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Channel 4 ponders its big move

Three cities are still in the running for the new out-of-london Channel 4 HQ and three for the 
two creative hubs. the indies in those cities say the potential prize is immense. Jon Creamer reports

Autumn is when Channel 4 promises it will finally announce the names of the three cities that have won the beauty contest to become homes to its new non-London HQ and two creative pied a terres.

Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Leeds are all still in the running to be the home of the new HQ with Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow the remaining potential bases for one of the two ‘creative hubs’.

And it’s not been easy to get this far in the competition. To get on the initial long list, Channel 4 set out a series of conditions, some practical – travel time to London, size of working population, office space that could offer “cutting edge connectivity and technology”  - and some literally a beauty contest - “quality of life and the general attractiveness of any new location” was considered “paramount.”

To get to the final six, cities had to make it through a pitch process in June and July in which teams from Channel 4, including chief exec Alex Mahon, chief commercial officer Jonathan Allan and chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke, visited 13 shortlisted cities and regions for “presentations and discussions.”

For those that didn’t make the grade, there was much disappointment. Municipal councils and their creative communities fought hard to be one of the chosen. The official prize is a chunk of the 300 jobs Channel 4 is to base outside London with the National HQ also including a “state-of-the-art studio” that will be used to produce Channel 4 programmes and events and broadcast live daily programmes including Channel 4 News which will be co-anchored from outside the London studio every night.



But it was a hard-fought battle because for the indies and facilities in those cities, the benefits stretch far beyond those 300 new taxpayers.

Part of it is simply a psychological boost. “For Glasgow it would be another vote of confidence” in the city, says David Strachan, director of strategy at Tern TV. Laura Marshall, md at Bristol’s Icon Films, says a C4 move to her city “would be a substantive acknowledgement of the wealth of creativity, innovation and ability to deliver.” Rollem md Kay Mellor also argues that a C4 move to Leeds would not just “hugely benefit our economy and community” it would “put Leeds firmly on the map as a visitor destination.” Back in Glasgow, IWC creative director, Mark Downie, reckons “it would underline Glasgow’s growing reputation as a winning city when it comes to culture, bolstering its civic self-confidence” in the same way that hosting the European Championships and Commonwealth Games and “being named a UNESCO City of Music and producing five Turner Prize-winners” did.

Creative director and founder at Leeds based True North, Andrew Sheldon, says that even before the final decision,  “the bid process itself has already had a positive effect - the enthusiasm for bringing Channel 4 to Leeds is tangible. It isn’t simply what it means to the television and digital industries here – it’s about what it says about the region as a whole. Channel 4 would really enhance Leeds’ reputation as a forward looking European city.”

But it’s important to remember that the entire process has been one that was forced upon Channel 4. The Conservative’s election pledge to move Channel 4 lock stock and barrel out of London was resisted strongly by the broadcaster and led to it negotiating that pledge down. That negotiation ended with the government agreeing that Channel 4 could keep a substantial base at its Horseferry Road building in London but would spread its staff and spend further afield. Channel 4 has pledged that commissioning editors overseeing significant budget and with responsibility for some of its biggest shows will be based across the three new creative hubs – alongside a variety of other creative and business functions. Indies in the potential cities believe that it will keep to its word and real decisions will now be made outside London. And that is a major prize.

For IWC’s Downie “There’s a long history of commissioners based in London having a piecemeal relationship with producers in Glasgow. By committing to a permanent presence in the city that era will be brought to an end. It will raise Channel 4’s connectivity by improving the sharing of information, promoting better and more frequent dialogue with the city’s creative community; and existing relationships will be deepened.”

For Tern’s David Strachan, ending that “piecemeal relationship” is central. “Regular dialogue is the key to building trust which commissioning needs. Proximity makes dialogue more possible. The communities of Scotland and Northern Ireland need that umbilical connection to the heart of Channel 4.”



Rollem’s Mellor too says that being around the corner from commissioners “would allow our production company to develop a proper working relationship with them.” Icon’s Marshall echoes that saying “it would give west of England indies and freelancers easier access to commissioning.” That’s something that indies beyond London envy about their counterparts based full time in the capital. “We’ll look forward to having commissioners as part of the daily routine – the kind of contact that London producers take for granted in reception at Horseferry Road, but which is really important to building a long term creative and commercial relationship,“ says True North’s Sheldon.

Getting Channel 4 to set up shop in your city will inevitably give the local creative sector significant heft too. If Channel 4 build it, they will come, is the outlook for one big Manchester based facility. “Wherever Channel 4 move to, the commissioners will follow along with the production companies, this is the true value to any city that Channel 4 chooses.”

Any chosen city will see an influx of indies and new home-grown indies getting the confidence to set up shop long term. For Tern’s Strachan, “A growing production and commissioning community will create stability, continuity of employment, more confident pitches of greater scale.” Rollem’s Mellor says that “long-term I would hope that Channel 4 being in Leeds would encourage more production companies to make the city their home, and to enable us to grow and invest in proper studio space and post-production facilities in our city.”

A Channel 4 move means a city achieving critical mass in its production community. “There will be an influx of talent who have been considering where next to move to,” says Icon’s Marshall. “There will be economic investment in the city, one of the best places to live, through house purchasing, and of course the actual bricks and mortar of the hub.”

And that will also draw in talent, always a significant headache for non-London indies. “Channel 4’s presence will have an immediate impact on our greatest challenge, which is staffing. Their presence will help make Yorkshire somewhere that doesn’t just nurture talent but retains it,” says True North’s Sheldon.

That’s the prize for the winners. For the losers, it will be business as usual, back on the train and the plane to London and now with another destination to visit for those much-prized commissions.

Posted 07 September 2018 by Jon Creamer

Vanity Fair director James Strong on making a period drama with attitude

Putting Thackeray’s Vanity Fair on screen is far from untrodden ground. There have been around 13 adaptations of the story of Becky Sharp, Emma Sedley and their friends and families so far, all the way from a 1911 silent movie to a 1998 BBC version.

But the director of Mammoth Screen’s upcoming ITV/Amazon take on the novel, James Strong, hasn’t seen any of them.



In fact, says the director, whose credits include Broadchurch and Liar, he’s not really a big fan of period drama. “As a viewer, I sometimes find certain period dramas, particularly of this period, can be quite distancing - a little unrelatable to a modern audience.” And that made him the ideal fit for this adaptation that aims from the outset to be a contemporary drama in a period setting. That tone begins with Gwyneth Hughes’ scripts, says Strong. “They immediately have a modernity to them in the way they’re paced.”

And Strong was determined that the direction had to capture that tone. “I was very clear I wanted to approach it in the same way I’d approach a contemporary drama.” But, he says, “that’s an easy thing to say” and a little harder to get right in practice.

Initial thoughts were for a “mad, Trainspotting Baz Luhrmann mash up” but that was soon dropped. “The danger with that is it would tire after 20 minutes” leaving audiences dazzled but exhausted and missing the drama. “To have too stylised an aesthetic could risk detracting from the believability of the story,” he says.



