tons of characters and drama and emotion.

This is a period piece, but there are a lot of the issues you deal with — racism, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues. These are all particularly timely now.
Yes, and I think it’s become more timely because our consciousness has changed. I think it would have been timely five or 10 years ago, but audiences might not have recognized it as such, and attitudes have changed and are still changing about all these issues — and others. Look at all the sex scandal stuff coming to light in Hollywood and other places.

Is it true you absolutely wanted to shoot this in the South, but then found it wasn’t so easy in terms of finding the right locations?
Yes, I’m from the South — Nashville, Tennessee — and I hate seeing Southerners and the South not depicted correctly and accurately, and the locations were vital as they function like another character in the story. So we scouted all over the South — Mississippi, where it’s actually set, and Georgia and Louisiana — and we ended up shooting on a working sugar plantation near New Orleans. The landscape and farmland was perfect. It really gave you the sense of unrelenting nature, and the way the furrows went in the field was a big artistic choice… deciding how the lines were going to go.

It’s interesting that Louisiana has preserved a lot of their slave history. You can see the original sharecroppers’ cabins, and I think it’s right to preserve stuff like that so you can see it actually happened. In Mississippi, a lot of that’s gone. So we used real sharecroppers’ cabins, and convinced the owners to let us move these historical buildings deeper into the fields, as we wanted to have these 360-degree shots where you feel that the characters are all dwarfed by the landscape. All that has an accumulative effect in creating this world. We didn’t use any soundstages at all because I wanted it to look and feel authentic. You just can’t fake all the mud and dust and that landscape.

I imagine the shoot wasn’t easy?
It was pretty intense. We were supposed to have 28 days there, but we got rained out two days and had to make that up. Then we shot for two days in Budapest for the wartime scenes, including a big tank battle. We did that in the morning and then the liberation scenes the next day, and then later, during the edit, we shot the B52 plane scenes at a war museum on Long Island, and that was a big dance between special effects and VFX. So we ended up with 29 days for a big story that you’d normally need 60 days to do justice considering the sheer scope and scale involved.

You had a women DP (Rachel Morrison), who shot Fruitvale Station, and a woman editor (Mako Kamitsuna), who cut Pariah for you and who’s now cutting Johnny Depp’s LAbyrinth as well as a woman composer (Tamar-Kali). Was that deliberate?
Absolutely, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just tokenism. Too often hiring women can get conflated with tokenism, and they are women who are incredibly at what they do.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it reminds me of writing, which is solitary, contemplative and internal. Production is a frenzied rush, external and exhausting, and then you get to post which is where you recoup in a way, and was just me and Mako making the film. We did most of the editing in an artist’s loft in upstate New York, which was really cheap to rent. I like being away from all the noise and bustle of New York and just isolating for a bit and really focusing. Then Tama, our composer, came in, and then our sound team, and we had the space and time to really build it all up and elevate the raw material.

What were the main editing challenges?
The biggest one was figuring out when to move from one family story to the other. I was worried about staying with the McAllan’s too long, and then suddenly the Jacksons come out of nowhere, maybe too soon, and then having to explain some of the back story out of sequence. So do you break the chronology or trust that when you hand off to the Jacksons it’ll work for the audience? We kept starting with the burial, and then going into all the tensions between the families, with all the questions, like why do they hate each other so much?

In one version we went off with the Jacksons, but it didn’t quite work, and ultimately we started with Henry. He took us to the farm, which takes us to the war, and the war takes us to Ronsel and Jamie, and then it all flowed. But we had to make sure each family had its own trajectory, and one exercise we did was to edit just one family story as if it was its own film. Then we did the other family to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and where the natural intersections fell in their stories. That was so helpful.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in Mudbound?
It’s so important to me, and I always want the score to work seamlessly with the sound design so it feels like it comes out of the sound design. Like with the editing, I feel the music shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch, so once we had picture locked Tamar came in and then reacted to it with her score, and I didn’t have to say much to her.

She was inspired and wrote this beautiful orchestral score, which was perfect because I didn’t want to have the obvious 1940s thing with banjo, blues and harmonica. I wanted strings, and my sound team did a fantastic job. We did a Atmos mix at Harbor in New York, thanks to a Dolby grant, and it was so cool and exciting to do that.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there must have been a fair amount of visual effects?
Mr. X Gotham did them all, and we had quite a lot for the plane scenes, including the B52 formation and the tank battle scenes. They also added some explosions, and there was cleanup work, but all the farm stuff — the mud and water — was all real and in-camera. We used a lot of special effects — squibs and gore packs — for the war scenes.

What about the DI?
We did it at Harbor Post in New York, and the colorist was Joe Gawler (who worked on Blackmagic Resolve). He did a really great job.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did and I’m really happy with it.

Mudbound is making a lot of Oscar and other awards noise right now — deservedly so. What does that mean to you?
It’s very exciting for all the crafts people involved. I feel we made a great film, but without a huge budget, so the more attention the better.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in Hollywood. Are things improving?
Very slowly, but a lot of the problem is the pipeline. We need more creatives able to get in the door. The Academy is just a receptacle at the end of the pipeline. We can change its make up, but the bigger thing is changing what’s getting made.


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.

Joe Wright on directing Darkest Hour

By Iain Blair

Maybe it’s something in the water, but Dunkirk and Winston Churchill seem to be popping up everywhere these days. While the British statesman and prime minister merely hovered unseen in the background of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk epic, he’s front-and-center in Joe Wright’s aptly titled Darkest Hour, which was nominated for Best Picture.

Starring Academy Award-nominee and BAFTA Award-winner Gary Oldman as Churchill, it tells the story of his first weeks in office during the fraught early days of World War II. A witty and brilliant statesman, Churchill is a stalwart member of Parliament, but at age 65 is an unlikely candidate for prime minister. However, the situation in Europe is desperate, with allied nations continuing to fall against Nazi troops and with the entire British army stranded in France at Dunkirk. (Oldman got an Oscar nod for Best Actor for his role as Churchill.)

Writer Iain Blair and director Joe Wright.

He’s appointed PM as the threat of invasion of the UK by Hitler’s forces looms, only to find his own party is plotting against him and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) skeptical that the new prime minister can rise to the challenge. He is confronted with the ultimate choice: negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and save the British people at a terrible cost, or fight on against incredible odds.

With the support of his wife of 31 years, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), Churchill looks to the British people to inspire him to stand firm and fight for his nation’s ideals, liberty and freedom. Putting his power with words to the ultimate test, and with the help of his tireless secretary (Lily James), Winston must write and deliver speeches that will rally a nation as he attempts to change the course of world history forever.

Working from a script by Anthony McCarten, Wright also assembled a stellar below-the-line team that included DP Bruno Delbonnel, editor Valerio Bonelli and composer Dario Marianelli.

Wright first grabbed Hollywood’s attention with his debut film, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, which won a raft of awards and four Oscar nominations. He followed that up with the Oscar-winning war drama Atonement, and in 2012 reunited with his Atonement star Kiera Knightley to remake Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s classic tale of love and betrayal.

Now, the master of period pieces, whose credits include The Soloist, Pan and Hanna, is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz for Focus Features’ Darkest Hour, and Oldman looks like a lock for an Oscar nomination.

I met up with Wright to discuss making the film.

This is definitely not your usual biopic. It’s a real political thriller, but also a character study.
Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to make. I didn’t realize there were so many Churchill projects going on in both movies and TV, and I wasn’t interested in trying to cover his whole life. This is a very concentrated slice about a pivotal moment in his life — and in history.When I first read the script, it was such a page-turner, full of all this drama and emotion, highs and lows.

First off, he was this complete English eccentric who’d hold meetings while taking a bath, or in his bed, and he’d drink whisky and scotch at lunch and discuss matters of state in his nightshirt… that’s an appealing character. I think he was also a bit of a genius. I say “bit of,” because he also got a lot wrong in his life and career, such as Gallipoli. But when it really counted the most — the resistance to Hitler, tyranny, bigotry and Nazism — he got it exactly right.

Casting the right actor as Churchill was obviously crucial, but what made you choose Gary Oldman — who looks nothing like him?
I’ve always been a huge fan of his — he’s the man — but for this role I wanted an actor with the right level of intensity.  I saw Churchill as almost bi-polar, with all this energy both in thought and action that led him to brilliance, but that also sometimes led him to disastrous and reckless acts. Gary has that kind of energy, which is impossible to fake. You can do all the rest — prosthetics and make-up and body suits, but the essence is what’s most important.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
It wasn’t a big shoot though it’s got a big scale and deals with epic themes. It wasn’t a micro-budget, but it was tight, so a main challenge was how to deliver a movie that feels truly epic with very limited resources. It’s a very dialogue-heavy film, and with a lot of scenes — including a 10-minute one with people sitting around a table talking — so we had to find a way to make all that very dramatic and as suspenseful as possible.

Fair to say your visual approach on this marries a lot of cutting-edge camera moves to a very classical style?
I think that’s right. I kind of like classicism, and I strive to achieve what might be called “modern classicism,” and I also use a lot of sweeping and unusual camera moves at the same time. Because so much is set in the underground bunkers, whenever we left I wanted to give it a lot more scope and scale, so we designed a lot of shots with that in mind. As I read the script, I envisaged it, and then I spent many, many hours lying on the sofa, listening to music and thinking about what I might do. That’s when I dreamed up those sequences. And we started with all the VFX and post from day one. It all happened together.

Do you like the post process?
Love it, and it’s probably my favorite part, though I like the whole filmmaking process. There are times when post can be very frustrating, but that’s also true of shooting.

Where did you do the post?
All in London. I cut it at my house, and it was set up in such a way that I could do most of the post there, which was great.  Craig Berkey, the supervising sound editor — did my first film and every one since — does most of his cutting and work at home in Canada, and then he came over, and we did all the mixing at Halo Post in London.

Then we did the DI at Technicolor in London, with colorist Peter Doyle, who has a very subtle hand and eye, and he does a lot of my stuff. I really enjoy that process so much as well. Back in the ‘90s in London, everyone was doing music videos, and we all used to spend long nights in telecine smearing stuff all over the film and trying to experiment with all sorts of looks. So it’s always been very important to me, and exciting, and I’m pretty involved.

The film was edited by Valerio Bonelli, who worked with you on Black Mirror, and whose credits include Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins for Stephen Frears. How did that relationship work?
Black Mirror was a good opportunity to try someone new. I loved working with him, and that rolled straight into this. He was on location with us up in Yorkshire at the house we used, and we set a cutting room up there. After shooting every day, I’d come back, we’d watch dailies and discuss the edit. The edit took about six months, and for the first time —  I’d committed to directing a play — I took a six-week hiatus and found it to be very helpful with the edit. I didn’t watch it once during that time, so it was abundantly clear where I was being indulgent when I came back to it with fresh eyes. I plan to take a break like that during editing from now on, it was so helpful.

What about visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
We had about 60, and Framestore did them all. I really like working with VFX as they’re such a useful tool, a means to an end. But when they become the end, then you have a big problem.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
For me it’s half of the experience. I sent the composer the script prior to shooting and we talked about my ideas. I wanted something quite minimalist, which was unusual for him as he’s more in the lush, romantic tradition. I also sent him a photo of Gary as Churchill walking, to show him the energy. He wrote a piece based on that photo, and did a fantastic score.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped it would?
You always have a picture of it in your head and it’s always different from the way you originally pictured it, but I’m very happy with it.


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.

A conversation with editor Hughes Winborne, ACE

This Oscar-winning editor talks about his path, his process, Fences and Guardians of the Galaxy.

By Chris Visser

In the world of feature film editing, Hughes Winborne, ACE, has done it all. From cutting indie features (1996’s Sling Blade) to CG-heavy action blockbusters (2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy) to winning an Oscar (2005’s Crash), Winborne has run the proverbial gamut of impactful storytelling through editing.

His most recent film, the multiple-Oscar-nominated Fences, was an adaptation of the seminal August Wilson play. Denzel Washington, who starred alongside Viola Davis (who won an Oscar for her role), directed the film.

Winborne and I chatted recently about his work on Fences, his career and his brief foray into house painting before he caught the filmmaking bug. He edits on Avid Media Composer. Let’s find out more.

What led you to the path you are on now?
I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I graduated with a degree in history without a clue as to what I was going to do. I come from a family of attorneys, so because of an extreme lack of imagination, I thought I should do that. I became a paralegal and worked at North Carolina Legal Services for a bit. It didn’t take me long to realize that that wasn’t what I was meant to do, and I became a house painter.

A house painter?
I had my own house painting business for about three years with a couple of friends. The preamble to that is, I had always been a big movie fan. I went to the movies all the time in high school, but after college I started seeing between five and 10 a week. I didn’t even imagine working in the film business, because in Raleigh, that wasn’t really something that crossed my radar.

Then I saw an ad in the New York Times magazine for a six-week summer workshop at NYU. I took the course, moved to New York and set out to become a film editor. In the beginning, I did a lot of PA work for commercials and documentaries. Then I got an assistant editor job on a film called Girl From India.

What came next?
My father told me about a guy on the coast of North Carolina, A.B. Cooper, Jr., who wanted to make his own slasher film. I made him an offer: “If I get you an editor, can I be the assistant?” He said yes! About one-third of the way through the film, he fired the editor, and I took over that role. It was only my second film credit. I was never an assistant again, which is to the benefit of every editor that ever worked — I was terrible at it!

