We’re excited to introduce you to Peter Boychuk, Senior Producer of Picture Post, at HARBOR. Peter has worked on delivering such features as, The Irishman, Little Women and Ocean’s 8. In this post he shares what it’s like running a DI department, what a typical day is like, what makes a good DI producer, as well as what DI workflow was used when he helped deliver the Disney+ streaming production of Hamilton.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Hi, Peter! Thank you for sharing your time with us. Before we dive into your work as a Senior DI Producer, can you tell us how you got interested in film?
Peter Boychuk: For 2nd grade show & tell Travis Pastrana brought in a video of him riding a dirt bike – I think that’s when the subconscious seed was planted for my interest in “things outside of the box”. In my early teens, I was super into skating, and was pretty obsessed with the old-school VHS skate videos that were around at the time. I’d follow my buddies around Buffalo with my parent’s camera trying to mimic what I saw in the latest Hoax or VG releases. I wanted to edit our own videos together, but at the time, it was pretty tough to get access to video editing software, so I stuck with stills. Shout out to Uncle Jimbo, our family photography guru – he always let me mess around with his latest gear.
I ended up moving to Connecticut when I was 15 and our High School had a Video Art class, which rekindled my interest in shooting and editing. Mom and Dad said goodbye to their most recent video camera purchase, and I started running around with a camera again making ridiculous videos. Once I hit college, I signed up for any Film related courses that were available, purchased a DVX100 and Final Cut Studio with some help from my Dad, and set out to score an editing internship with an alternative sports company. These ski guys out of Denver were cool enough to give me a shot remastering some over their older flicks to DVD – time to learn how to design, encode, and author DVD’s! There weren’t too many internet forums around at the time, so the manual was really my only source of how-to information. I delivered those 2 DVD masters, but I’m pretty sure they became coasters – hell of a learning experience though. I started my own key-turn LLC when I graduated college shooting and producing instructional videos and weddings but was still flying solo and decided it was time to get my foot in the door somewhere.
LAPPG: So it looks like you worked at Deluxe Digital Studios and then Technicolor- PostWorks NY before making you way over to HARBOR where you worked as a DI Producer. Can you tell us about this role and what it entails?
PB: For any DI Producer, you’re pretty much quarterbacking each project that runs through the facility. You’re the main point of contact for internal and external teams that could span multiple facilities and vendors, and it’s your job to make sure it all comes together on the picture side. Generally, you’re managing overarching post schedules for the project, keeping internal operations inline, understanding workflow and color pipelines, defining vendor and studio needs, tracking budgets and actuals, and juggling creative needs – which usually spans multiple features, maybe an episodic, and some smaller projects you might be supervising.
It gets intense, but I dig it. Reminds me of slinging pies at Naples Pizza on a busy Friday night when I was a younger. You learn to move fast and mold that chaos into productivity.
LAPPG: Now you’re making me hungry! Well, it seems that congratulations are in order on your in your recent promotion to supervising DI’s at Harbor. How have your responsibilities changed?
PB: High-five, thanks! Right up front, responsibilities became a bit more global – helping assign projects, juggling multiple post schedules, and keeping an eye out for the entire Harbor team became part of my daily agenda. With a lighter producing load though, I was able to start a deep dive into what our DI Producers deal with on a regular basis and begin to dissect and tweak our approach a bit. The main goal is to dial-in workload balance and maintain efficiency, so our Producers don’t get tied up in certain time-consuming undertakings. Every project has common needs, so we’ve isolated those common operational and technical preparations which can be a heavy lift while you’re producing multiple DI’s. Aside from supervising where needed, it’s been fun to sit back and observe how someone tackles a task, then take that approach and maybe tweak it a bit or present it to the team so we can make it an official part of our ecosystem. It’s all about defining and maintaining a common structure for how we work.
When you’re in the trenches, having someone with a broad view of what’s going on is crucial, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to use what I’ve learned over the years to help out our fellow Harbor producers.
LAPPG: What does a typical day look like for you?
PB: Let’s go pre-pandemic on this one, because honestly, I miss the bike commute to work and the daily bodega ice coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love wearing sweatpants to work every day, but there’s something nice about a morning routine in the city before you dive into the madness. All jokes aside, working remotely has also proven how strong the Harbor team is as a whole, so I’ll take it both ways.
I’ll hit the ground running early to make sure we don’t need to put out any fires that popped up overnight. After that, I’ll knock off any emails that need attention and check in with my early morning operators to make sure they’re in good shape. If a supervised session is on the books that day, that’ll be my main focus, making sure that’s teed up properly and everyone is well informed and prepared. The team will dive into our morning Producer meeting, chat daily schedule and needs, and then everyone breaks off to manage their own day. Each day can vary wildly, but I’ll start to tackle certain things like…
As a Senior member of the team, you’ll jump in and advise other producers if needed, get looped into operational and technical conversations, and help refine day to day interactions across neighboring departments. The producing team will regroup again at the end of the day to dial-in swing shift needs and schedule out the upcoming day.