The show needed to have “an attitude and swagger and fun to it” with the pace of contemporary drama, but had to keep the story real. Rehearsals with the cast steered clear of the text itself to keep performances fresh. “You have to catch lightning in the bottle a bit. On set we try to get the cameras up and running very quickly so we’re rehearsing as we’re shooting” so “you can often catch instinctive emotional reaction” - a technique used on Broadchurch and Liar. And the cameras were kept fluid so the actors aren’t restrained.

But alongside that contemporary feel, the show also needed to keep all that is good about period drama. Historical accuracy was not up for discussion, “it’s as forensically accurate as possible. The costumes, the etiquette, the houses, the décor, the military operations are all as accurate as you can be.” That extended to the decision to shoot much of the drama in the London, the novel’s main setting, despite the capital being “a nightmare to film in. It’s really expensive. The permissions are a nightmare, they take forever.” There was also extensive vfx clean up by Technicolor of out-of-period architectural details.

The series just “played around the edges with the format, the look, the music. It had a modern veneer,” says Strong. But at the same time the drama is shot in a “beautiful appropriate way,” he says. “There is handheld, there’s Steadicam, there’s movement but there are also beautiful graphic wides that allow you to enjoy our locations and sumptuous settings and scale. It’s a big story - you’ve got the politics of war, the battle of Waterloo. Its both epic and intimate so we had a to find a style that fitted those two things.”



Part of that came from the use of zoom lenses throughout the series  “There’s no tracking, there’s no unmotivated camera work. If there’s something going on the camera will be drawn to it. I told the operators that if there’s something interesting going on in the scene, then take me to it.” It was, says Strong, a way of using the set piece of a big composition but then using a zoom “to isolate characters in a more immediate way than that slow gentle tracking or the American power push.”

DoP Ed Rutherford shot on the Red Epic with a 6K Dragon sensor, another departure from traditional period drama production. “I love that Alexa look with the Cooke lenses where you’re trying to chuck everything out of focus and the shallow depth of field,” says Strong. But “I wanted this to be visceral. I didn’t want a soft-focus view of the past.”

Colours and lenses also help tell the story, says Strong. “As Becky rises there is literally more colour in her life” and as the Sedleys lose their money “the colour drains out of Amelia.” The lenses tell the same story, Amelia initially shot wider with the family she fits into “then as things go wrong, slightly longer lenses as she becomes more alienated.” There’s the reverse for Becky, long lenses while she’s different and separated from her environment and shorter wider lenses as she makes her way in society.



References for the look of the series spanned Kate Moss in her Britpop pomp, the photography of Saul Leiter and Gregory Crewdson, Blade Runner 2049’s colours, The Shape of Water “Del Toro does period and doesn’t feel stuck in the past.” A balancing act that Vanity Fair also manages to pull off.

DETAILS
Gwyneth Hughes’ seven part adaptation of Thackeray’s classic novel is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and follows heroine Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society.

Production co Mammoth Screen
Cast Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Simon Russell Beale, Martin Clunes
Writer/exec producer Gwyneth Hughes
Director/ exec producer James Strong
Exec producers Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens
Producer Julia Stannard
DP Ed Rutherford
Director episode 6 Jonathan Entwhistle
Line Producer Paula McBreen
Casting Theo Park
Costume designers Suzie Harman, Lucinda Wright
Production designer Anna Pritchard
Art director Henry Jaworski
Editor Steve Worsley
Camera Red Epic 6K Dragon sensor
VFX Technicolor

Posted 03 September 2018 by Jon Creamer

Survey: The top ten pro rental cameras

Televisual’s annual top 10 listing of the UK’s most hired cameras is now in its twelth year. Jon Creamer counts down the most rented models of 2017, and reveals the models everyone will be hiring in the year ahead

It’s a second year at the top of the most hired professional cameras for Sony’s FS7.

And it’s been a fairly settled year all round in terms of the camera models most in use. There are “a few very versatile cameras that crew, production companies and hire companies are all familiar with making the camera market a very calm sea at present,” says Electra. Shift 4 also says that “the cameras most in demand haven’t changed too much from last year.”

Much of that is down to operators and crews prizing familiarity highly in their camera choices. But it’s also down to versatility. With the FS7 (and FS7 mk2), Sony has produced a camera that is finding a place across a huge range of genres from fact ent to ob doc to live events and corporate. It can “be scaled up to be used with PL glass and record UHD internally or alternatively scaled down for self shooters using EF lenses. Versatility to suit all budgets,” is Pro Motion’s take. Canon’s  C300 range also benefits from its familiarity and versatility. The C300 is now slowly being replaced by its younger brother, 
the mk2.

Versatility has also been the key to the growing popularity of Arri’s Amira and particularly the Alexa Mini, with ads, drama and high-end docs often specifying a Mini on the kit list. “Their huge versatility and the large range of accessories available render them perfect for many shoots, locations, and situations,” says Picture Canning. Often now, the Mini is shouldering out its bigger and more expensive stablemate, the Alexa, on high-end shoots.

But there could be a shake up in the high-end market in the year ahead with a number of full frame cameras in the market now. Sony’s Venice has now launched, Red’s Monstro was announced late last year and Arri announced the 4K large format Alexa in February (a caveat to this report is that most camera hire companies that helped with this survey sent back their info before Arri made its Alexa LF announcement). For S+O, 2018 could bring about a “delineation of the camera market as Full Frame sensor acquisition prices itself outside the current Super35mm format cameras. Monstro, Venice and Alexa LF cameras are the new high end.” It’s all to play for.



1 Sony PMW FS7
Average Day Rate £150
Last year 1st

Hired from 247kit.tv, Electra, Film Store Rental, Pro Motion, Run Hire, S+O, Shift 4, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, VMI, Video Europe

Hired for Various (Electra); 10k Home, Back to the Land, Relationship Rescue (Film Store Rental); Inside the Factory – BBC2, Ambulance – BBC1, Escape to the Country – BBC1 (Pro Motion); Celebrity Big Brother – Behind the Scenes C5, Tamara’s World – ITVBe (Run Hire); Celebs Go Dating, Bromans (S+O); Hunted s3, My Floating Home s2 (Shooting Partners), Blind Date, Heathrow, The Cruise, Phone Swap (The Kit Room); Planet Earth - Mountains - BBC NHU (VMI)

Sony’s FS7 first took the top spot in our poll of the most popular rental cameras last year, supplanting Canon’s C300 from the number one position it had held for four years in a row.

And many camera hire specialists reckon the FS7 will hold its dominant position for a while to come yet. “The FS7 is looking likely to hold its own and be incredibly popular again in 2018. Canon really seem to have fallen behind in a market they were dominating 18 months ago,” says The Kit Room.