Where you able to make a living editing at that point?
Not as a picture editor, but I really started getting paid full-time for my editing when I started cutting industrials at AT&T. From there, I worked my way to 48 Hours. While I was there, they were kind enough to let me take on independent film projects for very little money, and they would hire me back after I did the job.

After a while, I moved to LA and started doing whatever I could get my hands on. I started with TV movies and gradually indie films, which really started for me with Sling Blade. Then, I worked my way into the studios after Crash. I’ve been kind of going back and forth ever since.

You mention your love of movies. What are the stories that inspire you? The ones that you get really excited to tell?
The movie that made me want to work in the film business was Barry Lyndon. Though it was not, by far, the film that got me started. I grew up on Truffaut. All his movies were just, for me, wonderful. It was a bit of a religion for me in those days; it gave me sustenance. I grew up on The Graduate. I grew up on Midnight Cowboy and Blow-Up.

I didn’t have a specific story I was interested in telling. I just knew that editing would be good for me. I like solitary jobs. I could never work on the set. It’s too crazy and social for me. I like being able to fiddle in the editing room and try things. The bottom line is, it’s fun. It can be a grind, and there can be a bit of pressure, but the best experiences I’ve had have been when I everybody on the show was having fun and working together. Films are made better when that collaboration is exploited to the limit.

Speaking of collaboration, how did that work on a film like Fences? What about working with actor/director Denzel Washington?
I’d worked with Denzel before [on The Great Debaters], so I kind of knew what he liked. They shot in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t go on location. There was no real collaboration the first six weeks but because I had worked with him before I had a sense of what he wanted.

I didn’t have to talk to him in order to put the film together because I could watch dailies — I could watch and listen to direction on camera and see how he liked to play the scenes. I put together the first cut on my own, which is typical, but in this case it was without almost any input. And my cut was really close. When Denzel came back, we concentrated in a few places on getting the performances the way he really wanted them, but I was probably 85 percent there. That’s not because I’m so great either, by the way, it’s because the actors were so great. Their performances were amazing, so I had a lot to choose from.

Can you talk about editing a film that was adapted from a play?
It was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, so I wasn’t going to be taking anything out of it or moving anything around. All I had to do was concentrate on putting it together with strong performances — that’s a lot harder than it sounds. I’m working within these constraints where I can’t do anything, really. Not that I really wanted to. Have you seen the movie?

Yes, I loved it. It’s a movie I’ve been coming back to every day since I’ve seen it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Then you’ll remember that the first 45 minutes to an hour is like a machine gun. That’s intentional. That’s me, intentionally, not slowing it down. I could have, but the idea is — and this is what was tricky — the film is about rhythm. Editing is about rhythm anyway, but this film is like rhythm to the 50th degree.

There’s very little music in the film, and we didn’t temp with much music either. I remember when Marc Evans [president, Motion Picture Group, Paramount Pictures] saw this film, he said, “The language is the music.” That’s exactly right.

To me, the dialogue feels like a score. There’s a musicality to it, a certain beat and timbre where it’s leading the audience through the scene, pulling them into the emotion without even hearing what they’re saying. Like when Denzel’s talking machine gun fast and it’s all jovial, then Lyons comes in and everything slows down and becomes very tense, then the scene busts back open and it’s all happy and fun again.
Yeah. You can just quote yourself on that one. [Laughs] That’s a perfect summation of it.

Partially, that’s going to come from set, that’s the acting and the direction, but on some level you’re going to have to construct that. How conscious of that were you the entire time?
I was very conscious of it. Where it becomes a little bit dicey at times is, unlike a play, you can cut. In a play, you’re sitting in the audience and watching everybody on stage at the same time. In a film, you’re not. When you start cutting, now you’ve got a new rhythm that’s different from the stage. In so doing, you’ve got to maintain that rhythm. You can’t just be on Denzel the entire time or Viola. You need to move around, and you need to move around in a way that rhythmically stays in time with the language. That was hard. That’s what we worked on most of the time after Denzel came back. We spent a lot of time just trying to make the rhythms right.

I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs an editor has, is choosing when to show someone saying something and when to show someone’s reaction to the thing being said. One example is when Troy is telling the story of his father, and you stay on him the entire time.
Hughes: Right.

The other side of that coin is when Troy reveals his secret to Rose and the reveal is on her. You see that emotion hit her and wash over her. When I was watching the movie, I thought, “That is the moment Viola Davis won an Oscar.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree.

I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs as an editor, knowing when to do what. Can you speak to that?
When I put this film together initially, I over-cut it, and then I tried to figure out where I wanted to be. It gets over-cut because I’m trying the best I can to find out what the core of the scene is. By I’m also trying to do that with what I consider to be the best performances. My process is, I start with that, and then I start weeding through it, getting it down and focusing; trying to make it as interesting as I can, and not predictable.

In the scenes that you’re talking about, it was all about Viola’s reaction anyway. Her reaction was going to be almost more interesting than whatever he says. I watched it a few times with audiences, and I know from talking to Denzel that when he did it on stage, there’s like a gasp.

When I saw it, everybody in the theatre was like, “What?” It was great.
I know, I know. It was so great. On the stage, people would talk to him, yell at him [Denzel]. “Shame on you, Denzel!” [laughs]. Then, she went into the backyard and did the scene, and that was the end of it. I’d never seen anything like it before. Honestly. It blew me away.

I was cutting that scene at my little home office. My wife was working behind me on her own stuff, and I was crying all the time. Finally, she turned around and asked, “What is wrong with you?” I showed it to her, and she had the same response. It took eight takes to get there, but when she got it, it was amazing. I don’t think too many actresses can do what Viola did. She’s so exposed. It’s just remarkable to watch.

There were three editors on Guardians of the Galaxy — you, Fred Raskin and Craig Wood. How did that work?
Marvel films are, generally speaking, 12 months from shoot to finish. I was on the film for eight months. Craig came in and took over for me. Having said that, it’s hard with two editors or just multiple editors in general. You have to divvy up scenes. Stuff would come in and we would decide together who was going to do it. I got the job because of Fred. I’d known Fred for 25 years. Fred was my intern on Drunks.

Fred had a prior relationship with James Gunn [director of Guardians]. In most cases, I deferred to Fred’s judgment as to how he wanted to divvy up the scenes, because I didn’t have much of a relationship with James when we started. I’d never done a big CG film. For me, it was a revelation. It was fun, trying to cut a dialogue scene between two sticks. One was tall, and one was short — the green marking was going to be Groot, and the other one was going to be Rocket Raccoon.

Can you talk about the importance of the assistant editor in the editorial process? How many assistants did you have on Fences?
On Fences, I had a first and a second. I started out cutting on film, and the assistant editor was a physical job. Touch it, slice it, catalog it, etc. What they have to do now is so complicated and technical that I don’t even know how to do it. Over my career, I’ve pretty much worked with a couple of assistants the whole time. John Breinholt and Heather Mullen worked with me on Fences. I’ve known Heather for 30 years.

What do you look for in an assistant?
Somebody who is going to be able to organize my life when I’m editing; I’m terrible at that. I need them to make sure that things are getting done. I don’t want to think about everything that’s going on behind the scenes, especially when I’m cutting, because it takes a lot of concentration for me just to sit there for 10 hours a day, or even longer, and concentrate on trying to put the movie together.

I like to have somebody that can look at my stuff and tell me what’s working and what’s isn’t. You get a different perspective from different assistants, and it’s really important to have that relationship.

You talked about working on Guardians for eight months, and I read that you cut Fences in six. What do you do to decompress and take care of your own mental health during those time periods?
Good question. It’s hard. When I was working on Fences, I was on the Paramount lot. They have a gym there, so I tried to go to the gym every day. It made my day longer, because I’d get there really early, but I’d go to the gym and get on the treadmill or something for 45 minutes, and that always helped.

Finally, for those who are young or aspiring editors, do you have any words of wisdom?
I think the once piece of advice is to keep going. It helps if you know what you want to do. So many people in this business don’t survive. There can be a lot of lean years, and there certainly were for me in the beginning — I had at least 10. You just have to stay in the game. Even if you’re not working at what you want to do, it’s important to keep working. If you want to be an editor, or a director, you have to practice.

Also, have fun. It’s a movie. Try and have a good time when you’re doing it. You’ll do your best work when you’re relaxed.


Chris Visser is a Wisconsin kid who works and lives in LA. He is currently an assistant editor working in scripted TV. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.

An image scientist weighs in about this year’s SciTech winners

While this year’s Oscar broadcast was unforgettable due to the mix up in naming the Best Picture, many in the industry also remember actors Leslie Mann and John Cho joking about how no one understands what the SciTech Awards are about. Well, Shed’s SVP of imaging science, Matthew Tomlinson, was kind enough to answer some questions about the newest round of winners and what the technology means to the industry.

As an image scientist, what was the most exciting thing about this year’s Oscars’ Scientific and Technical Awards?
As an imaging scientist, I was excited about the five digital cameras — Viper, Genesis, Sony 65, Red Epic and Arri — that received accolades. I’ve been working with each of these cameras for years, and each of them has had a major impact in the industry. They’ve pioneered the digital revolution and have set a very high standard for future cameras that appear on the market.

The winners of the 2017 SciTech Awards. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S.

Another exciting aspect is that you actually have access to your “negative” with digital cameras and, if need be, you can make adjustments to that negative after you’ve exposed it. It’s an incredibly powerful option that we haven’t even realized the full potential of yet.

From an audience perspective, even though they’ll never know it, the facial performance capture solving system developed by ILM, as well as the facial performance-based software from Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, is incredibly exciting. The industry is continuously pushing the boundaries of the scope of the visual image. As stories become more expansive, this technology helps the audience to engage with aliens or creatures that are created by a computer but based on the actions, movements and emotions of an actor. This is helping blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The best part is that these tools help tell stories without calling attention to themselves.

Which category or discipline saw the biggest advances from last year to this year? 
The advancements in each technology that received an award this year are based on years of work behind the scenes that led up to this moment. I will say that from an audience perspective, the facial animation advancements were significant this past year. We’re reaching a point where audiences are unaware major characters are synthetic or modified. It’s really mind blowing when you think about it.

Sony’s Toshihiko Ohnishi.

Which of the advancements will have the biggest impact on the work that you do, specifically?
The integration of digital cameras and intermixing various cameras into one project. It’s pretty common nowadays to see the Sony, Alexa and Red camera all used on the same project. Each one of these cameras comes with its own inherent colorspace and particular attributes, but part of my job is to make sure they can all work together — that we can interweave the various files they create — without the colorist having to do a lot of technical heavy lifting. Part of my job as an Imaging Scientist is handling the technicalities so that when creatives, such as the director, cinematographer and colorist, come together they can concentrate on the art and don’t have to worry about the technical aspects much at all.

Are you planning to use, or have you already begun using, any of these innovations in your work?

The digital cameras are very much part of my everyday life. Also, in working with a VFX house, I like to provide the knowledge and tools to help them view the imagery as it will be seen in the DI. The VFX artist spends an incredible amount of time and effort on every pixel they work on and it’s a real goal of mine to make sure that the work that they create is the best it can be throughout the DI.

The A-List: La La Land‘s Oscar-winning DP Linus Sandgren

By Iain Blair

Even though it didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was honored with five Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Cinematography for Linus Sandgren. This Swedish director of photography, known for his kinetic work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy, collaborated closely with La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.

Shooting with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film on Panavision Millennium XL2s (with one 16mm sequence) — and capturing his first musical — Sandgren rose to the challenge set by Chazelle (“make it look magical rather than realistic”) by continually pushing the film’s technical and creative boundaries.

That approach is showcased in the bravura opening traffic jam sequence where the camera feels like one of the dancers and part of the choreography. Designed to look like one unbroken shot, it’s actually three, carefully rehearsed, then shot on the freeway ramp over a weekend and stitched together invisibly and seamlessly. For another tour-de-force sequence where stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone literally fly up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory planetarium, the team used wires and bluescreen on a set, as filming wasn’t allowed in the real location.

I recently talked to Sandgren about shooting the film, working with Chazelle (see our interview with the director), the digital workflow and the importance of post to him as a DP.

Is it fair to say that the camera functions almost like another character in this film?
Yes, our whole approach was to let the camera act as both a curious character, with very active movement, as well as a musical instrument, so we had to move the camera to the rhythm of the music. We also designed many scenes in three- to six-minute-long single takes that often included a Steadicam that had to step on or off a crane, and sometimes we needed to shoot the scene in a very limited timeframe of about 20 minutes.

Was the framing also quite demanding?
Damien wanted the film to be very anamorphic and do it in 35mm with the old scope format — before the standard became 2.40:1 — so we did it in 2.55:1 like the old CinemaScope. Then I talked to Panavision and they built some new ground glasses for us, which added to the magic we were trying to capture in the look.

Damien told me that you and colorist Natasha Leonnet actually set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot?
Yes, we began with the tests. To me, it’s really important to try and establish the look in camera as much as possible, so that it’s as natural as possible in post and you don’t have to tweak too much later. So in the test, in order to get that “Technicolor look,” we explored introducing blues and cyans into the blacks, and we tested anything from push process (over-developing) and under-exposing, and pull process (under-develop) and over-exposing the film. The push process gave us more contrast and grain, while the pull process gave us a softer look and finer grain, which we thought was more pleasing.