LAPPG: You’ve worked on so many high-profile projects such as The Irishman, Marriage Story, Tiger King, and Little Women. One that jumped out at us is the recent streaming Disney+ production of Hamilton. What challenges were you up against for this project and what workflow did you use?
PB: Hamilton was in the works for a couple of years before I jumped into the producing chair. We were finally gearing up to finish the DI onsite site, but the pandemic forced us to pivot quickly, and we moved to a full-blown remote workflow. Hats off to our talented engineering team for moving the entire team offsite in record time! Hamilton ended up being my first remote project, so that was a logistical challenge in itself. We were initially going to finish via projection in DCI P3, but we pivoted to a 1000nit grade for the streaming release. Modern color pipelines allow you to be display flexible, and our color managed workflow made that shift totally seamless. Overall, we had to plan our time wisely and remain highly efficient, especially when running remote sessions out of multiple facilities on both coasts. Solid communication across all of the teams involved was top-notch, and we were able to successfully deliver everything to Disney.
LAPPG: How is a DI department generally staffed and what is the hierarchy in terms of how the work is broken down?
PB: Traditionally you’ll have the following departments – Color & Assists, Conform, VFX, Data Management, Digital Lab, Engineering, Scheduling, Billing, Sales, Leadership, Client Services, and Producing.
HARBOR has always focused on staffing folks who are proactive, creative, independent, and thoroughly knowledgeable of every step in the DI process, so we run a bit of a hybrid model compared to the above breakdown. All of us manage projects holistically throughout their entire DI timelines, allowing for single points of contact and subject matter experts on each job. Keeping an open mind and focusing on solutions rather than the traditional red tape allows us to move freely and efficiently in seeing the creative vision through to a successful execution and delivery.
Ultimately, it’s all about supporting our Clients and Artists. Sure, we have a hierarchy in place in to ensure maximum coverage, quality, and oversight, but it never feels that way with our team. It’s a collective effort with lots of high-fives all around.
LAPPG: What are the traits and skills you look for when hiring a DI Producer?
PB: After a couple years in Post, I began to realize that I enjoyed living in between the industries technical and creative factions, so I look for folks who can bridge that gap and bring everyone together. That inherent quality of being able to manage and maintain a massive to-do list under pressure is key, and you can usually pick up on that trait when you have a conversation with someone. I’ll always prefer hiring an individual who’s a good fit personality wise and spend the time teaching them the ins and outs of the job in the field.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for people who are working up the ranks like you have?
PB: Be curious, ask questions, and strive to be the hardest working individual in the room. Most importantly though, be a genuine person and try to be the nicest person in the room too!
If you’re just starting out, look for any position that will allow you to get your foot in the door at a post facility. You’ll get full exposure to a multitude of post-production departments and people, and if you work your butt off you can climb your way to the top.
LAPPG: How involved are you in the pre-production stage of a project?
PB: Depends on the project, but if we’re doing the Dailies and/or Finishing, we’ll get involved early for sure if the door is open. Best case scenario – you have the opportunity to solidify geometry and color pipelines before they hit the record button. It’s kind of like a reverse puzzle sometimes – you identify the hero deliverable and work your way backwards from there.
LAPPG: Is there a project that really challenged your team to find a creative solution? Did it change your later approach to projects?
PB: Project Pandemic has been one hell of a challenge. We’ve been creating, innovating, and adapting for almost an entire year. Looking ahead, I don’t think we’ll go back to the way things were, so when the dust settles, we’ll get to implement what we learned about remote workflows and offer that as an additional creative solution for HARBOR projects. “We are where you are” sums it up well.
LAPPG: What principles do you follow for running a smooth DI producing team or keeping a production on track?
PB: Open and honest communication is #1 for me, whether that’s with your internal team or external clients and vendors. Managing expectations, look after your team, work you’re a** off, and if you’re not 100% sure you know the answer, keeping asking questions until you’ve got it just right.
We’re all in this together, so no matter how tired you are, stay focused and keep a smile on your face knowing that once you wrap that project up, someone will be there to buy you a cold beer.
LAPPG: We always like to check in and find out how people find a balance between a demanding work schedule and family/home life. (Aside from the fact that we are all home now! Are there things that you enjoy doing that allow you to decompress and unwind?
PB: Hanging around with my partner in crime Stephanie and all of our four-legged furry friends. Goofin’ off with my nieces and nephews – Smush, Turkey Man, Russ the Bus, and Parker. Random roadtrips, face-melting metal jams, visiting breweries and pizza joints, and weekend hikes help to unwind a bit too. Gotta play cards with Grandma for sure – she’s an absolute shark.