Shooting Partners too, says that although “some of the newer cameras will start to be adopted more widely by our factual entertainment clients, we don’t expect any serious challenge for the FS7 throne.”

Much of that is down to the FS7’s perceived versatility. Pro Motion describes the camera as a “great all rounder,” that can be “scaled up to be used with PL glass and record UHD internally or alternatively scaled down for self-shooters using EF lenses.” Film Store Rental also points out that the FS7 “does tick a lot of boxes across the board, making it a highly flexible, multi-purpose camera. It’s being used by TV documentary makers, incorporated into multi-camera shoots and has also found a home on promo sets. It has a versatile codec and hits an attractive price point.” S+O also describes the camera as “a consistent performer across a wide range of TV and branded content. It is affordable, has great frame rate options and a wide range of lens mount options.”

The FS7 seems to have hit that sweet spot that makes it a camera to suit a very wide range of productions and situations and, importantly, budgets. Run Hire says it expects that “the demand for the FS7 will increase hugely as it slowly pushes aside the likes of the Canon XF305 to become the standard run and gun shooting camera for ob docs, as well as continuing to be the mainstay for huge parts of the broadcast sector.  I have also seen the live events and corporate sectors increase their interest and use of the FS7 for many new productions and I think these industries will grow much further in 2018 in terms of hire.”

Of course, Sony has already brought out its update to the FS7 with the FS7 mk2 but, says Shift 4, even that isn’t denting the original’s popularity. “Sony’s FS7 has dominated the mid-low level market, with the FS7 mk2 gaining more popularity without taking away too much from the mk1.”



2 Arri Alexa
 Mini
Average Day Rate £366
Last year 3rd

Hired From  247kit.tv, Electra, Film Store Rental, New Day, Picture Canning, Pro Motion, S+O, Shift 4, Video Europe

Hired For Josh, Tracey Ullman Breaks The News (Electra); Nike, BP, Unilever Campaigns (Film Store Rental); Disney Emojis, Designa Friend & Nella the Princess Knight ads (New Day); Butterfly, Famalam, Tales from the Lodge, commercials, fashion content, music videos (Picture Canning); Cunk on Britain, Quick and Easy, BBC Artist Specials (S+O)

The Alexa Mini continues its rise up the ranks of our top rental cameras this year. This time the camera comes in second (third last year and tenth the year before). High-end shooting is increasingly dominated by the model. Video Europe says the Mini is “still the most popular” with The Kit Room predicting the “high end camera business will still be dominated by the Alexa Mini” for some time to come.  S+O describes it as the “go-to camera still for high end television, commercials and branded content. It’s the cinematographer’s choice offering both spherical and anamorphic lens options in a compact size.” Conceived by ARRI as a B camera for the Alexa, its small size and relatively cheap rate has meant it often supplants its big brother. “We have facilitated pilots in 2016 which chose to shoot on Alexa SXT for A and B camera, and yet, when it came to shoot the series in 2017, Alexa Minis were used in their place,” says Picture Canning.



3 Arri 
Amira

Average Day Rate £276
Last year 4th

Hired From  247kit.tv, Electra, Film Store Rental, Picture Canning, Pro Motion, S+O, Shift 4, VMI, Video Europe

Hired For The Grand Tour, Zapped, Keith and Paddy Picture Show (Electra); Beyond Bionic, The Wine Show, Comic Relief (Film Store Rental); Commercials, Tales from the Lodge, Famalam (Picture Canning); Friday Night 
Feast, Keith Lemon Coming in America (S+O); Josh II - BBC Comedy, Man Down III - Avalon Television (VMI)

Alongside the Arri Alexa Mini, Arri’s Amira has also increased its popularity, rising from last year’s fourth place in the poll to this year’s third position.
And its rise is at least partly down to the Arri family’s ubiquity in the drama market, says VMI. “For drama, the Alexa, the Amira and the Alexa Mini are the main cameras of choice on probably over 95%  of productions.”
Shift 4 says the Amira, and the Mini, are “still by far the most popular high-end cameras, whether it’s for commercial, drama or high-end documentary.” Film Store Rental similarly says the “Arri Amira is making headway on the documentary market. However, its weight and cost makes it unsuitable for much of the broadcast documentary market. We are seeing it find a home on higher-end branded campaigns and feature docs, where it is often paired with the Alexa Mini.”



4 Canon C300 Mk2
Average Day Rate £207
Last year 7th

Hired From
  247kit.tv, Alias Hire, Finepoint, New Day, S+O, Shift 4, The Kit Room, VMI

Hired For The X Factor (Finepoint); Adidas ad, Baftas (New Day); Through the Keyhole (S+O); The Doctor Who… (The Kit Room); Febreze commercial (VMI)

Despite the Sony FS7’s popularity, Canon’s C300 family is still a major force in the rental market. The original model takes fifth place in our poll with the updated mk2 overtaking it and coming in fourth (The C300 mk2 was seventh last year, the C300 was third).

Both the C300 models have the benefit of being a very known quantity. “Familiarisation with the kit is really important to our factual entertainment clients,” says Shooting Partners. “They need to know the camera intimately to catch moments that only happen once, which explains why both the Sony FS7 and Canon have remained in our list of top five most popular cameras.”
Alias Hire says the C300 mk2, along with the Fs7, will continue in popularity at least partly because of the range of add-ons available and because they can be set up exactly as the user wants. “The size and weight of these cameras allows individual users to build the rig that is right for them and their shoot because of the abundance of accessories. The broadcast shooters love the size and wide range of accessories available for each setup, and the production managers love the cost.”



5 Canon C300
Average Day Rate £155
Last year 2nd

Hired From 247kit.tv, Film Store Rental, Run Hire, Shooting Partners, The Kit Room, VMI

Hired For Unreported World, My Embarrassing Family (Film Store Rental); Billion Dollar Deals  BBC 2, To the Sun and Back - Pilot (Run Hire); Rich House Poor House, 24 Hours in Police Custody S3 (Shooting Partners); 999 What’s Your Emergency (The Kit Room); Saving Lives at Sea - BBC1 (VMI)



6 Sony PMW F55
Average Day Rate £320
Last year 5th

Hired From 
Alias Hire, Electra, Finepoint, New Day, Picture Canning, S+O

Hired For
Top Gear (Electra); Big Cats (Finepoint); Top Gear (New Day); TBA – Netflix Series, commercials, branded content (Picture Canning); Antiques Roadshow (Pro Motion); Bromans, Million Pound Menu (S+O)



7 Sony FS7 MK2
Average Day Rate £153
Last year n/a

Hired From  Finepoint, New Day, 
Picture Canning

Hired For
Ariana Grande (Finepoint); Football Channel (New Day); TBA – Netflix series, Reported Missing, corporates, music videos (Picture Canning)



8 Sony PDW F800
Average Day Rate £183
Last year 9th

Hired From  Electra, Film Store Rental

Hired For Gold Rush (Electra); Running Wild with Bear Grylls, Wild Weekends, (Film Store Rental)



9 Arri Alexa

Average Day Rate £425
Last year 8th

Hired From  VMI, Video Europe

Hired For Midsomer Murders - Bentley Productions, The Level - ITV1 (VMI)




10 Sony BRC H900 
Average Day Rate £275
Last year n/a

Hired From 
Shooting Partners

Hired For Gogglebox, Gogglesprogs (Shooting Partners)






















Posted 04 July 2018 by Jon Creamer

The art of the edit

In advance of EditFest London 2018, four editors from the worlds of live action and animation tell Jon Creamer what it takes to create the perfect cut

Chris Lebenzon



CREDITS Dumbo, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Planet of the Apes, 
Enemy of the State, Armageddon, 
Mars Attacks!, Top Gun, Weird Science

Normally I work with directors that I’ve worked with before. When I work in London, I generally start a week before filming. I land and hit the road running. With Tim [Burton], because I’ve worked with him so much, it’s easy to read his dailies.