How did you deal with the dailies?
We decided we were going to use Efilm’s Cinemascan dailies, which meant we scanned all the negative with an Arri scanner instead of the telecine version, and then in post we re-scanned the negative in 6K and downconverted it to 4K. All the tests were done with Natasha, but for the shoot itself, I used my dailies colorist, Matt Wallach from EC3 Lab, which is the location operation run by Efilm and Company 3 together. It’s the same workflow I used on Joy and also on the upcoming Battle of the Sexes. Each day of the shoot the film was sent to Fotokem, who under-developed it one stop, and then it was scanned at EC3.

Linus Sandgren with is Oscar at the Lionsgate Oscar party.

Where did you do the DI?
With Natasha at Efilm. She got all the settings from the EDL and we generally tried to stay with the dailies look, which we were all pretty happy with. We used some windows and worked on the blacks, and me and Damien had about three to four weeks working on the DI, but not every day. We’d go back and forth, and Natasha also did some work by herself. I’m really involved with the whole DI process, and I even ended up doing a last remote session with Natasha from Company 3’s place in London when I was there at the end of the DI.

Obviously, the shoot’s the main focus for any DP, but just how important is the whole post process for you?
It’s incredibly important, and I love the DI and post process. The most important thing for me is that the film’s look is already established before we start shooting, and therefore it’s very important to involve post production creatives in preproduction. I could never shoot a project where people say, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix the look in post.” I want to go into the DI knowing that we already have the look, and then we can work on fine-tuning it.

A Conversation: Jungle Book’s Oscar-Winner Rob Legato

By Randi Altman

Rob Legato’s resume includes some titles that might be considered among the best visual effects films of all time: Titanic, Avatar, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Apollo 13 and, most recently, The Jungle Book. He has three Oscars to his credit (Titanic, Hugo, The Jungle Book) along with one other nomination (Apollo 13). And while Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator don’t scream effects, he worked on those as well.

While Legato might be one of the most prodigious visual effects supervisors of all time, he never intended for this to be his path. “The magic of movies, in general, was my fascination more than anything else,” he says, and that led to him studying cinematography and directing at Santa Barbara’s Brooks Institute. They provided intensive courses on the intricacies of working with cameras and film.

Rob Legato worked closely with Technicolor and MPC to realize Jon Favreau’s vision for The Jungle Book, which is nominated for a VFX Oscar this year.

It was this technical knowledge that came in handy at his first job, working as a producer at a commercials house. “I knew that bizarre, esoteric end of the business, and that became known among my colleagues.” So when a spot came in that had a visual effect in it, Legato stepped up. “No one knew how to do it, and this was before on-set visual effects supervisors worked on commercials. I grabbed the camera and I figured out a way of doing it.”

After working on commercials, Legato transitioned to longer-form work, specifically television. He started on the second season of The Twilight Zone series, where he got the opportunity to shoot some footage. He was hoping to direct an episode, but the show got cancelled before he had a chance.

Legato then took his experience to Star Trek at a time when they were switching from opticals to a digital post workflow. “There were very few people then who had any kind of visual effects and live-action experience in television. I became second-unit director and ultimately directed a few shows. It was while working on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine that I learned how to mass produce visual effects on as big a scale as television allows, and that led me to Digital Domain.”

It was at Digital Domain where Legato transitioned to films, starting with Interview With the Vampire. He served as visual effects supervisor on this one. “Director Neil Jordan asked me to do the second unit. I got along really well with DP Philippe Roussselot and was able to direct live-action scenes and personally direct and photograph anything that was not live-action related — including the Tom Cruise puppet that looked like he’s bleeding to death.” This led to Apollo 13 on which he was VFX supervisor.

On set for Hugo (L-R): Martin Scorsese, DP Bob Richardson and Rob Legato.

“I thought as a director did, and I thought as a cameraman, so I was able to answer my own questions. This made it easy to communicate with directors and cameramen, and that was my interest. I attacked everything from the perspective of, ‘If I were directing this scene, what would I do?’ It then became easy for me to work with directors who weren’t very fluent in the visual effects side. And because I shot second unit too, especially on Marty Scorsese’s movies, I could determine what the best way of getting that image was. I actually became quite a decent cameraman with all this practice emulating Bob Richardson’s extraordinary work, and I studied the masters (Marty and Bob) and learned how to emulate their work to blend into their sequences seamlessly. I was also able to maximize the smaller dollar amount I was given by designing both second unit direction and cinematography together to maximize my day.”

Ok, let’s dig in a bit deeper with Legato, a card-carrying member of the ASC, and find out how he works with directors, his workflow and his love for trying and helping to create new technology in order to help tell the story.

Over the years you started to embrace virtual production. How has that technology evolved over the years?
When I was working on Harry Potter, I had to previs a sequence for time purposes, and we used a computer. I would tell the CG animators where to put the camera and lights, but there was something missing — a lot of times you get inspired by what’s literally in front of you, which is ever-changing in realtime. We were able to click the mouse and move it where we needed, but it was still missing this other sense of life.

For example, when I did Aviator, I had to shoot the plane crash; something I’d never done before, and I was nervous. It was a Scorsese film, so it was a given that it was to be beautifully designed and photographed. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to blow my opportunity. On Harry Potter and Titanic we had a lot of resources, so we could fix a mistake pretty easily. Here, I had one crack at it, and it had to be a home run.

So I prevised it, but added a realtime live-action pan and tilt wheels so we could operate and react in realtime — so instead of using a mouse, I was basically using what we use on a stage. It was a great way of working. I was doing the entire scene from one vantage point. I then re-staged it, put a different lens on it and shot the same exact scene from another angle. Then I could edit it as you would a real sequence, just as if I had all the same angles I would have if I had photographed it conventionally and produced a full set of multi-angle live-action dailies.

You edit as well?
I love editing. I would operate the shot and then cut it in the Avid, instantly. All of a sudden I was able to build a sequence that had a certain photographic and editorial personality to it — it felt like there was someone quite specific shooting it.

Is that what you did for Avatar?
Yes. Cameron loves to shoot, operate and edit. He has no fear of technology. I told him what I did on Aviator and that I couldn’t afford to add the more expensive, but extremely flexible, motion capture to it. So on Avatar instead of only the camera having live pan and tilt wheels, it could also be hand-held — you could do Steadicam shots, you could do running shots, you could do hand-held things, anything you wanted, including adding a motion capture live performance by an actor. You could easily stage them, or a representation of that character, in any place or scale in the scene, because in Avatar the characters were nine feet tall. You could preview the entire movie in a very free form and analog way. Jim loved the fact he could impart his personality — the way he moves the camera, the way he frames, the way he cuts — and that the CG-created film would bear the unmistakable stamp of his distinctive live-action movies.

You used the “Avatar-way” on Jungle Book, yes?
Yes. It wasn’t until Jungle Book that I could afford the Avatar-way — a full-on stage with a lot of people to man it. I was able to take what I gave to Jim on Avatar and do it myself with the bells and whistles and some improvements that gave it a life-like sensibility of what could have been an animated film. Instead it became a live film because we used a live-action analog methodology of acquiring images and choosing which one was the right, exact moment per the cut.

The idea behind virtual cinematography is that you shoot it like you would a regular movie. All the editors, cameramen or directors who’ve never done this before are now sort of operating the way they would have if it were real. This very flavor and personality starts to rub off on the patina of the film and begins to feel like a real movie; not animated or computer generated one.

Our philosophy on Jungle Book was we would not make the computer camera do anything that a real camera could not do, so we limited the way we could move it and how fast we could move it, so it wouldn’t defy any kind of gravity. That went part and parcel with the animation and movement of the animals and the actor performing stunts that only a human can accomplish.

So you are in a sense limiting what you can do with the technology?
There was an operator behind the camera and behind the wheels, massaging and creating the various compositional choices that generally are not made in a computer. They’re not just setting keyframes, and because somebody’s behind the camera, this sense of live-action-derived movement is consistent from shot to shot to shot. It’s one person doing it, whereas normally on a CG film, there are as many as 50 people who are placing cameras on different characters within the same scene.

You have to come up with these analog methodologies that are all tied together without even really knowing it. Your choices at the end of the day end up being strictly artistic choices. We’d sort of tap into that for Jungle Book and it’s what Jim tapped into when he did Avatar. The only difference between Avatar and our film is that we set our film in an instantly recognizable place so everybody can judge whether it’s photorealistic or not.

When you start a film, do you create your own system or use something off the shelf?
With every film there is a technology advance. I typically take whatever is off-the-shelf and glue it together with something not necessarily designed to work in unison. Each year you perfect it. The only way to really keep on top of technology is by being on the forefront of it, as opposed to waiting for it to come out. Usually, we’re doing things that haven’t been done before, and invariably it causes something new and innovative.

We’re totally revamping what we did on Jungle Book to achieve the same end on my next film for Disney, but we hope to make it that much better, faster and more intuitive. We are also taking advantage of VR tools to make our job easier, more creative and faster. The faster you can create options, the more iterations you get. More iterations get you a better product sooner and help you elevate the art form by taking it to the next level.

Technology is always driven by the story. We ask ourselves what we want to achieve. What kind of shot do we want to create that creates a mood and a tone? Then once we decide what that is, we figure out what technology we need to invent, or coerce into being, to actually produce it. It’s always driven that way. For example, on Titanic, the only way I could tell that story and make these magic transitions from the Titanic to the wreck and from the wreck back to the Titanic, was by controlling the water, which was impossible. We needed to make computer-generated water that looked realistic, so we did.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) BAGHEERA and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CG water was a big problem back then.
But now that’s very commonplace. The water work in Jungle Book is extraordinary compared to the crudeness of what we did on Titanic, but we started on that path, and then over the years other people took over and developed it further.

Getting back to Marty Scorsese, and how you work with him. How does having his complete trust make you better at what you do?
Marty is not as interested in the technical side as Jim is. Jim loves all this stuff, and he likes to tinker and invent. Marty’s not like that. Marty likes to tinker with emotions and explore a performance editorially. His relationship with me is, “I’m not going to micro-manage you. I’m going to tell you what feeling I want to get.” It’s very much like how he would talk to an actor about what a particular scene is about. You then start using your own creativity to come up with the idea he wants, and you call on your own experience and interpretation to realize it. You are totally engaged, and the more engaged you are, the more creative you become in terms of what the director wants to tell his story. Tell me what you want, or even don’t want, and then I’ll fill in the blanks for you.

Marty is an incredible cinema master — it’s not just the performance, it’s not just the camera, it’s not just the edit, it’s all those things working in concert to create something new. His encouragement for somebody like me is to do the same and then only show him something that’s working. He can then put his own creative stamp on it as well once he sees the possibilities properly presented. If it’s good, he’s going to use it. If it’s not good, he’ll tell you why, but he won’t tell you how to if fix it. He’ll tell you why it doesn’t feel right for the scene or what would make it more eloquent. It’s a very soft, artistic push in his direction of the film. I love working with him for this very reason.

You too surround yourself with people you can trust. Can you talk about this for just a second?
I learned early on to surround myself with geniuses. You can’t be afraid of hiring people that are smarter than you are because they bring more to the party. I want to be the lowest common denominator, not the highest. I’ll start with my idea, but if someone else can do it better, I want it to be better. I can show them what I did and tell them to make it better, and they’ll go off and come up with something that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of, or the collusion between you and them creates a new gem.

When I was doing Titanic someone asked me how I did what I did. My answer was that I hired geniuses and told them what I wanted to accomplish creatively. I hire the best I can find, the smartest, and I listen. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the mistake of somebody literally misunderstanding what you meant delivers something that you never thought of. It’s like, “Wow, you completely misunderstood what I said, but I like that better, so we’re going to do that.”

Part and parcel of doing this is that you’re a little fearless. It’s like, “Well, that sounds good. There’s no proof to it, but we’re going to go for it,” as opposed to saying, “Well, no one has done it before so we better not try it. That’s what I learned from Cameron and Marty and Bob Zemeckis. They’re fearless.

Can you mention what you’re working on now, or no?
I’m working on Lion King.

The A-List: La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Damien Chazelle may only have three feature films on his short resume, but the 32-year-old is already viewed by Hollywood as an acclaimed auteur and major talent. His latest film, the retro-glamorous musical La La Land, is a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash. That film received five Oscar nominations — including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle — and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

Now officially crowned as this year’s Oscar frontrunner, Lionsgate’s La La Land just scored a stunning total of 14 nominations (including Best Director), matching the record held by All About Eve and Titanic. It also recently scooped up seven Golden Globes, a record for a single movie, as well as a ton of other awards and nominations.

Damien Chazelle

Set in the present, but paying homage to the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who meets aspiring actress, playwright and fan of old movies Mia (Emma Stone). They initially ignore each other, they talk, they fight — but mainly they break out of the conventions of everyday life as they break into song and dance at the drop of a hat and take us on an exuberant journey through their love affair in a movie that’s also an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics. It’s also a love letter to the Los Angeles of Technicolor dreams.

To bring La La Land to life, Chazelle collaborated with a creative team that included director of photography Linus Sandgren (known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy), choreographer Mandy Moore, composer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and editor Tom Cross who cut Whiplash for him.

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film and his workflow.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the musical is dead have been greatly exaggerated. You obviously love them.
I do, and I also don’t think they’re just escapist fantasies. They usually tell you something about their era, and the idea was to match the tropes of those great old movies — the Fred and Ginger musicals — with modern life and all its demands. I’m a huge fan of all those old musicals, and I drew my inspiration from a wide mix of all the MGM musicals, the Technicolor and CinemaScope ones especially, and then all the films of Jacques Demy. He’s the French New Wave director who made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room in Town. But I was also inspired by ‘90s films about LA that really captured the grandeur of the city, like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Pulp Fiction.

It’s interesting that all your films are so music-driven.
I used to be a jazz drummer — or a wannabe — so a lot of it comes from that. Probably frustrated ambition (laughs).

Is it true that you never used a hand double for Ryan Gosling when he was playing piano?
Completely true. He could play a little bit of basic piano stuff, and he’s definitely musical, but he was adamant right from the start that he would learn all the pieces and play them himself — and he did. He practiced intensely for four months before the shoot, and by the time we shot he could play. There’s no cheating. They’re his hands, even on the close-ups. That’s how committed he was.

The dancing must have been equally demanding for both Ryan and Emma?
It was. They both had a little dance experience — him more than her, I think, but fairly minimal and in different styles than this. So they had to do a lot of rehearsal and training, and Mandy Moore is a great dance instructor as well as a choreographer, so she did both at the same time — training them and building the choreography out of that and what suited each actor and each character. It was all very organic and tailored specifically for them.

The big opening dance sequence with all the cars is such a tour-de-force. Just how tough was that to pull off?
It was very tough. I had an amazing crew, and once we’d found this overpass ramp we had to figure out exactly how to shoot it for real with all these cars of different colors and eras, so there was a ton of insane logistics to deal with. That was going on while Mandy was working on all the choreography, either in the studio or in parking lots, since we couldn’t rehearse that much on location. The last thing to add was the crane. I’d storyboarded the whole sequence and shot a lot of the rehearsals on my iPhone so we could study them and see how we wanted to move the camera with the crane.

There’s been a lot of talk about it being one long uncut sequence. Is it?
No. We designed it to look like one shot but it’s actually three, stitched together invisibly, and we shot it over a weekend.

Talk about working with Linus Sandgren, who used anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to get that glamour look.
We had a great relationship, as every time I had an idea he’d one-up it, and vice-versa. So he really embraced all the challenges and set the tone with his enthusiasm. There was a lot of back and forth before and during the shoot. We wanted the camera to feel like a dancer, to become part of the choreography, to be very energetic, and we had this great Steadicam guy, Ari Robbins. He did amazing work executing these very difficult, fluid shots. I wanted the film to be very anamorphic, and today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1, but Linus thought it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give it the extra scope of those classic films. We talked to Panavision about it, and they actually custom-fit some lenses for us.

Do you like post?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Tell us about working with editor Tom Cross. Was he on the set?
He visited a couple of times, but I think it’s better when editors are not there so they are more objective when they first see the coverage. He starts cutting while I shoot, and then we start. I like to be in the editing room every day, and the big challenge on this was finding the right tone.

While Whiplash was all about punctuated editing so it reflected the tempos and rhythms of the drumming, La La Land is the polar opposite. It’s all about lush curves, and Whiplash is a movie about hard right angles. So on this, it was all about calibrating a lot of details. We had a mass of footage — a lot ended up on the cutting room floor — and while some is heightened fantasy, some is like a realist drama. So we had to find a way for both to coexist, and that involved everything from minute tweaks to total overhauls. We actually cut the whole opening number at one point, then later put it back and dropped other scenes around it. There’s probably no number we didn’t cut at some point, so we tried all possibilities, and it took a while to get the tone and pacing right.

Where did you do the post?
At EPS-Cineworks in Burbank; then on the Fox lot. Justin, the composer, was also there working on score cues next door, and we had our sound team with us for a bit, way before the mix, doing sound design, so it was very collaborative. It was like a mini-factory. Crafty Apes did all the VFX, such as the planetarium sequence and flying through space sequence, as well as the more invisible stuff throughout the film.

Obviously, all the music and sound was crucial?
Yes, and it helped that we had a lot of the score done before we shot. Justin was with us for the edit, and we’d do temp stuff for screenings and then tweak things. I had a great sound team led by Andy Nelson, who were phenomenal. Just like with the VFX, it had to somehow be small and intimate while also being huge and epic. It couldn’t be too glossy, so all the music was recorded acoustically and the vocals are all dry with very little reverb or compression, and we mixed in Atmos at Fox.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did Whiplash for me and she’s very experienced. The DP and her set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot, and then Linus and I’d go in for the DI and alternate on sessions. Our final session was literally 48 hours long non-stop — no sleep, no trips outdoors — as we were so under the wire to finish. But it all turned out great, and I’m very pleased with the look and the final film. It’s the film I wanted to make.

The A-List: Elle director Paul Verhoeven

By Iain Blair

Director Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid to go where most other directors fear to tread, especially in the thorny areas of sex, violence and gender politics. Happy to shock and outrage audiences, and adept at moving effortlessly between genres — and blurring the lines between high and low culture, dreams and reality — Verhoeven has also always possessed a sly sense of humor that percolates just below the surface, even as those audiences are horrified, and mesmerized, by what they see.

After first making a name for himself with 1973’s Oscar-nominated Turkish Delight, Verhoeven became a major Hollywood and international player with such blockbusters as RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. His resume also includes Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Dutch-born Verhoeven returned to European filmmaking in 2006 with Black Book — a fast-paced World War II resistance thriller — and then disappeared. But he’s now back with the acclaimed revenge thriller Elle, which stars Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, middle-aged mother and ruthless CEO of a leading video game company who, in the very opening scene, is violently raped by a masked intruder in her Paris home. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a perverse and thrilling game. Huppert picked up a Golden Globe this year for her performance in the film.

I talked to Verhoeven about making the film and his workflow.

It’s been 10 long years since your last film. What happened?
I just couldn’t find anything that excited me. I tried, but several projects I liked fell apart. In general, the scripts I read weren’t on the level of Black Book, plus I wanted to try something different, so I wrote several books and kept looking.

This film seems at first to be a rape-revenge thriller, but it isn’t just that, is it?
No, certainly not. It was originally going to be set and shot in America and would have been more of a straightforward rape-revenge thriller, but I wanted to make something far more politically incorrect and controversial. Something that examines the strengths of the heroine who lives by her own rules and ultimately gets what she wants. She refuses to be a victim, and in the novel it’s based on she doesn’t go into revenge mode, which would have been a cliché and boring. It goes in another direction, which I found intriguing and liberating, and that’s why I made it. It was unknown territory for me, as it leans so much on the social relationships and the characters themselves. I’d never done that in my whole career.

Is it true you tried to get an American actress, but no one wanted to take it on?
Yes, we tried about six A-list actresses, and they all refused to do it.

So what did Isabelle Huppert bring to the role?
She’s fearless and brings absolute authenticity. We actually met at the start of the project and she was very keen to do the movie. But we thought it’d be set in America, and later my producer said to me, “Why are we fighting to do it in the US? It’s based on a French novel and Isabelle really wants to do it — let’s get her and shoot in Paris.” And he was right. I realize now that I couldn’t have made this movie in America, and that without her in the role the movie would have been a very hard sell. Although you might not sympathize completely with her, you believe her. She made the third act work and be acceptable artistically.

You shot digitally, right?
Yes, on Red Dragons, which I loved. I always had two running, very close together, with a slightly different angle so in the edit you could cut to either since it’s the same movement from the actors. I even used another DP for the “B” camera, so they worked like two “A” cameras.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing in Amsterdam, Holland. Job ter Burg, who cut Black Book for me, worked with me for several months, and then we did the rest of post — the sound mixing, color correction and so on — in Paris, with some stuff in Brussels. We recorded the score in London, so post was very spread out.

Do you like post?
I love it. You’re glad the shoot’s over, with all the stress over budget and schedule, and you can finally relax and make your film. You’re completely free to discuss structure and change anything you want, although we didn’t change much in terms of the scenes and order. The first cut came in at two and a half hours. We eventually cut about 25 minutes because certain scenes didn’t fit with the drama as they were too slow and interrupted the narrative flow and pace. So we did a bit of compression, but we didn’t re-order it.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Right. They were done by Mikros Image in Paris, and there were a lot of small things.  We used VFX to change backgrounds and so on, and VFX were really useful in all the scenes with the cat, because a cat is very difficult to direct (laughs). They do what they want. So some of the shots, like the cat with the bird, are composites with bluescreen. So it was all about improving what we’d shot on the day, and little touches, nothing like the big VFX sequences in RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both so important in film, and you’re trying to find the best atmosphere for each scene. Sometime when you shoot in the street, the traffic’s so loud you have to fix all the dialogue in post. Then finding the right music was crucial, and I had very long talks with Anne Dudley, the English composer who scored Black Book for me, about what we wanted to express, what would work and why. I’m a big fan of Stravinsky, and the unusual way he composed his symphonies, which subverted the norm. I wanted to use both modern electronic music and sounds along with symphonic music.

I prefer to listen to music, like classical, that you don’t necessarily go out and copy, but you understand what it adds to the images. So Anne and I’d listen to Janacek and Stravinsky and others, and slowly it becomes obvious what the score should be. Then she began writing her own music. So during post I would go to London a lot to work on all that with her. For me, once you have the right score, it elevates the movie into a whole new level that the visuals alone can never match.

This is France’s official Oscar entry, and we’re starting awards season. How important are awards to you?
Important, but not as important as the movie. It’s great to get recognition, but I never made a movie thinking about Oscars or awards, and I made this because it’s audacious and different from any other movie.

What’s next? Do we have to wait another 10 years?
(Laughs) No, no! Please, I feel very guilty about that. I should have made at least one, but time passed and suddenly it’s a decade later. Now I’m very aware of my age. I’ll probably be dead if I wait that long again, so I have several projects lined up, some French projects, an American film, and some Dutch ones, and I promise you I’ll say “yes” to one of them soon.


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.

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

The A-List: Hidden Figures director/co-writer Ted Melfi

By Iain Blair

When writer/producer/director Ted Melfi (St. Vincent) first came across the true story behind his new film, Hidden Figures, he was amazed that it had never been told before. The drama recounts the history of an elite team of black female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against the Soviet Union and, at the same time, brought issues of race, equal rights, sexism and opportunity to the surface of 1960s society.

Focusing on a trio of women who crossed gender, race and professional lines, it stars Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Benjamin Button), Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help), singer Janelle Monáe (making her motion picture debut) and two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves).

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Ted Melfi

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film was written by Melfi and screenwriter Allison Schroeder (they both received Oscar noms for Best Adapted Screenplay), who reports that the subject matter was already embedded in her DNA. “I grew up a NASA baby in Florida,” she explains. “My grandparents and dad all worked there, and then I interned there for four years during high school and worked for a missile launch company after my freshman year at college.” She then channeled that family history and her own workplace experiences into a story about “what it was like to be a woman in science and mathematics back then.”

Not long ago, I spoke with Melfi about making the film and his workflow.

This is a very timely film, dealing as it does with racism, sexism and all the issues with Russia and the space race. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s a completely unknown true story for many reasons, the main one being that all the material was classified for so long because of the Cold War and our fear of Russia. So everyone on the space program was sworn to secrecy, and even the astronauts themselves didn’t know who’d be flying until days before a launch.

While we have parades celebrating astronauts, athletes and so on, we don’t have parades for mathematicians. So I wanted to make an American classic, a movie about this crossroads in America where you had the fight for civil rights and the space race. That’s how I saw it in my mind — how did all that collide?

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.You got a great cast. How tough was it casting the women?
Taraji was my first thought for her role and she said yes right away on the phone after I just pitched her the storyline. Octavia was also on board right away. Janelle was the hard one, in that it was tough casting her role. We wanted someone fresh and different, and once she came in to audition, we knew she was perfect for it, and she just blew it away.

Did you get a lot of cooperation from NASA?
Not only did we get tons of help from them, but I’ve become good friends with some of the guys there. They pored through draft after draft, gave notes and really helped us craft all the math. So everything in the film is completely accurate from a scientific, mathematical and engineering standpoint, and they were so helpful. We also had a math scholar who helped us and Taraji with her math and all the equations, so we spent a lot of time on research.

What was the biggest production challenge?
How to pull off the space race, because we were essentially a low budget film — a $25 million movie — and we didn’t have the money or time to recreate all the launches and rocket stuff. So we had to find a very clever way of combining archival footage and VFX with all the live-action footage. You see those transitions throughout the film; we’ll have a piece of archival footage and then roll right into something we shot, with all the VFX incorporated into that.

Getting all that archival footage was both tricky and easy — easy as NASA has a huge archive, but they also have a lot of footage that they couldn’t find. So we had to send a film historian specialist to DC to dig through all of NASA’s film reel archives in this massive vault, and that was a lot of work, since they have thousands and thousands of them of every piece of footage ever shot of all the launches and landings and so on. We wanted the original negatives, and he was able to get almost all of them. Then we re-scanned them and blended them into our footage.

You shot on location in Atlanta. Was that tough?
Yes, in that we had just 43 days, which is very short for something of this scope.