When we work I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the whole scene to be shot. During the day when a shot is complete, the video tap is loaded into the Avid. I pick the best moments to put the scene together and when the last shot is loaded in the Avid, I adjust the cut. Then Tim comes in and sees the scene he just completed shooting. It’s very immediate. He’s in first thing the next morning [Chris is currently cutting Burton’s Dumbo in London] to see any adjustments that I’ve made and then we move on to what we’re doing that day. Tim comes to the editing room several times a day to check on how that day’s scene is developing. He’ll tell me what he’s going to shoot and I might ask for a particular shot. He obliges or he doesn’t. That’s our process. Most directors don’t have time to come to the editing room when they’re shooting. Nor is the editing room close to where they’re shooting.

The cut is always evolving, the more scenes that are shot, the more I’m able to see how the movie is developing and what is needed. A lot of scripts are overwritten so things have to come out. Initially it’s best not to take too much out because the director will want to see everything edited that they shot. A lot of the work comes after the first cut. I chip away and take things out that we feel we don’t need.

It’s very important to stay fresh to the material for us editors. I try to pretend that I’m a viewer, that I’m in the audience. The audience doesn’t read the script, they go in cold so I try to keep a simple, almost childlike, view of the story with no pre-dispositions. After so many months on a project it’s difficult to stay fresh. But there’s generally so much to do in these movies, if I feel that I’m losing perspective on a scene  I can work in a different area and re visit the scene another day. I can go work in the end for example and then come back and re examine the beginning.

There’s so much missing when first editing a vfx movie. In our movie, Dumbo is played by a man who doesn’t move the same way that the final Dumbo will move. In some shots  he’s not even there, just an empty plate.  But that doesn’t change the need to pick the best performances  of the actors that are in the scenes with Dumbo and find the best pattern of cutting to tell the story.

Whatever the type of movie, the job is the same for me. I’m responding instinctively to what’s been shot, going with the actor’s sense of pace, and picking the best performances all the while making choices that tell the story in the clearest way possible.  Action genre movies like Armageddon or Unstoppable, require a lot of coverage and edits to create excitement. A drama requires a different approach. But emotion is the common element on all movies. One has to feel and identify  with the characters or the movie’s never going to work. For me that is the overriding element that’s always the same.

I’m most comfortable with repeat business directors. I’m on a project that will last a minimum of ten months and if I don’t click with the director that’s not good. When I work with people I’ve worked with before it’s more comfortable and I gravitate towards that scenario. I spend more time with them than my family so I want it to be a good experience.
To be a good editor you need sensitivity, an understanding of human nature, to be able to judge performance, and have a sense of timing and pacing. Though pacing has evolved over time. Things have gotten much faster, just like the real world . If you look at older movies they’re more languid with beautiful master shots that are left to play out but that contemporary audiences might find boring.

For me technology has made things much better. I don’t honestly know if I’d still be working if I was using the KEM flatbed that I used when I started my career. With the Avid I can see the coverage immediately. I punch up the dailies bin and see what’s there right away. I can also add as many music and sound effects tracks as I want. With mag I was limited to  four tracks total.


Martin Walsh

CREDITS Justice League, Wonderwoman, Cinderella, Chicago, 
V for Vendetta, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Mansfield Park, Hackers, Backbeat, The Krays


If it’s a new relationship there’s an initial meeting with the director to talk about the script, who’s in it, shooting styles etc. But really it’s to establish whether we can bear to spend a year in a room together. If it’s someone I have worked with before, it’s simply a case of reading the script and having a chat on the phone. I think it’s acknowledged we all know what we’re doing by this stage in our careers so we can just get on with it.

From the very first day of principal photography we’re cutting scenes as they come in. It’s important to provide feedback to the director at this stage, they need to see that performances, lighting and all the technical aspects are working as intended. If not we can make adjustments as we go along.

During production it’s often difficult to get a director’s attention. It’s a massive job directing a movie, so many moving parts - but it’s important to stick your nose in if you think you’ve got something important to say that can impact the final product. It’s always better to deal with issues during production when the crew is available than to rely on a pick up shoot later.

If a scene feels right, moves right, move on. You’ll be coming back to it countless times anyway so live with it for a bit and as the work evolves and cuts change, usually tightening, getting faster, if it deserves a revisit it’ll be obvious.

An editor needs an inmate sense of the rhythm of the spoken word. I always come back to music. Or at least the dynamics in music. Film should have light and shade - or loud and soft, fast and slow. If directed and performed well editing is easy because those things are intrinsic to the words on the script page and the performances on set. As little intervention as possible is the ideal.

The best editing work is not invisible. I won an Oscar for Chicago which is about as flashy a piece of editing as they get. But it was shot to be that. Choppy, uneven cutting bumps for the viewer, takes them out of the story for a split second. The aim is to make a scene feel like a single piece of film regardless of the number of cuts.

Editing is more labour intensive now. Sitting in a chair staring at televisions all day isn’t beneficial to anyone’s health. In the pre digital age at least we had to get out of the chair to fetch a box of film from across the room. I’ve had lots of physio on my neck, back and shoulders. I’m now standing at my desk for as long as I can - about half the day - which helps but is tiring. Your eyes are knackered by the end of the day too. None of that is much of an advert for going into the editing business!

Aside from the above I don’t think the editor’s job has changed much over time. We do more sound and music editing in the early days of production. The days of showing ‘workprint’ to studios and executives are over. Everything we share with them has to appear to be a finished film. A lot of work goes into colour and sound and we haven’t touched on vfx and the pressure and restrictions they place on a show.


John Venzon

CREDITS The Lego Batman Movie, Storks, South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, Flushed Away, Shark Tale, 
The Lego Ninjago Movie


As a feature animation editor, I start on a project much earlier than I would on a live action film. Sometimes even before a full first draft of the script has been written. We might even be working off a pitch outline that the writer is still working on. In animation, the Avid is almost used like a word processor in that the director and writer will be reacting to our story reel and using that as inspiration to continue refining the script. It is animation’s version of rehearsals and workshopping the story before we ‘shoot’ the movie. I may work for one to three years before animating the movie.