Given that sexism is a main theme, and there’s so much talk now about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, was it intentional or coincidental that you hired a female DP, Mandy Walker?
It was a bit of both. I met with a bunch of DPs, and she was just great. It’s a shame that just three percent of the world’s DPs are women. So I try to approach my professional life with a very inclusive attitude, just in general, which means you have to work at it and be pro-active, and 35 percent of our crew were female, and extremely diverse.

Do you like post?
I love it, until you get to the very end. (Laughs) For me, after the shoot, when I literally feel like collapsing because I’m so tired and exhausted. Then I get to this room with a couch, and can finally sit down. So it’s like a vacation in a way, where I get to enjoy and discover stuff every day. At times it’s depressing, when there are problems, but it’s mainly a time of exuberance and joy for me. But at the end, say the last month, it becomes the same as the shoot, with all the time and money constraints, and the pressure to get it done in time.

Where did you do the post?
All on the Fox lot. We did the editing and had our whole team in the same building — our sound team, music guys — and it was awesome, like a small family. The only problem was that we got a very truncated post schedule. Based off all the dailies, the studio decided they wanted to release it early in time for all the awards season stuff, so suddenly we had to deliver it in October instead of for Christmas. That meant we got eight to 10 weeks cut out of post. That left us with just 26 weeks all in, which isn’t very long for something of this scope. Most movies this size get way longer than that. So that was tough.

Tell us about working with editor Peter Teschner, who cut St. Vincent for you. Was he on the set?
Yes, he was in Atlanta with us, cutting from day one as we shot. Basically, I let him do his thing, he puts the movie together in a rough assembly, and we began with a cut at just over two and a half hours. Then we got down to two. Normally, that first rough cut is the most depressing day of your life, but this one wasn’t. There was a lot of work to do, but it was enjoyable work.

Obviously, all the VFX were very important, right?
Very. It’s a period piece, and with all the capsule and rocket scenes there was a lot of stuff to do. We used Cgfluids and ILP for all the VFX, and probably had 400 to 500 shots, and maybe half of those were clean-up, like removing any modern stuff, such as streetlights and cars and so on. But then we had around 100 shots of capsule stuff — the capsules in orbit, pieces of the rocket going up, and then John Glenn’s re-entry and fire scenes.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to every scene. People say it’s half your movie, but I think it’s often more. Just watch your movie without sound or music and you go, “This is so awful! It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” but then you start adding all those layers and it suddenly all comes alive. It’s all these little things that add up to huge things and how an audience feels emotionally and how they respond.

I had a great sound team — Andy Nelson was the re-recording mixer and Derek Vanderhorst was the sound designer, and those guys are brilliant. When you’re in space and in the capsule, you need to feel all that, the intensity of the rocket. Then musically we had a great team with Pharrell and Hans Zimmer and Ben Wallfisch. They came on board very early, before we even began proper production, to map out the musical plan. So we had music to shoot to. We shot Taraji’s running scenes to Pharrell’s track, which was a big benefit.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonett from Efilm at their room there. She’s done a ton of films, including La La Land. She’s brilliant.

You’ve had a long and very successful career directing over 100 commercials, so I assume you’re very involved?
You’re right. I’ve been used to doing coloring for over 20 years, as my DP was never around, so Mandy came in for a few days and then I did my thing. It’s the final piece of the post workflow and I love it.


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.

‘Ex Machina’ VFX team gets Oscar

Artists from London’s Double Negative and Milk VFX took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for their work on Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. In winning, Milk’s co-founder, Sara Bennett, became one of two women to ever win the Academy Award for VFX — the other was Suzanne Benson for her work on Aliens during the 59th Academy Awards.

Bennett got the gold along with Double Negative’s Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris and Mark Ardington. This is Dneg’s second win in as many years, taking home the statue for work on last year’s Interstellar.

“I am beyond excited!! We are thrilled and honored to be recognized by The Academy for our work on Ex Machina,” says Bennett. “It was a privilege to work with Alex Garland and to bring his incredible vision to life, alongside Andrew Whitehurst and the Dneg team. I would love to see more women in prominent creative roles in our industry — I was a little shocked to find out I was the third-ever female VFX Oscar nominee.”

“I’m still in shock, I think, but what an incredible experience and what an amazing group of people to represent,” says Double Negative’s Whitehurst

Norris says, “It was an honor and privilege to represent out team at the 88th Academy Awards — it was an amazing experience that’s still sinking in!”

Double Negative

“The whole crew did an incredible job, and should be, rightfully, proud,” says Ardington.  “Our work stands on the shoulders of every other department from day one — from reading Alex Garland’s amazing script, through to the beautiful cinematography, striking production design, ingenious costume and make-up, awesome soundtrack and, of course, the wonderful performances from Alicia, Oscar, Domhnall and Sonoya.  What a journey this has been.”

Double Negative delivered 303 shots for Ex Machina, but that number is slightly deceptive due to the length of the shots — their average shot length was eight seconds and their longest shot was 1,800 frames.

According to Whitehurst, “The work on Ex Machina was focused around the creation of Ava, a robotic character, realized through the careful duplication of Alicia Vikhander’s performance mapped onto a fully articulated CG robotic body.”

Milk VFX, which worked on about 100 shots on the film, designed and created Ava’s CG brain, which is seen during the conversation between Nathan and Caleb in the construction lab. For the design of Ava’s brain, Milk was briefed to use jelly fish references while incorporating a computerized “tech” feel in its design.

Using Side Effects Houdini, the build was fully procedural with strong emphasis on the ability to quickly choreograph and combine major features to reduce the turnaround of versions during the look development phase.

Milk VFX

Starting from a sculpted core mesh, a complex set-up was built to create the main features of the brain, including frills, tentacles, pores, antennae, wireframe cages and air bubbles. The Milk team opted for noise-driven animation over simulations in order to avoid having to rig and animate each shot separately. Collisions were solved by post deforming wires and meshes using volume collision approaches where necessary. The resulting brain asset was then brought into Maya for shading and lighting using Arnold and finally composited in Nuke.

Milk was also tasked with devising a look and style for Ava’s visual point of view — seen at the start of the film when lead character Caleb wins the office lottery, and in the bathroom scene. A range of supporting 2D shots was also created, including environment fixes, compositing and monitor inserts with animated graphics.

The Revenant’s sound team takes home BAFTA

The Revenant sound team has won the Best Sound award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards ceremony . Winning the award was supervising sound editor and Formosa Group talent Lon Bender, along with supervising sound editor Martin Hernandez, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Randy Thom, production sound mixer Chris Duesterdiek and re-recording mixers Frank A. Montano and Jon Taylor.

Other nominees in the category include Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. 

“I am very pleased that our crew was recognized at the BAFTA Awards for their hard work and artistry,” said BAFTA winner and Formosa’s Lon Bender.  “It is an honor to have had our film included among all the other nominees this year.” 

Bender is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing for The Revenant. His 30-plus year career in sound dditing includes BAFTA nominations for Shrek and The Last of the Mohicans, Oscar nominations for Drive and Blood Diamond, and BAFTA and Oscar wins for Braveheart, which he shared with Formosa’s Per Hallberg. 

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) is an independent charity that supports, develops and promotes the art forms of the moving image by identifying and rewarding excellence, inspiring practitioners and benefiting the public. 

The A-List: The Big Short’s Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin

By Jean Lane

Editor Hank Corwin is no stranger to receiving accolades for his work — he has been recognized by the ACE, the Los Angeles Film Critics Society and the AICE — but this year he is nominated for the granddaddy of awards: the Best Editing Oscar for The Big Short.

Corwin has a diverse resume, having worked with Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life and The New World, Robert Redford on The Legend of Bagger Vance and Oliver Stone on Natural Born Killers, Uturn and Nixon. He also owns Lost Planet, a commercial editorial shop that has offices in Los Angeles and New York, where he keeps his hand in spot work and music videos.

Hank Corwin

Hank and I have a history together in the commercial world — once upon a time I worked for Lost Planet in New York as head producer — so after many years out of touch, we caught up about life, editing and the complex story of The Big Short, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers).

Congratulations on the Oscar nomination, your first! Are you planning to attend the ceremony?
I think my wife Nancy would kill me if we don’t go. I’ve toyed with not attending, just to see how she would react, but yes I plan on attending.

Had you worked with Adam McKay before?
Never. He had already started shooting and my agent contacted me about the film. They sent me the script and it was exquisite. It’s an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book and it’s heady stuff, which I didn’t understand completely, but I saw it as a wonderful challenge.

What is Adam’s style of working? Was there a lot of improvisation on set?
He does come from an improv place and that world. What he would do, unlike many directors I’ve worked with, was first he would get the coverage he needed from the script and then he would allow his actors to start improvising. He would throw out new lines and new scenarios and have them riff off those. I would get loads and loads of footage, which I was able to use. I was able to use the mistakes as well as the scripted stuff.

Were you on set during the shoot or near set?
Adam was five or six weeks into the shoot when I came in. I had a commercial job in Prague, so I flew into New Orleans to meet him for the day. I think he wanted to make sure I had two hands and two eyes. He made reference to the Michael Winterbottom movie called 24 Hour Party People, which had some similarities to breaking the fourth wall. He wanted me to see it, which showed me that he was really open to trying new stuff. The most important thing with a director and an editor is the trust and feelings of safety in the relationship. The director ultimately has to trust the editor, and the editor has to feel safe to try things without worrying about getting fired.

I try things and sometimes directors don’t like them. I was very fortunate that I tried stuff and Adam liked it. We talked through the stuff he wasn’t happy with and it became a very musical relationship, like we were playing jazz. He would play one instrument and I’d play the other.

That’s a great analogy. So how did you tackle this multi-character, multi-story film?
What do they say? A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. The financial part of the script is heady stuff and hard to understand. I figured the best way I could start is to try to understand and develop the characters and give each character his (and his group) editorial signature. The Steve Carell character, Mark Baum, was very angry and explosive, and I tried to reflect that in the editing. The Christian Bale character was very introverteLeft to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprisesd and introspective, and I tried to make his editing very internal, almost like on a biological level. You know the real Mike Burry has Asperger’s, and Christian Bale, after meeting the guy, really captured him. I tried in the editorial to get very focused into details, the way he might be experiencing the world. I think the operative idea on the cutting of the film was it had to be experiential. I was trying to get us inside of them.

It sounds like you were focusing on Burry and Baum — your main instruments — and then you’ve got your other characters that fill in the composition. Am I on the right track?
You know, I’ve never thought of it quite that way, but absolutely. I was thinking of it more like a collaboration of ideas. We were working on a number of different levels. First of all, you have the levels of each character and each grouping, but then you have the flow of the film.

It starts with a surreal moment with the old bankers, then we go into the montage of the crash; it’s kind of wacky and funny, but tinged with anxiety. The film starts comically, and then toward the middle of the film, it becomes a dramatic film.

In the third act, after they come back from Las Vegas, you have this disintegration… the scene with Carell and Marisa Tomei shows all his anger has been washed away, like he’s gone through a breakdown. I tried, very deliberately, to fragment his conversation. That’s a very pivotal scene. It’s a scene I love very much — he completely changes. That act, toward the end of the film, funnels into this tragedy. Each chapter in the film had a different emotional valance. You started with a comedy, you went to a drama and then you ended up in a tragedy. It’s very sad actually, the movie is very sad.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

I think that’s why it’s so beautifully edited — it really does take you through this experience. I was able to follow all the finance stuff, which I’m not familiar with at all.
It comes so much from Adam. One of the really big ideas editorially was if you are able to understand emotionally where these people were coming you would be able to understand the terms and stuff, as opposed to just talking about financial instruments that are abbreviations or initials, like CDOs and synthetic CDOs.

When postPerspective spoke to Adam about making The Big Short, he mentioned that the composer was housed next to your cutting room, and that he would score as you cut. Whose idea was that?
The composer is this young guy named Nicholas Britell. Nick and I just sort of evolved it. We would look at dailies and talk about them even before Adam got involved. I would tell him the emotions I wanted to feel and he would tell me the emotions he felt. He would sit at his computer and come up with tones and we would play it against some of the shots. He was developing the music as I was cutting. He became my co-editor on a certain level.

I’ve never heard of a process that unique.
I’ve never had that kind of collaboration before. I think Adam, Nick and I wish all our film projects could stay this way. I would love to work this way again.

Were you involved in the DI? Were you present for the color?
A little, but Adam primarily did that. Our DP Barry Ackroyd was working on a film out of the country, but he was looking at stuff. One of the neat things about this movie was that it was shot on film! There were just little elements that I loved that you don’t get anymore because digital is so clean. I was able to use the flash frames so we could flare out. I could take a flash frame and slow those frames down and make an impressionistic moment. The cuts themselves didn’t have to be classically beautiful, but they had to work very well on an emotional level.

You’re taking a character and trying to feel what they’re feeling and making connections via images. It’s sort of the way I see the world. It’s not linear, but most people don’t see the world in a linear way.

You definitely don’t see the world in a linear way!
You’ll walk in the street and hear a horn from a car on your left, then somebody’s baby will be crying on the right then there’ll be an old lady with a walker. These are all just impressions. The sum total of it makes your experience, so why not do that on film? Film gives you the ultimate opportunity to take those events. This is where you need a really smart director so you can create a more whole character, a more three-dimensional character as opposed to a one-dimensional third-person character that you’re looking at.

Clearly, he captured a lot of footage that you were happy with.
I’m so lucky. Adam is such a student of film, so he was able to get that stuff.

What is your favorite part of finishing after you lock picture? Color, visual effects, sound?
I love the mix. Traditionally it’s where film really comes alive. We had a sound supervisor named Becky Sullivan who was just wonderful and understanding. It’s tough being a mixer or a sound person because everybody has different aspirations. I wanted her to try things kind of ass backwards and she indulged me in some places and then came up with ideas that were fantastic.

The work itself was the best part of cutting this movie. I was trying stuff and felt safe. Again I attribute that to Adam. I would see things and they would be the culmination of ideas that I‘d been working on for years.

You worked solo on The Big Short as opposed to The Tree of Life, where you were one of five editors. Which do you prefer and why?
I did have an additional editor, Liza Espinas, who cut a couple of scenes. When you work with multiple editors, like with Terry Malick, it was very collegial. He only had people in one at a time. Oliver Stone, would throw in multiple editors and pass scenes around.

You share your time between features and commercials, and you pick your features carefully. How do you decide which ones to do?
I’ll read the script and if I really love the script, if I love something about it, then maybe I’ll go for it. I get great rewards out of doing commercials occasionally as well. The process can be very similar. I’ve had wonderful times doing commercials.

I envy that you’re able to choose projects because it’s what thrills you.
Thank you. I love working with film and I can’t believe that people are actually paying me to do what I do! It’s not like playing a guitar, where if you have the guitar, you can play it. Somebody’s gotta pay for this. Making films is an expensive proposition, so I am blessed in that sense and that my wife puts up with me.

Jean Lane is a post production supervisor based in New York. She was head producer at Lost Planet NY from 2003 to 2005.

The 88th Academy Award noms; ‘The Revenant’ leads way

The 88th Academy Award nominations are out and, as expected, The Revenant is well represented, garnering 12 nods. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road follows with 10, and The Martian received seven. While Star Wars didn’t appear in any of the above-the-line categories, it did get recognized for its technical achievement with noms for Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

The 88th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. See below for a complete list of nominees, check out our links to coverage of the nominated films and talent, and good luck in those office Oscar pools!

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The A-List: ‘Anomalisa’ directors Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

By Iain Blair

Maybe it was just a matter of time before director/writer/producer and Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman — from whose quirky sensibility sprang such films as Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — turned his attention to an animated project.

Teaming up with director/producer Duke Johnson, whose previous credits include the Adult Swim shows Moral Orel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, the result is Anomalisa, another quirky dreamscape that this time uses stop-motion and puppets to tell its story.

Based on Kaufman’s 2005 “sound play” called Theater of the New Ear, Paramount’s Anomalisa follows the mundane life of Michael Stone, a depressed service rep whose life and attitude is changed dramatically after meeting an unusual stranger. But the making of the film was anything but mundane.

ANOMALISA

L-R: Directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson.

After the stage script was given to Dino Stamatopoulos, co-founder of Starburns Industries, and Dan Harmon, creator of NBC’s Community, Anomalisa began its transition to the screen. Its journey was helped by a Kickstarter campaign and took shape as Kaufman’s first animated film.

It was also Starburns’ own initial foray outside television. Launched in 2010, Starburns is a production studio specializing in stop-motion and traditional 2D animation. They won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Character Animation for “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” an episode of Community filmed entirely in stop-motion animation and directed by Johnson.

I recently checked in with Kaufman and Johnson as the Oscar races were heating up.

How did you guys originally team up?
Kaufman: After Dino saw the play, he went on to found Starburns, where Duke worked as a director. They were looking for a project, so we met up that way.

Once a film uses animation and puppets, people assume it’s a kiddie film, but it’s not, is it?
Kaufman: No, it’s an R-rated movie for adults.

ANOMALISA    ANOMALISA

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Kaufman: It’s pretty close to the play in terms of all the dialogue. The big challenge was taking that play, which wasn’t visual — in that it was just read by actors on stage — and turn it into a film. So we had to design the puppets, record the actors, do an animatic and figure out all the shots and how it would play in realtime… and design and build the sets and actually shoot it.

How did you co-direct this?
Johnson: We did it all together. The unique approach that animation takes versus live action is that a lot of the traditional post work is all done in advance. It’s very front-loaded. You start by editing an animatic — a version of the whole film — and it’s the voice records and storyboards edited together with temp sound, and that’s your blueprint. Then you take that guideline and try to animate it as closely as possible to that, with regards to the frame count. So all the blocking and figuring out the emotional beats of the characters and the shots — along with all the creative work of costume, set and production design — happen well in advance. So Charlie and I worked very closely on all that.

ANOMALISAIn a sense, animation is like one big post process?
Johnson: Yeah, because you’re always doing post. You start with ADR and storyboards, and you edit that together. Then as a shot is completed and you cut that into the animatic, so editing happens over the entire film, unlike with a live-action film.

What did DP Joe Passarelli bring to the project, apart from patience?
Johnson: We went to AFI together and he  had done a lot of live action, and then he did stop motion with me on Season 2 of Frankenhole. When we began this, we all wanted it to look different from the traditional stop-motion stuff where it’s broadly lit with a lot of bounce light. We wanted a very cinematic look, and Joe shot with a Canon 7D, with Nikon lenses and zooms, and lit it like a live-action film. He even built his own little lights for it, and eye lights were very important for us and the characters.

The film was edited by Garret Elkins. Tell us about the editing process.
Johnson: He was there from day one, and he essentially edited it twice — and the main editing is for the animatic. He did Frankenhole and Moral Orel with me, and an editor who specializes in stop motion he has some skill sets that are unique. He’s able to, at times, manipulate some of the frames as animation is a series of 24fps, creating the illusion of movement.  If a shot was problematic, he could rework things, use double frames or re-edit and adjust.

Tell us about the VFX. Aren’t they used a bit differently in stop motion?
Kaufman: Right. There’s a lot of clean-up and dust-busting. We shot on 18 stages with black curtains, and we used a lot of greenscreen where walls are missing so the animators had access. Those were done with visual effects and ceilings, and stuff like the cigarette smoke was all VFX. A lot of different houses worked on it, including Gentle Giant, Boundary VFX and Digikore.

ANOMALISA    ANOMALISA

There’s a lot of correcting for stuff in stop motion because of just how long it takes to shoot it. There are set shifts, as they’re made out of wood, and temperature changes affect them, and then lights burn out and the new bulb may be slightly different color-wise. So VFX is less about enhancing the animation and far more about painting away and correcting stuff. But we wanted it to keep that handmade and organic look.

Charlie, you’ve worked a lot with composer Carter Burwell. He told me that to score for the “vulnerable, normal” puppets, and to help the audience “open their hearts to them,” he used a cabaret-style approach.
Kaufman: That really suited this and is an integral part of the film. Initially, the music was written for the play and was a very big part of it, but of course we had to change quite a bit because of the timing, and we added things and took stuff away.

ANOMALISA

Where did you do all the post and mixing?
Johnson: Everything was done at Starburns, and then we did all the sound mixing on the lot at Warners.

How long did this take from start to finish?
Kaufman: Three years. I think we spent 21 months on the shoot. It makes a live-action film look very fast.

Charlie, you won an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine. How important are awards for a film like this?
Kaufman: Very important for a small movie like this, and obviously it benefits from the positive attention, which is what nominations and awards are.

Where do you keep your Oscar?
Kaufman: (Laughs) It’s actually in storage.

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

The A-List: An interview with ‘The Big Short’ director Adam McKay

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Adam McKay has become one of the most successful comedy directors in Hollywood thanks to such hits as the Anchorman films, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys and Marvel’s Ant-Man, which he wrote. Considering his resume, he just might seem like the last person in town equipped to make The Big Short, a seriously dense drama about the devastating 2008 financial crisis that is still resonating through every level of American society.

McKay was not only up to the challenge, he took the complex catastrophe and an all-star cast — including Oscar-winner Christian Bale and Oscar-nominated actors Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt — and turned the film into a riveting examination of corruption, greed and incompetence.

I recently caught up with McKay to talk about his process on The Big Short, a Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises film.

Adam McKay and Steve Carell on set.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making The Big Short, considering you’re best known for comedies?
Even in the silly comedies we always have a POV of what’s going on in the world. So obviously Anchorman is skewering ratings-driven news in the US, and Talladega Nights was about Red State pride, and so on. I’ve always been interested in politics, In fact, I’ve written for Michael Moore’s TV show The Awful Truth and the Huffington Post.

So when I read Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, it totally gripped me… the way he fused character with all this relevant information. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so two years later when my agent asked me if I had a dream project I immediately said The Big Short.

You took quite a radical approach with this very serious subject, making it very funny. So you couldn’t help yourself, while your outrage seems to simmer just below the surface?
I knew it had to be funny to sell the outrage. There’s two parts to this story: the first is where the outsiders know what no one else knows, while the big banks roll their eyes at them. They have the truth, and that part is very exhilarating and exciting, to see these corrupt banks be played by these guys. I knew that we’d always have energy and humor. Then there was the second part, when they learn that the corruption goes way deeper than they had imagined. Plus the fact that the whole world could collapse from this was a tragedy.

It’s also a genre-less story.
Yes! That’s exactly why I loved it so much. I believe the old genres are melting away a bit, so I could change tones on this. And, yes, it’s a tough subject, but learning about anything this important — to find out the truth — is exciting. We’re looking behind the curtain for the first time.

On top of a stellar cast, you got a ton of celebrity cameos illustrating knotty financial concepts.

We called them “pop culture icon characters,” and they explain stuff like “collateralized debt obligation.” So Anthony Bourdain came on, and for the end we had wanted Jay-Z and Beyonce, but found it would be easier to get Angela Merkel. So instead we paired Selena Gomez with economist Richard Thaler in a casino.

The film was shot by DP Barry Ackroyd, whose credits include The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips and United 93. What look were you going for?
We went for a very high-energy, “you are there” feel. There have been some great movies about Wall Street — like Wall Street and Margin Call — but they always present it with everyone in perfect suits in these solid, marble buildings; I felt this experience was the total opposite. I wanted it to be frenetic and anxiety-filled — since that’s how the real people experienced it — and that’s how most of Wall Street operates. That whole facade of conservative bankers in austere offices is a bit of propaganda sometimes. Barry was key to that look, and I’m a huge fan of all his work.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay talking through a shot.

Where did you post, and what were the main challenges?
At Technicolor on the Paramount lot. I knew it was a very ambitious project with a lot of moving parts, so my main rule was that no idea was off limits; let’s try anything! I’ve never seen a post with so many ideas flying around all over the place. It was very exciting.

The film was edited by Hank Corwin, whose credits include The Tree of Life, Natural Born Killers, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Horse Whisperer and Nixon. Tell us about how that relationship worked, especially considering the sheer volume of visual information he had to process.
Hank is just so experienced and creative, and he was so good at pulling all the material together into this coherent story. Then we hired this young composer, Nicholas Britell, who started very early and had an office right next to Hank’s. We had this great system where Hank would cut a version of a scene and then we’d ask Nick to write something for it, and he’d often plug his keyboard directly into Hank’s set-up and actually score the scene as Hank cut it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in post. So it was a very tight, very collaborative group.

BGS-02221R      THE BIG SHORT

Do you like the post process?
I love post, and this was one of the best posts I’ve ever had, starting with the DP and editor. They’re true masters of their craft.

This has some great VFX. Can you talk about them?
The big one that’s jaw-droppingly good — and it’s so good that no one realizes it’s a VFX shot — is the timelapse shot at the start of the film. ILM did it, and I wanted to illustrate how banking has grown over the past 30 years, from six percent of the GDP to 24 percent today. That’s why Manhattan’s real estate has gone through the roof.

So ILM created a sequence with all these buildings sprouting up, and there are even occasional smudges of rain on the camera, and no one’s ever guessed it’s just VFX. But if you stop and think about it, you know there’s no way it’s real.

The other big one is the glass eye for Christian Bale’s character. That was so tricky to do, since in reality you’re not that aware of someone’s glass eye except the odd occasion when it doesn’t move, and I didn’t want it to become too obtrusive. So we painstakingly went through every single shot to get it just right, and Lola VFX did a fantastic job on it.

Where did you mix?
Also at Technicolor, and mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter just killed it. I’ve never done a mix quite like it, where it was shot about 80 percent verite, but the rest is framed more traditionally and we go into montages. The sound had to be ambient and real, but then sometimes it wasn’t. So it had to be momen-by-moment.

Where did you do the DI?
Efilm with Company 3’s Stephan Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). He did an amazing job. DP Barry Ackroyd was off shooting, so I was very involved.

What’s next?
I got a real charge from doing something so current, so I have a few ideas kicking around — one about climate change and another comedy with Will Farrell about immigration.

We’re well into awards season. You’ve been nominated for a Golden Globe for co-writing this. How important are awards to you?
Huge. This is a very unusual movie, so that validation helps a lot.

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

The A-List: An interview with Quentin Tarantino about ‘The Hateful Eight’

By Iain Blair

For Quentin Tarantino fans it’s been three long years since the colorful writer/director/producer and sometime actor blasted and cursed his way across the screen with Django Unchained. Now he’s back with The Weinstein Company’s The Hateful Eight, an even more deliriously over-the-top, ultra-violent western — set in the same era — that makes Django look almost sweet and gentle by comparison.