Most people hear about animation editing and think, “Do you just cut off the head and tail of the animated shots and put them in order?” I don’t tend to get upset at this because I even hear it from other live-action editors. My response to other editors is to ask, “what if I told you that the very next film you got to edit, you were hired years in advance to work alongside the director and writer, helping them develop not only the cut, but help shape the very story as it is created. Once you all agree that it is working, only THEN does the movie get shot.” Every single editor I’ve told says it would be a dream work scenario. Well, this is how we make animated movies. Since the large bulk of the time I’m on an animated film will be before we ‘shoot’ the film, that is animate and light it, I’m as much a part of the story team as I am an editor.

Spending years working alongside a director and forming a deeper creative bond is one of the great joys of doing an animated film. With that comes the trust you get with a strong collaboration. I get to have more creative input in the films I cut than I ever did on live-action films just based on the fact that I can ask for a new shot, sometimes entire scenes to solve story problems.

A big trade off is that while you have a larger degree of creative control, it is all very detail oriented, much more so than for an editor in live action, and it can very much be like creating in slow motion. There are times I wish I could get already shot footage to build action sequences rather than having to plan everything out, painstakingly cut for cut before I get any moving footage. Also, you have a much bigger responsibility to remind everyone, including yourself, that things actually work once you’ve seen it for three years and everyone is completely sick of a joke or a moment. Second guessing can drive you crazy. Live-action has the immediacy of touching on the first instinct and moving on. It can be harder to trust something that everyone in the room has stopped reacting to.

At the bedrock of what makes a good editor is being able to hold onto the first blush instinct on the material. As the editor we are the very first audience, and as such we have to guard that spark vigilantly. If you lose sight of how a scene is feeling because you are trying to fix continuity errors, or are led astray by trying to fashion something that doesn’t exist in the footage, you can wander away from the audience you are trying to serve. It’s up to us as the builders of the scenes to know what the audience will feel when two people are talking to each other, what they are saying, or more importantly, what they aren’t. Never forget the audience. They are not only our bosses, but they are us.


Alex Mackie

CREDITS The Crown, Mary Shelley, An Inspector Calls, Out of Blue, A Poet in New York, Kill Command, Wallander, Downton Abbey, St Trinian’s, CSI, The Siege of Jadotville, Judge Dredd


I get involved with the project from the moment that I’m asked to cut the film. I’m reading the script and giving any constructive thoughts about it to the director then planning the workflow for the shoot with my assistant editor, and consulting with the DoP, the Sound Mixer, the Script Supervisor.

My starting point will be to cut the scene to make it as strong as possible. I like to keep up with the shoot so, every day, I will hopefully cut all the scenes shot the day before. That way, if there is anything missing, I can let the director know. I tend to show cut scenes to the director at the end of each week’s shoot, although some directors prefer not to watch anything until after the shoot.

Several days after the end of the shoot, I will show the director the full cut, usually with some temporary music and sound effects added. This cut will include all scripted lines, since it is more valuable for both director and editor to see the full scripted version before embarking on the next cut. I hope in this first cut to work the material as much as I can to bring out the best in it. This first cut will typically not be a ‘loose’ cut, but will be paced as I think it works best. After that, I work closely with the director to refine the story and make it sing. We might reorder or cut out scenes, rework storylines, try all kinds of things. In this sense we are now re-directing, or perhaps rewriting the film.

At this stage it’s good to try to stay fresh when viewing the cut. I like to follow Edward Dmytryk’s tip in his book ‘Film Editing’, which is never to view a cut in the evening but instead to view the next morning. After a sleep, you are a new person and will have fresh responses and ideas when you view.

The key to a good edit is that you are cutting to show the audience what they need to see at the precise moment that they need it in order to tell the story to its best ability. A good editor needs to be strong, because there is often a lot of pressure in post production, both physical and mental. They need to be inventive, creative, have some musicality, have a strong visual sense and a strong sense of story. Also of course they must be patient and diplomatic!

The biggest change in the past 25 years has been due to the move to digital editing. Typically now a director will spend much more time in the cutting room because of the viewing screens being there. Also cuts may now be sent over the internet to producers. This is a  loss, since films should be viewed on a big screen and it’s always better to view together with the producers and discuss in person afterwards. On the other hand, the move to digital has meant that now the editor has more creative tools at their fingertips, for example laying music, sound, creating visual effects, and so on. But whatever the changes, the editor’s job remains the same, which is to find the inner truth in the material and find the best story out of the material.

Posted 22 June 2018 by Jon Creamer

How Unit delivered the vfx for Sky Atlantic's Britannia

UNIT and its TV & Film Division, UNIT Studios worked on Sky Atlantic’s Britannia, the 9-part drama set in Britain in 43AD as the Romans invade.

The show was a co pro between Sky and Amazon Studios and Vertigo Films in association with Neal Street Productions.



Unit’s team explain how the post work was completed.

UNIT Studios Executive Producer was Nicola Kingham: “We’re a relatively new TV & Film division of UNIT and were approached back in February 2017 to work on a handful of VFX shots, but Simon Frame (the Series VFX Producing Supervisor), was so impressed with our collaborative and creative contribution that the shot count soon grew to over 300 shots.  Notably, the Underworld, a high concept mythical location where the Druids go to see the future and to communicate with their dead, Handfasting and a Druid Initiation Ceremony”. 
 
UNIT’s VFX Supervisor, Nuno Pereira, oversaw the production over four months and managed a pipeline with workflows for a 3.2K ACES delivery.

In light of the logistics, it was decided that the teams would be split and run in parallel. Pereira oversaw the whole of production comprising 23 artists. Creative Director Alon Ziv led a splinter team of two concept artists and one of UNIT’s in-house editors, Scott Ryan, devoted to creating the Underworld scenes.

 “In the beginning, no one really knew what the Underworld was or what it was supposed to look like. It was an inherited sequence of loosely scripted dramatic performances by the actors, which had been shot against blue screen several months earlier catering for a simple line in the script which had read (we paraphrase here) 'Divis goes into the Underworld'.  So, from a storytelling and editorial point of view there was a lot to be done,” says Pereira.



In creating the Underworld environment Ziv says, “The first challenge was to come up with a look and feel which clearly defined it.  It somehow needed to be a mix between a drug-induced hallucination and a believable location.   It was important to keep the reality of the Underworld vague because for the characters it’s a real place that changed and evolved every time the characters visited it, and what happens there has consequences in the real world.

From a practical point of view, another challenge was to keep the actors eye lines and spatial placement believable in these new environments especially because they were shot before any of the environments where designed.”
 


Pereira adds: “Once concepts were approved, these shots were taken into production. Due to its nature, it ended up being a full VFX build with every shot, except for the actors, being fully computer generated.  Our creative team worked on creature animation and simulations for the snake, with atmospherics and textures added in the smoke simulations and finally compositing. The team worked tirelessly to bring the concept art to life. The Underworld albeit real, is heavily stylized so it was quite challenging to make it grounded and believable and not just an imaginary sequence parallel to the story.”

Scott Simmonds, one of UNIT’s Lead Nuke Compositors says, ‘The biggest and most exciting challenge for me was bringing the 2D matte paintings to life, adding lighting, atmospherics, camera moves and parallax. The next challenge was then embedding our blue screen actors into the shot especially when the lighting was completely different. We had to really go in and mask off different body parts to either lighten or darken them in order to make the actors feel like they were shot in situ”.

On grading the Underworld sequence, UNIT’s Colour Team enhanced the otherworldly graphic feel with strongly saturated and desaturated tones.




In the end, UNIT created four sequences for the Underworld with around 100 shots in total. UNIT led and carried out all post-production:  from concept art, to direction and editorial, FX, creature work, compositing and final grade.
 
Back in the ‘real world’ of Britannia, and the drama of 43AD, the second VFX team was working on two other sequences.  The first, a Druid Initiation Ceremony, where they were tasked with creating an optical Lensbaby effect.  Parts of this sequence had been shot in camera but the remainder needed to emulate the shallow depth of field, stronger centres of focus and the distorted outer edges of the effect across some 80 shots. 

The other sequence was the Handfasting scene. Nuno comments, “This was a VFX heavy scene which incorporated a lot of invisible VFX over five minutes. This ritual marriage ceremony quickly turns sour and a battle ensues. Since this sequence was actually shot at different times, on different days, with different lighting conditions, it needed extensive work to create one seamless sequence.
 


We were tasked with matching all the skies and the environments, then added smoke to the atmosphere (foreground, mid ground and background) balancing this with the existing smoke shots which had been shot on location.  The battle sequence itself, required clean up and removal, as well as the addition of blood, wounds and blood splatter”.
 
On grading the Handfasting scene, one of UNIT’s Senior Colourists Simon Astbury adds, “The biggest challenge was to match together an action heavy scene shot on three different days with four different cameras. To ensure a smooth flow of images in an action scene is difficult enough, but if you add varying weather and camera formats into the mix it becomes very challenging”.


UNIT Britannia Credits

Nuno Pereira:            VFX Supervisor

Production
Nicola Kingham:        Executive Producer
Emma Watterson:        Executive Producer
Patrizia Mulè:            VFX Producer

Editorial
Scott Ryan:            VFX Editor

Artists
Alon Ziv:            Creative Director, Underworld
Scott Simmonds:        Compositor, Sequence Lead
John Kennedy:        Matte Painter
Stephanie Joy:        Compositor, Sequence Lead
Ashwini Prabhu:        Compositor
Paul Sullivan:            Compositor
Bence Varga:            Compositor, Shoot Supervisor
Sandra Roach:        Compositor
Enrico Lambiase:        Compositor
Valentina Bartiromo:        Compositor
Sam Meisels:            Compositor, Sequence Lead
Pavel Vicik:            Compositor
Jaime Fernandez:        Creature Animator
Richard Nelson:        3D Animator
Craig Healy:            3D Animator
Will Davies:            3D Animator
David Knight:            Houdini Artist
Tom Clapp:            Compositor
Klaudija Cermak:        Compositor, Sequence Lead
Vincent Goodsell:        Compositor
Zissis Papatzikis:        Compositor
Jorge Mazariegos:        Compositor
Vincent Trollard:        Compositor
U-Sun Hu:            Compositor
Elizabeth Schuch:        Concept Artist
Kirk Hendry:            Concept Artist

 
Production Credits

Co-produced by 
Sky and Amazon

Production companies 
Vertigo Films, Neal Street

Created by 
Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth and James Richardson

Executive producers 
James Richardson, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Nicolas Brown, Jez Butterworth and Anne Thomopoulos

Producer
 Rick McCallum

Writers
 Jez and Tom Butterworth, Richard McBrien
Series VFX Supervisor Simon Frame


Posted 23 January 2018 by Jon Creamer

How to grade in HDR

Many high-end dramas are now getting an HDR grade, but post producing in HDR takes  another level of technical and creative know-how,
finds Jon Creamer


The Farm
Riviera




The Farm worked on both SDR and HDR versions of the Sky Atlantic drama. Aidan Farrell graded the series

What was the desired ‘look’ for the show? Rather than manipulating the colours to create a ‘stylised’ look, Aidan wanted the grade to reflect a very natural and ‘European Cinematic’ feel. The end result is a very natural grade, both in the SDR and HDR versions. The locations really came to life in HDR, and coupled with the great cinematography, there are several exterior shots that really do stand out in HDR.

How was the workflow different to a single SDR delivery? The difference in workflows between traditional HD/rec. 709 pipelines comes mainly down to two points - data and colour management. Designing efficient workflows to encompass both storage considerations and deliveries in multiple colourspaces is a relatively new occurrence in the broadcast domain, and requires a similar approach to feature film DI workflows - there is much more of an overlap between the two worlds (broadcast and cinema) with UHD and HDR.

What do you need to think about when delivering in HDR? HDR delivery alongside SDR takes a little more planning, with the main question regarding which version of the grade is more important, as this has implications for colour management throughout the post production process. This is the main delta between traditional broadcast colour pipelines (where a single rec. 709 delivery was the only requirement), and is more in line with those relating to feature and cinematic delivery where you may see final masters in three or more different colour spaces.

What was the creative upside of working in HDR? The key creative upside of HDR is one of storytelling, as the technology enables more immersive and engaging visuals. Not only is the potential there for ‘bigger and brighter’, but the wide colour gamut also gives a great deal more creative expression throughout the picture, allowing more nuance and detail to be explored.

What are the top tips for delivering in HDR? It’s important to engage with all suppliers (both creative and technical) as early on as possible to discuss HDR, it has effects throughout the production pipeline. A key decision with Riviera was that the HDR grade be designed from the outset to be an enhancement and complement to the SDR - the aim being a more immersive experience for the audience, without the technology becoming a distraction from the story.




Molinare
Oasis



Colourist Asa Shoul on the HDR grade Amazon’s drama pilot Oasis

What did you have to think about when delivering in HDR? Apart from the technical requirements we had to consider creative intent and where extra highlight detail was wanted or might become distracting.
 
What was your workflow for this?
That’s a secret. But Filmlight have put workflow tools into Baselight that make HDR grading as easy as possible.
 
What were the difficulties you encountered? We composited skies in Baselight and had to finesse these in HDR as its unforgiving with edges of keys. We also saw lamps, lights offset and through windows that were not visible in SDR.
 
What was the creative upside of HDR? It is more immersive and almost gives a three dimensional feel to the project.
 
Are there any particular scenes that really lent themselves to HDR? The sunrise and sunset scenes in Oasis are absolutely stunning in the HDR version.
 