It’s also a mash-up of horror and mystery genres, with enough fake blood and red herrings to keep every Tarantino fan in the world happy. With a large ensemble cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum, it tells a seemingly simple story: eight strangers get stranded in a mountainside stopover as a monster storm bears down on them. But nothing is quite what it seems.

All this is lovingly presented in the long-dormant Ultra Panavision 70mm format and shot by Tarantino’s long-time DP Robert Richardson, the three-time Oscar-winner who also shot Django, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill: Vol 1 and for the director. It was edited by Fred Raskin, another frequent collaborator.

1    2
Writer Iain Blair and Quentin Tarantino having some fun during their interview session.

I spoke with Tarantino about making the film, just as the first screenings rolled out.

This isn’t just a western, so what film did you set out to make?
That’s a great question, because it’s always interesting, especially after you’ve gotten to this point and you’re finally showing it for the first time — thinking back to what actually made you sit down with a pen and blank paper and start writing. And on this, more than with most of my scripts, I didn’t really know where I was going 100 percent; I just needed to get the ball rolling.

The starting point was the idea of taking eight characters that you cannot trust at all — you cannot take anything they say at face value. Whatever they say they are, you can’t trust that. Who they even think they are, or present themselves to be, you can’t trust that.Then during the course of the movie, everyone — to one degree or another — has something about their past revealed, but you can’t even trust that!

The director and his cast on set.

The director and his cast on set.

So there’s no hero?
Exactly. There’s no moral center. There’s no Django or Little Joe Cartwright. There’s no one you can gravitate towards, or anyone you know is really who they say they are. All these characters are trapped together in a chamber-room situation because of the storm.

The blizzard almost seems like some kind of monster.
Yeah, from a monster movie, and that’s waiting to devour them if they ever leave. So everyone’s trapped, and it all develops from that premise. So it’s also a mystery drama.

There was also a lot of drama and mystery a while back when the script was leaked and you got mad and pulled the plug on the whole movie.
That didn’t actually change the film I set out to make that much. I didn’t suddenly radically change direction because of the leak. The reason I reacted so much was that I had planned to do this film in a different way than I’d ever done before. I’m used to writing one big long piece, and when I get to the end, that’s the end. But in this instance — and I’d never written a script like this before — I wanted to spend time with the material and not just get to the end, but write it three different times.

In the course of telling the story in three different drafts, I wanted to see where it took me, since I spent a long time on it. So I wrote the end of the first draft — not “the end,” but just “an end” — and then the first draft got leaked. I felt very violated and I did get mad, and said, “That’s it, it’s never getting made now!” I was going to punish the world, I was so mad (laughs). But eventually I got over it and I calmed down, and then pressed on with it.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT   THE HATEFUL EIGHT

How tough was the shoot?
It wasn’t that bad. We shot all the location stuff in Telluride, Colorado, in the real snow, and then we did all the stage work at Red Studios in LA.

How long was post, and where did you do it?
It was about seven months. We just rented a house in LA near where I live and converted it into an editing facility.

Do you like the post part of the process?
I love post. People say, “Shooting’s the most important part,” and you can make that case, because if you didn’t get the coverage you don’t have a film. You could write a terrific script and then bum-rush it because you either don’t have the talent or ability or time to do it correctly. I feel that editing and writing are mirror images of each other. It’s a similar discipline, and I’ve always felt that the final script draft is the first cut of the movie, and the final cut of the movie is the last draft of the script… or at least the story.

When I’m writing, I love it, and am very invigorated, but by the time I’m ready to finish it I’m done with that process and ready to move on to the next one. Then I’m shooting and digging that, but then again I hit a point and I’m done. Life just stops while I’m making a film, and I get it back again after post.

The director and his cast on set.

The director taking a look a a shot..

The thing about post is that your gas tank is getting closer and closer to empty as you go, but what I’ve always loved about post is that after the whole hysterical carnival party atmosphere of the shoot is over, you’re suddenly all alone with your editor in a room and it’s all very serene, and what works works and what doesn’t doesn’t. Post is very much like the start of the whole process when you’re writing the script. It’s not hysterical then, it’s just very creative. What’s also interesting about post is that just about the time I’m getting sick of the whole process, you finish and you move on to the next one, and start the whole process all over again.

This is your third film with editor Fred Raskin. How does that relationship work?
He visited the set now and again — he does an assembly while we shoot, but I’m not necessarily going to watch it that much. It’s him getting familiar with the material and experimenting with stuff on his own. When I finish shooting, it’s not like I sit down and work through the assembly as a movie.

I feel the real editing only starts when I get in the room. I need to do all my homework — watching all the takes — and do that alone at home. I make notes and figure out where I want to go and how I can get there. Then armed with those notes, I come in and we start cutting together. At that point I’ll say, “Let me see what you did with the scene,” and we’ll compare versions. And on this there was a lot of great stuff he did that maybe I liked better than my ideas, so it’s back and forth like that.

There seem to be relatively few visual effects shots in this film.THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Right, not that many. The most VFX shots come into play once the storm and night hits, so we have all the storm effects outside, but even all that wasn’t just CGI. We ended up using movie effects snow blowing outside the window, and we then augmented it as needed. John Dykstra, our VFX designer, filmed more versions of that snow so we could add onto what we already had. Method Studios did all the VFX work, but we used a lot of practical stuff wherever we could, like squibs for the bullet wounds and so on.

How important is sound and music in your films?
It’s huge, and I actually figure out a lot of the music before I start writing, let alone shooting. They’re arrows that point me in the right direction, when I get cool bits of music. I’ll play stuff while I write and think, “That might be perfect for this scene.” Music’s a big part of the hook and inspiration for me when I’m writing. When I take a writing break, I’ll go upstairs and listen to the songs and I can actually see the movie in my head. I’m sitting in a theatre, with people watching the movie and hearing it, and I love it. It’s me projecting myself into the future and the finished film. There’s the White Stripes song I used, “Apple Blossom,” and I think it’s very effective. I can’t wait to see it with an audience.

Musically, this is the first original score you’ve used, and it’s the first western score in decades by the legendary Ennio Morricone. It seems like a perfect fit with your film.
He’s the maestro and a wonderful artist; it was a privilege to work with him. I had wanted to for a long time, but I felt this was the right movie for him. I don’t think the others were. I had this little voice whispering in my ear on this, saying, ‘It needs an original score.’ I never had that voice before.

THE HATEFUL EIGHTBut it’s not your typical “western” score.
Exactly. It’s more like a horror film score, and I think that’s how he saw it. That’s a good take on it.

It’s also like a stage play and an Agatha Christie mystery.
Yes, I definitely think you’re right there. The second half introduces the mystery element, and I’d never done that before. That was a lot of fun for me, and hopefully I pulled it off.

Where did you mix?
At the Cary Grant theater, on the lot at Sony. I have this great team — supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman and mixers Chris and Mike Minkler — and I’m very hands-on, but those guys know much more about sound than I do. I think they’re the best in the business, so I give them a lot of latitude to do what they want, and then we watch it and I give notes if needed. I also remember the sound on the day, so that factors in too. [Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for our upcoming interview with Stateman.]

I assume the DI had nothing to do with the film print?
Right. We only did a DI for the DCP, so there would be like a film element that the DCP had to deal with as opposed to taking it straight off the negative. I usually do a DI but this was the first time I didn’t do one for the film print. I went the Chris Nolan way.

Where do you keep your Oscars?
I used to keep them in my writing room, but last year I changed that. I have a big video room with old videocassettes, and I keep them on the top shelf in the drama section.

Quentin Tarantino: “I’m not a director for hire.”

You’ve only directed eight films, including your 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs. Why so few?
The real answer is, I’m not a director for hire. I’m not combing through novels and reading piles of scripts so I can make more movies. I make a movie, I give it my all, and when it’s over I need some time by myself to figure out what’s next. When I do figure it out, I have to write it, and that takes almost a year. So it’s basically a three-year process on each film.

There’ve been a lot of rumors that you might retire soon. Say it ain’t so!
Well, at least from directing. The business has changed a lot since I began, and that doesn’t help. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a thing. And if shooting on film ever stopped being an option, I wouldn’t reach 10. I’d write novels or plays and direct those, since that’s where I’m coming from. I want all my movies to be made with a deep sense of passion for what I’m doing. I don’t want to just continue doing it because it’s all I know how to do. There is an umbilical cord from Reservoir Dogs to this, and I do like the idea of leaving you wanting just a little bit more.

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

The A-List: An interview with ‘Chi-Raq’ director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Since Spike Lee first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, he’s made over 60 films, documentaries, TV series and shorts, and tackled such timeless — and timely — subjects as racial tension, college fraternities, Malcolm X, the Son of Sam murder spree, jazz, blues and Hurricane Katrina.

Now Lee takes on guns and gangs in his upcoming new film Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Shot by Matty Libatique, who recently shot the equally gritty Straight Outta Compton, it features a large ensemble cast, including such regular Lee players as Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes and Angela Bassett, alongside newcomers to the Lee team Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, John Cusack, Dave Chappelle and Jennifer Hudson. The film showcases the director’s satirical point of view, at its most overtly political, “terrible-state-of-the-union” best.

Writer Iain Blair and Spike Lee.

Writer Iain Blair and Spike Lee.

I recently caught up with with Lee about making the film.

This is the first original movie from Amazon. How did that deal happen?
Last Sundance we tried to sell the film and everyone said no, except Amazon. All it takes is one yes!

How much pressure was there to get big stars in this?
Casting is always down to me. They wanted some names, some stars, but left it up to me. Sam and I go way back and I cast him as a sort of rapping Greek chorus, and then Angela and John Cusack because they bring that gravitas, and their characters are the moral foundation of the film. It was especially brave of Jennifer to play a mother who loses her child to gang violence, considering what she went through in real life —having three family members murdered in Chicago.

You co-wrote the script, with Kevin Willmott, in verse. Any concerns that audiences may find it a bit daunting?
No, as so many kids now have grown up with rap and spoken-word performance, and they know all about rhyming and meter. It’s all very familiar. We actually tried to do this six years ago, and then went back to it and set it in the South Side of Chicago, where we also shot it. That’s ground zero of the gang violence. While we were there, for five weeks, there were 331 people shot and 65 murdered — and it has escalated since then. We rushed to finish this film because we all feel it really can help save lives.

Chi-Raq

You don’t pull any punches about the terrible situation in Chicago and gun violence in general in the movie.
Look, it’s insane that more people are dying on the streets of Chicago than our soldiers in Iraq and other war zones. And it’s not just Chicago — it’s Baltimore, New York, LA, it’s all over the US. I don’t tell audiences what to think in my movies, but I’ve got to make an exception with this. I want people to think about guns in this country and all the killings. It’s insanity. Don’t come over to my house — I don’t want to take away everyone’s Second Amendment rights — but we need far tougher background checks and tougher laws.

The women in the film and play famously stop the bloodshed by withholding sex from their men.
And it’s pretty effective! (Laughs) Matty and I set out to make the movie look sexy, because how can you sell a sex strike to the men — or the audience — if no one looks sexy? I’ve been told that we’re just objectifying women. I disagree.

Do you like post?
I love it, because shootin’ a film is a motherfucker! (Laughs hard) People have NO idea how hard it is, making a film. It is no joke. The grind, the pressure, the hundreds of questions you get asked every day on the set. So post is when you can finally sit down and actually make your film. You’re like a sculptor, shaping and molding it, cutting out shit, adding shit. Sometimes you change the whole structure and look. You’ve got the footage and now you have to find the film. With anything I do, I end up flip-flopping some scenes, so it never follows the shooting script exactly, but that’s the great thing about post. It’s this journey of discovery.

Chi-Raq      Chi-Raq

You always post in Brooklyn, right?
Yes, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

The film was edited by Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na. Why two editors?
Simple — it made editing twice as fast. They were on the set in Chicago, so they could start cutting while I was shooting, and they’d pick scenes and cut. We didn’t divide it into action scenes and quieter scenes. We just flip-flopped every scene, and it worked out great because it’s pretty seamless. And that way we could accelerate the whole post schedule.  We didn’t finish shooting until July 9, and the film’s coming out in December, so that’s very fast. Of course, once we got back to Brooklyn I was there every day working on the edit, and sometimes we worked a seven-day week to get it done. I’m very hands-on, but I’m not there looking over their shoulder while they cut. They cut a scene and then I look at it and give notes.

The film makes great use of all the tweets and other graphic elements that pop up.
Social media. You can’t ignore it, so I wanted to incorporate a lot of that. And apart from those tweets, there are a lot of visual effects in the movie — you just don’t see them for the most part. We had to do a lot of clean-up and removal work, and lots of detail work like bullet holes and so on. We did some of that in-camera, but then we amplified it in post.Chi-Raq

Randy Balsmeyer was the VFX supervisor, and he’s worked with me since 1988 on School Daze, doing all my opening credits and title design. The company was Balsmeyer and Everett, but now it’s called Big Film Design, and he’s done a ton of work for everyone from Woody Allen to David Cronenberg and the Coens.

The sound and the music, by Terence Blanchard, are also key elements in this film.
Terence wrote a great score again. He’s done a lot of my films, and never been nominated. How come his score for Malcolm X was never nominated? He’s a magnificent composer, trumpeter, bandleader. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting and editing and cinematography and so on. It’s hugely important.

David Obermeyer was the sound designer and Phil Stockton did the re-recording mix. We did it at C5 Sound in New York. We spent quite a long time on the mix, even though we were rushing to finish it.