What advice would you give other people that are working in HDR today? Don’t go crazy! There’s a fine line between a bright skin tone looking pleasing or “electronic”. Also there is a need to watch out for reflected light starting to look emitted. You can’t simply accept that a window or light next to your actor now has lots more detail and brightness, as it may now distract from their performance.  Also don’t assume an HDR pass won’t require windowing and additional time as we have to correct these issues.




Encore
Marvel’s The Defenders





Encore’s Tony D’Amore balanced distinct looks in HDR and SDR for Marvel’s The Defenders

The various Marvel series were some of the first shows Netflix posted in HDR, with colour grading by Encore senior colourist Tony D’Amore. He was brought in again to grade Marvel’s The Defenders and worked alongside series DP Matthew J. Lloyd. D’Amore delivered a grade for The Defenders that informed both Dolby Vision and SDR outputs. Unlike HDR 10, which requires separate HDR and SDR passes, the Dolby Vision master can stream data for SDR and transmit content in the appropriate brightness for a viewer’s display. The drawback is that one pass must stand up to both HDR and SDR displays. Since dailies were conducted in SDR, much of the look was set in the colour suite, where D’Amore worked in the P3 colour space using DaVinci Resolve. D’Amore would execute an initial pass using a colour script provided by production that outlined preset character tones: red for Daredevil, cyan for Iron Fist, yellow for Luke Cage and blue for Jessica Jones. He also made sure the colour palettes were appropriately married into the scene. “Managing each character’s look separately was easy,” says D’Amore. “But the shots where they share the screen proved challenging, particularly fight sequences, which required an insane amount of tracking and shapes to ensure that each character’s colour story integrated well within the scene. And we had to make sure the grade worked in both HDR and SDR. Sometimes the colours would really pop in HDR, cyan in particular looks great, but when you switch back to SDR, it’s very muted in comparison, so we’d often turn off the HDR display and evaluate with fresh eyes. Dolby Vision has a wide colour gamut and highlight latitude, so we used it to bring out high resolution detail, and avoid blasting viewers with brightness. The format shines in the darker scenes; it’s shocking what you’re able to see.” 



Goldcrest
Bounty Hunters




Goldcrest provided post including the SDR and HDR grades for Sky One’s Bounty Hunters
  
What did you have to think about when delivering in HDR? Delivering in HDR 10 ‘limits’ you to 1000 nits so the challenge is to find the right balance between using the additional headroom and not deviating too far from the SDR ‘hero’ grade.
 
What was different about working in HDR compared to SDR? HDR affords you a much broader dynamic range. The trick is to exploit this whilst remaining true to the intention of the original SDR grade.
 
What was your workflow for this? We used the same workflow as we would for any HDR feature we have done previously. We always grade from the source data. We never do the HDR grade from the SDR rendered master. This gives us the maximum latitude to adjust the grade for each type of delivery. For the HDR, we use the live SDR project and replace our display LUT to a Rec2020/PQ bespoke version. The live SDR grade, including secondary online effects etc. is used as the starting point and the colourist builds the HDR pass on the top of it. Because everything remains live, the colourist can unpick anything he would have done on the SDR grade to get the most out of the HDR grade.
 
What was the creative upside of HDR? The extra dynamic range afforded by HDR allows for a particularly strong image; far more vivid than SDR. HDR is particularly impressive when grading landscapes. The ability to significantly increase brightness in the sky whilst retaining detail gives the image extra dimensionality and a feeling closer to reality.
 
Are there any particular scenes in the project that really lent themselves to HDR?
Bounty Hunters has three different locations, each with its own grade theme to separate them: New York - green, UK - neutral , Mexico - extra contrast with a yellow bias. HDR was particularly effective in all the Mexico scenes as I could push the contrast further without losing detail in the highlights. The result had the desired sweaty, scorched feel.
 
What advice would you give others? Care should be taken when choosing how much of the 1000 nits range is too be used. Pushing the highlights too far can result in an image so bright so as to be painful to watch, particularly when cut next to a dark scene.




Technicolor
The Trip to Spain




Technicolor delivered SDR and HDR versions of the series for Sky Atlantic along with an SDR feature length theatrical version for the US

When did you know you had to deliver an HDR version? We discussed delivery of an HDR version before production began so we had time to prepare a workflow. Dan Coles did the SDR grade first, and we spent time discussing the Baselight setup so we could best translate his grade in to an HDR world. Alex Gascoigne did the HDR version.

What was your workflow for this? With any show with an HDR deliverable, there is always discussion as to which version to do first. As there was a feature-length SDR theatrical delivery for the US as well as the series for the UK, it made sense to do the SDR pass first. The drama was captured primarily on ALEXA Mini, with a DJI drone camera system used for aerial shots. Grading in Baselight on a Sony BVM-X300 display, we used an ACES workflow which allowed us to seamlessly switch between the SDR 100-nit and HDR 1000-nit grades.

What was different about working in HDR compared to SDR? Working in HDR gives access to a greater range of contrast and colour. Highlights can be significantly brighter, allowing more contrast in cloudy skies, for example. This opens up many creative possibilities but care has to be taken to avoid pushing the images too far from the original intent. Decisions have to be made as to how far to push the HDR grade relative to the SDR version. The Trip series is shot in a naturalistic style so pushing the look too far could detract from the performances. Having very bright highlights behind an actor’s head, for example, can direct the audience’s attention away from the subject.

What were the difficulties you encountered?
Increases in contrast and saturation have a tendency to highlight elements unnoticed in the SDR grade. For example, in one of the interior restaurant locations, green spill from the trees outside was reflected by the large white shutters either side of the windows. In SDR this was quite a subtle effect, but in the HDR version we had to suppress the green significantly to avoid it being distracting.

What was the creative upside of HDR? The production made great use of drones to capture gorgeous sweeping Spanish vistas and we took the opportunity to really celebrate the range of warm earthy tones and blue skies. 

Posted 12 January 2018 by Jon Creamer

Andrew Ruhemann on 30 years of Passion Pictures

Passion Pictures celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Founder Andrew Ruhemann looks back at three decades in the production business

When I think back to the start of Passion, back to 1987, the Production Industry felt very different. People refer to it now as “the golden age” and since we were specifically focused on animation, we had our own niche part of that.

I got started with a lucky break from animation legend Richard Williams. I was working with him whilst animation was going through a sort of renaissance. The only place animating on a really big scale was Disney so working for Richard meant working for the best in town. We were mainly working on commercials until Steven Spielberg himself walked into our offices with Roger Rabbit and I was lucky enough to be there when it happened. The company expanded from there and after the production finished, there were a lot of really great animators looking for work and Passion grew naturally from that.

I was 23 with no real intentions of setting up a company but I was living at home with no overheads. I could afford to take risks and I did. I can still remember the thrill of booking our first commercial, for Count Chocula, there were just three of us in a room and we had to start ringing directors. We didn’t know if it was going to fly but Richard had set a really high benchmark for quality of work and calibre of directors. It was a baptism of fire but thanks to Richard I had lots of confidence that I knew my stuff.

At the same time, the public perception of animation was changing. Aardman, The Simpsons, South Park and Spielberg with Roger Rabbit, all were succeeding in opening people’s eyes to animation. On a different side of things, Passion has been a part of that too. There have been some real markers along the way that felt like tidal shifts; the move from optical to digital, the advent of CGI animation.

For us you can track that journey with the development of the Gorillaz. That’s a project we’ve been involved with since the start and from the first videos where we were animating in a very traditional way, through the digital revolution and now into the Virtual Reality world. Jamie, Damon and Pete Candeland devised a very iconic technique that showed a whole new perspective on animation that has stayed relevant for 2o years and we’ve grown and changed alongside it.

Nowadays, the industry is a very different place and the advertising landscape has changed. Back then, agencies did what agencies did. They were the bridge between clients and productions companies. That’s not the case anymore - we can’t function within those constraints because the market’s changed and the lines are blurring. I sleep easy at night because I can come back to our core and look at what we do as a company: we’re really good storytellers. That’s what we specialise in. If you always come back to that, those blurred boundaries aren’t so scary. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing because there’s always a real demand for great stories and characters within them, whether that be a 30 second commercial or a 90-minute feature. In many ways we no longer think in those terms, it’s all about the story and finding the right way to tell it.

We’ve been an independent company for 30 years and we’re well prepared for the next 30. The team we have built are all part of the Passion way of seeing things. What excites me about the future is nurturing new talent. I feel a real responsibility to do that so I take it very seriously. From our position, you can sometimes see people taking the wrong road, creatively, so I watch that very closely. So far that’s the thing I’m most proud of, the bringing up of young talent. I can attribute that all the way back to Richard Williams and the start he gave me. It gives me confidence that we have a great future ahead of us.

Posted 12 December 2017 by Jon Creamer

The Art of the Edit: Pitch Perfect 3

Editors Craig Alpert and Colin Patton explain how they cut the third instalment of accapella comedy, Pitch Perfect, directed by Trish Sie and starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson.

How did the director, Trish Sie, brief you?
CA:  We were cutting in Los Angeles and shooting in Atlanta, so all our communication was remote at the beginning. Trish would send lots of emails: general stylistic thoughts, references for particular transitions, reactions to a given day’s footage. She has a background in dance and choreography, and she wanted the movie to feel as kinetic as possible, so a lot of it was about achieving a particular energy. I remember Edgar Wright being a major point of reference.




Were you working on assemblies while the film was shooting?
CP:  Yes, absolutely. We would receive dailies via Aspera every morning, and our fantastic assistants, Jim Carretta and Charlie Spaht, would load and organize them so I could begin cutting. We had a full assembly of the film within a week or so after production wrapped.

Did you show assemblies to Trish Sie as you go along or wait until you’ve put together the whole film?
CP:  Yes, we sent cuts to Trish on PIX usually once a week. Sometimes if she had concerns about coverage on a particular scene, we’d send something over the next day. In the beginning it helped us get on the same page creatively, and it was a way for me to see what she responded to in terms of pace and cutting style. All the particulars of alternate line readings, joke alts, music choice and so forth were left until later. 

What kit do you use and why?
CA:  We used Avid Media Composer v8.5.3: four systems plus a render station, with Avid shared storage. It’s always been solid, and this time was no exception. One difference on this one was that we set up our rooms to monitor 5.1 sound. Avid’s 5.1 audio setting was great for being able to pan tracks between LCR speakers, but neither of us had cut with surrounds or subwoofers before. Beyond being just a fun thing for us to play with, it allowed everyone to experience the movie more fully during friends and family screenings (prior to our first temp dub). We could sweeten and pan sound effects, use 5.1 bounces from our music editors, and, even though our mix was rudimentary, more or less approximate the feeling of watching a real movie much sooner than we would have otherwise.

What are the particular skills of comedy editing?
CP:  Comedy editing is, at its heart, the same as any kind of editing: it’s all about timing, rhythm, and sensitivity to performance. If the material is funny and the performance is good, a good editor should be able to translate that into a funny sequence, and occasionally elevate it. It’s not always about a joke and a punchline; you need to be alert to everything the actors and camera are doing, and have the intuition to construct something comedic that might not have been apparent on the page. Of course comedy is very easy to mess up in the edit, so you have to be able to recognize when you’re doing more harm than good.

The nice thing about comedy is that it’s easy to get feedback. Laughter (or lack thereof) is easy to measure, and you usually don’t have to overanalyze it; you can try stuff out and see what works. We were constantly showing cuts to one another in the editing room, which was incredibly valuable because inevitably one of us would find something funny that the rest of us had overlooked.

What are the particular challenges of cutting a musical?
CA:  In terms of cutting the musical numbers themselves, it was always about telling the story in the best way possible. We had plenty of footage available to cut exciting versions of each song, but the main task was to make sure the song served its narrative purpose, relative to what the Bellas or the other bands were experiencing at that moment. That might mean cutting away from a particularly good vocal performance or piece of choreography in order to show something else more important. The challenge is not getting too attached to certain edits just because they play well in an isolated sequence. The songs aren’t music videos; they have to exist in context.  We also had an excellent team of music editors – Dan DiPrima, Oliver Hug, and Chris Newlin – who helped adjust sync and keep track of all the a cappella parts during Post.




What are the essential skills that make a good editor?
CP:  Good question – I’m still working on figuring that out! There’s probably a very long list of skills, having to do with just about every aspect of filmmaking. The two qualities that come to mind immediately are patience and perspective. You have to be patient because the process is a long one and generally there aren’t too many shortcuts. You have to be willing to work on the material over and over again, and have faith that you’ll eventually get there. And you have to be patient in dealing with all the various creative voices that are part of the conversation during post-production.

At the same time, you have to maintain your perspective as much as possible. It’s difficult to be objective when you’ve seen something a hundred times, but it’s essential to the job. You have to continually develop techniques and strategies to regain perspective on the material, and find ways to access the creative intuition you’d have if you were seeing it for the first time.


What are the key trends you are seeing in editing at the moment?
CP:  That’s a tricky one. It’s cliché to say at this point, but quick cutting is definitely getting more prevalent across all formats. Whether it’s due to smaller screens or shorter attention spans, edits are often paced too quickly and distractingly, especially in comedy. While it sometimes helps to take the air out of a scene and make the dialogue snappy, it’s not worth it if you’re bouncing between camera angles nonstop.

A completely unrelated (but good) trend: adjustable standing desks! I’ve been using one for the past several shows, and I’ve noticed many others doing the same. They’re great: you can keep it low for meetings and screenings, and then raise it up and stretch your legs when you’re on your own.

Pitch Perfect 3 is in UK cinemas from December 20

Posted 12 December 2017 by Jon Creamer
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