Where did you do the DI?
At Harbor Picture Company in New York. Matty supervised it and then I came in and made a few small adjustments, but Matty’s a master at all that. I’m not going to get in his way (laughs). [Editor’s Note: Harbor’s Joe Gawler provided color work via the DaVinci Resolve. Additional color was done Roman Hankewycz, and conform was Chris Farfan and Chris Mackenzie.The studio also provided ADR for the film.]

You’ve been nominated for two Oscars and you were just honored with the Governors Award. How important are all the awards?
They all help bring visibility to the films, and the Governors Award also gave me an opportunity to talk about diversity — or the lack of — in Hollywood. So it’s very important.

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

 

The A-List: Director Danny Boyle on posting ‘Steve Jobs’

With Academy season approaching, we checked in with the Oscar-winning director

By Iain Blair

Danny Boyle, who won the 2008 Oscar for Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire, has always been attracted to controversial stories and pushing the cinematic envelope as far as he could, as such eclectic films as Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later, Trance, Sunshine and 127 Hours make very clear.

His latest film, Steve Jobs, continues in that tradition with its complex portrait of the visionary co-founder of Apple. Starring Michael Fassbender in the title role, it eschews the usual lazy Hollywood conventions of biopic storytelling — taking a strictly linear approach and throwing in some flashbacks — and instead presents, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s impressionistic script, Boyle’s inspired direction and editor Elliot Graham’s fluid cutting (which is getting a lot of Oscar attention), a visually and thematically audacious take on its notoriously enigmatic subject.

Writer Iain Blair and director Danny Boyle

I met up with Boyle recently about making the film, his love of post, and the Oscars.

You took a very complex anti-hero and threw away the usual biopic rulebook.
I’m glad you said that, because you always want your form and your subject to be the same, and here’s a guy whose mantra was, “Think different.” So right there, that’s a command to not do the same old biopic treatment — and Aaron Sorkin wrote this brilliant, unorthodox script, which really attracted me to the project. I felt this had to rock you back on your heels right away about how you approach this story and personality.

Biopics can be great, but they usually skim the surface, as they have to cover a lot of territory. With this I thought, can you do the same? Assemble the same sense of a person by intensively exploring three particular moments? And I believe you can. I’d argue you learn more this way than with the traditional skimming stone approach.

You always post in London, right?
Yeah, we shot it all in San Francisco — I insisted on that. It’s expensive, but the value of the real locations was enormous. There aren’t many in the film, so we probably could have replicated them somewhere else, but you get that organic element and legacy of the place that birthed this whole new era we’re all living through now. And then we moved back to London to edit it and do all the post. We cut at Goldcrest in a tiny room, and it’s always the same huge change of post — after the massive beast of the shoot with all these people, you end up in a little room where you actually make the film. Every DP hates hearing that, but it’s the truth. You make your film in the editing and post.

Film Title: Steve Jobs Film Title: Steve Jobs

The film was edited by Elliot Graham, who also cut Milk and X-Men 2. Is it true he wasn’t even originally brought on as the editor?
Yes, he was hired as a temporary, or assembly editor, just to do the first assembly while we were shooting because our editor wasn’t available for the shoot. But as soon as I began working with him, when we started cutting during the shoot, I realized just how amazing he is, and I told producer Christian Colson, “Tell the original editor to go and find another job, as this guy is so special.” And we persuaded him to come back to London with us, and I think what he did is absolutely brilliant — world-class work. We cut together for three months, and then we started the test screenings, and got the composer back in to polish some of what he’d done, and went from there.

I also heard that your approach to the music on this film was very different?
Yes, I really wanted to change the usual way I go about dealing with music in post. I’m very dominant and hands-on with music and composers, and I loved Daniel Pemberton’s work, especially what he did for Ridley Scott with The Counselor. So I told him, ‘Write all the music for this before we even start shooting it,’ but it’s very difficult to compose for Sorkin’s dialogue, as it’s continuous, emphatic and rhythmic, and you need to be able to follow it. That’s the buzz of it. So he had to respect the word, and he also had to create three different scores for the film’s three parts, to differentiate them as much as possible, but they’re also inter-linked, like a fugue. And there was no film to show him. It wasn’t easy for him, as it’s a bit like working in the dark, but he wrote some wonderful pieces that actually fit the scenes perfectly.

Film Title: Steve Jobs

Where did you do all the sound mixing?
At Pinewood, with Glenn Freemantle and his team at Sound 24. Then we added all the music from Daniel, and that way you get a great soundscape for the film. I’ve always been very particular about sound.

You must have a very well-oiled post machine by now. Was it the same team doing the VFX?
Yeah, I did all the visual effects with my usual guy, VFX supervisor Adam Gascoyne at Union Effects in London. He’s done all my films for a long time now. It’s a great relationship, and he’s very much a part of building it all. We had some very obvious effects, but as we were shooting so freely in these dressing rooms — which all have mirrors — that it was a problem.

So Adam was on set with us the whole time, and every day after we’d finished he would go in and take all these still shots of the process, and that enabled him to replace all the times we caught crew in the mirrors and stuff like that. So we had a lot of invisible VX work like that, a lot of clean up, as well as the more visible stuff.

Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on set.

Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on set.

There’s a great sequence where Jobs is in a corridor talking about a NASA rocket launch, and the corridor’s like a launch tube, and that was the most fun VFX shot to do for all of us. There’s also a bit where we wanted an image of the NASA ground control, stripped along the wall, and we tried the real stuff but it just didn’t look real! We ended up using footage from Apollo 13. I called Ron Howard and said, ‘Can we use it? It’s much more convincing than the real footage.’ Isn’t that weird? We also used Ridley Scott’s iconic 1984 ad in the film.

Where was the DI done?
At Technicolor in London with this really great colorist, Jean-Clement Soret, who does all my grading. It was very complex as we shot on 16mm, 35mm and digital, and all that had to be graded while retaining the original quality. I’m there for the whole DI as the look is ultimately down to me, but I like to leave them to it for the most part. (Editor’s Note: Soret used the FilmLight Baselight and Technicolor proprietary LUT in ACES colorspace.)

How important are the Oscars and all the awards?
They’re all extremely important, I feel. Not just the actual awards, but the increased visibility they give your films.

Film Title: Steve Jobs Film Title: Steve Jobs

Where do you keep your Oscar?
(Laughs) To be honest, it’s a bit intimidating, so I keep it out of sight. I don’t need the added pressure of looking at it when I’m starting a new film.

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

The A-List: ‘Carol’ director Todd Haynes

By Iain Blair

With his affection for period pieces and classic melodrama, along with his interest in gay sexuality, writer/director Todd Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — was probably the perfect choice to tackle the lesbian romance at the heart of his new film, Carol.

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” Carol tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds — Therese, a store clerk (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage — who meet and then find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its actors and for Haynes, whose credits also include the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, as well as Velvet Goldmine, Safe and the miniseries Mildred Pierce.

Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes

I spoke with Haynes about making the film, from production through post, and the Oscars.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making Carol?
It was all about the genre of the love story, which I felt I’d never tackled before. I saw it as this great opportunity to get into how love stories are these unique experiences — how much of it is about point of view and which party you’re with.

The film was shot by your regular DP Ed Lachman on Super 16mm. What look were you going for?
I looked at a lot of ’50s films, but they didn’t really give me a strong stylistic way into the material. They all felt a bit mannered and stylized for what this was about. So it was really the historical research we did that was so illuminating. The New York images we studied from the early ‘50s really told a different story from the high-gloss Eisenhower-era look, one about the country emerging from the war years and being in transition.

You could still feel that insecurity and shifting power dynamics of global politics, and the city looked dirty and tired. So the color palette of the photos was very beautiful and subdued, and the temperatures were hard to determine, almost a mixture really. Those all went into our look, along with shooting it all in Cincinnati because New York has changed so much since the 1950s.

Do you like the post process?
I love it because after the crazy, frantic Herculean task of production where you constantly feel the ticking clock, you’re back in a dark room, which is where I start as a writer. The shoot was quite stressful as we had a very tight schedule of just 35 days and a low budget for a period piece like this. But then in post, you’re down to the lowest overhead and the fewest number of people, so it feels very intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Goldcrest Post in New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI. They were partners in the film, so they were invested in the project and us being happy there. And we were. I ended up getting an apartment literally five doors down the street so I could be close to the editing room all the time. Post took about seven months, and I didn’t think we’d finish in time, but it went very smoothly.

The film was edited by Affonso Gonçaves (Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild), who you worked with on Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship.
He’s just a great partner and very sensitive, smart and knowledgeable. He was so attentive to temp tracks and finding really useful music to cut to. Music was always going to be a key element in Carol, and he has a great ear for that. I’m very hands-on in the edit, and I can’t really look at cuts I haven’t started making myself. Affonso did do a cut while I shot, but I only looked at it after we had tried my cut first — to see how they had failed (laughs). When I began my career, I cut on film and I loved to edit myself, and Mildred was really the first project I never laid hands on. The Avid is amazing, but cutting on film was an amazing education for me, and I’d never trade it in.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Talk about them and working with VFX supervisor Chris Haney.
Yes, there was a lot of removal of contemporary elements, stuff you often don’t even see until you’re in post, plus cosmetic work. We also had about six key shots that needed extensive VFX. We did as much as possible in-camera and practically, but there were plenty of spots where the deep space down a street was filled in to give us New York — in particular the scene where Carol sees Therese crossing the street near the end. That was extremely complicated, like the others, as they were usually moving shots filtered through windows, rain, dust, distortion and so on. So the CGI elements had to fit exactly inROONEY MARA stars in CAROL.to the vernacular itself, with the grain element and level of distress.

You didn’t make it easy for yourself.
No, but Chris did a magnificent job and was so attentive to the film’s tone. Also, Goldcrest, The Mill and Lola did various shots. I actually love working with VFX, as you can add so much with even a handful of frames, and Chris’ work was like a series of paintings.

The score by Carter Burwell is quite haunting. How important is the score and sound in your films?
They’re both so important, it’s hard to overstate. This is the third collaboration with Carter; he was involved before I even began casting, so he’s a key component.  My sound designer, Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since we did Far From Heaven.

The film has a very realistic look with quite a muted palette. Was that all done in post in the DI, or was it a combination of post and in-camera?
We did a lot of work in the DI with Goldcrest colorist John Dowdell (working on the Quantel Pablo Rio), who is another real artist, to get that very specific, slightly spoiled palette. It’s a very different look from Far From Heaven.

Todd Haynes directing Rooney Mara.

What’s next?
I’m hoping to do Wonderstruck next, based on Brian Selznick’s graphic novel, so another period film but one carried by younger characters, which’ll be new for me.

Your HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce won five Emmys and a Golden Globe. Will you be doing more TV?
Yes, I’m developing a dramatic project with HBO, The Source, about a ‘70s cult in LA.

We’re heading into awards season. You’ve been nominated before for an Oscar. How important are they to you?
They’re in some ways inseparable from the marketing of a film, and for me any opportunity to get people in to see the film on a big screen is important.

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

Oscar-nominated sound editors, mixers share insights with AES LA section

By Mel Lambert

A recent meeting of the Audio Engineering Society’s Los Angeles section offered an opportunity to hear from a number of Oscar nominees and winners as they shared their experiences while preparing dramatic film soundtracks, including how the various sound elements were secured, edited and mixed to picture, plus the types of hardware used in editorial suites and dubbing stages.

Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, was re-recorded on Technicolor at Paramount’s Stage 4 by dialog/music mixer Craig Mann and sound effects mixer Ben Wilkins (see our interview with Wilkins), using tracks secured on location by production mixer Thomas Continue reading

Congrats to this year’s Oscar nominees

 

By Randi Altman

And so it begins…. the yearly march to the Academy Awards to be held Sunday, February 22. With the nominations now locked down, let the betting begin! (Disclaimer: Dear Authorities, I am just joking and will in no way personally be participating in any illegal gambling activities. Nothing to see here. Move along.)

Oh, back to the nominations. Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing editor William Goldenberg, who is nominated this year for his work on The Imitation Game, which appears in a number of categories. Check out the story here. There is a fun bit about how Goldenberg first met Morten Tyldum, who is nominated for directing the film.

Jeney Walden interviewed the audio post team behind Unbroken, including nominees Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro from NBCUniversal StudioPost. Read her story here.

Jeney also spoke to Soundcrafter about their audio post work on Boyhood. While they weren’t nominated, the film and director Richard Linklater were. Take a look at the piece.

And to keep you in the Oscar vibe, take a look at my interview with The Grand Budapest Hotel colorist Jill Bogdanowicz. She worked on the film’s look directly with director Wes Anderson, who was nominated in the Best Picture Category and the Directing category. It’s a good read.

There is much more for fun stuff on the site, so please tool around a bit. Oh, one last thing about the Oscars. Did anyone notice THIS in the Music (Original Song) category? Danielle Brisebois was nominated for her work on the film Begin Again. For those of a certain age, you might remember her as the little girl on the classic sitcom All in the Family, where she warmed the icy-cold heart of Archie Bunker. Brisebois was nominated for music and lyrics along side Gregg Alexander.

Okay, enjoy Oscar season, and keep an eye on this space for more articles about nominees.

Main Photo Caption: Actor Chris Pine and Academy president Cheryl Boone-Issacs during the nomination announcements.