Last year we had the opportunity of having colorist Andrea Chlebak (Mandy, Elysium and Chappie) speak at LAPPG about “Color in Narrative” where she discussed working with directors and finding language about color for collaboration as well as how colors and their opposites affect viewers’ emotions. We were so enthralled with her presentation that we wanted to speak to her further about her journey to becoming a colorist, the skills she thinks are important for a colorist to have, and the differences between coloring documentary vs. narrative films. So please join us as we introduce you to Andrea Chlebak.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Congratulations, Andrea on the recent announcement that you are joining the team at Harbor! That is wonderful news. So what are you most excited for with this transition?
Andrea Chlebak: Thank you, I’m so thrilled to be joining this talented group! Harbor is all about elevating the art, science and creative experience of filmmaking – their values resonate so perfectly with what I have worked hard to cultivate in my career thus far. This is also going to be my first time working at a facility with sound and color under one roof; the opportunity to work alongside the artists I have admired for many years is also very exciting to me.
LAPPG: So now that we know where you currently are, let’s talk about where you started. It sounds like you started as a still photographer and an editor out of college. What was it that turned you towards working in the color field?
AC: I studied film and video in college, but when I ventured into the real world, I had no clue what role I was best suited for. Working as a stills photographer and editor helped me to get into the industry a bit and learn what fit …and what didn’t. After spending many hours on set as a stills photographer, I became disheartened by the local union culture and my initial dream to work in cinematography faded. I took some time to regroup, brushed up on Avid and After Effects and then veered towards post production. I started applying at VFX houses all around Vancouver and during one interview, the VFX producer asked me if I had thought about becoming a colorist – she thought my work appeared “too polished” given my level of experience. That internship was cancelled for the year, so I took an I/O job working in animation, and then after a few months, found another opportunity at a small post production company. At the time they were focusing on digital to film transfer, so I took the opportunity to learn as much as possible about that process, which involved spending a lot of time at the film lab reviewing prints with the color timers. Fairly soon after, that company expanded into a full DI offering and when they were exploring grading platforms, I was given the job of evaluating and comparing each one. At that point, I realized, “this is my chance to make this happen“ and fully committed to going after the role. I was lucky to have management and a team that supported me in my development and getting to grade my first feature film gave me a real-world, on the job experience that crystalized how perfect the fit was for me.
LAPPG: What was the transition like going from Vancouver to LA? We’re there any big surprises?
AC: I had spent so much time in LA in the years leading up to moving that it was a fairly natural progression for me – and luckily I knew a lot of people in the industry that helped me to feel welcome. While the move itself was stressful, I absolutely love LA and I felt the rewards so quickly career-wise. It came as a surprise to me however, how much more open and social LA is compared to the somewhat ‘cool’ personality of Vancouver. The ease at which conversations and connections happen in LA comparatively was almost shocking to me. From a work culture perspective, it was just like changing companies really – although it did take a bit of getting used to being a part of a team that included over 40 colorists!
LAPPG: What are your best practices for remote color sessions? Any advice you would give to those trying to do this?
AC: Remote sessions have obviously been going on for many years, but the pandemic has definitely pushed me to adjust my approach more than before. In general, I have always found it a good practice ahead of remote sessions, to take the time to connect with the cinematographer and director beforehand to understand the vision, the inspiration and the challenges. My most successful remote collaborations prior to the pandemic, have been ones where I’ve been well integrated with the creative team for many months, have had many conversations about the intent and then most importantly, have had time to develop a language with the filmmakers by sharing and discussing our views and exchanging visual references.
Remote sessions are also most successful when you have a rapport and are able to provide the same kind of collaborative experience as you would if you were in the room. Since nearly all of the process needs to be remote during a pandemic, I have been adjusting the type of work I do supervised and have gotten a bit creative with the schedule by identifying more specific goals for each remote session that keeps our time together fully engaged. For example, I block out more unsupervised time ahead of my sessions and then space out the remote sessions in order to focus them in review and experimentation. I also think, especially now, that full day sessions remotely are exhausting and not as productive, so booking shorter time periods and then also allowing more breaks to connect and discuss has been helpful. I personally appreciate having a few cameras in my space, to give the filmmaker a bit of that in the room experience. Although I have still done many sessions using only audio, I have found having video available to turn on here and there to connect throughout the session, or in some cases have lunch together and talk as you would if you were together, is a small way to keep the original vibe of a grading session. With Covid, people are more used to using video calls, but it’s also very important in my work to be able to keep communication open and create that relaxed atmosphere that enables the best work.
LAPPG: You worked on a lot of interesting projects this year including A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting (Netflix), Bad Hair (Hulu) and An American Pickle (HBO Max). Can you tell us about your experience like of doing color on An American Pickle?
AC: An American Pickle starts in the early 1900s with Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), a struggling but upbeat laborer who immigrates to America to build a brighter future for his beloved, growing family. One day, while working at his factory job, Herschel falls into a vat of pickles…where he is preserved perfectly for 100 years. When he emerges in present-day Brooklyn, he connects with his only surviving relative, his great-grandson Ben (also played by Rogen), an easygoing app developer. The story is about the pair’s attempt to bridge their 100-year gap and reconsider the true meaning of family.
An American Pickle ended up being graded over about a 6 month time period. For the grade, I was lucky enough to work with both DP, John Guleserian (Like Crazy, About Time) and Director, Brandon Trost, who is also an extremely talented DP (This is the End, The Disaster Artist). Since the film takes place in the past and also in “current” day, we first focused on the initial visual inspiration for the film in establishing those 2 major looks – one for the early 1900s and one for present day. The 1900s story was shot in 4:3 frame and with a vintage lens (Petzval) that really gave a distinct look, and when it came to color, John gave me a number of references from the early color film days and also a hand-colored film look he thought would be most fitting – we experimented with a few different palettes and eventually narrowed in on a softer filmic look we all liked. We then spent a bit of time with the current day story, which was much more subtle in terms of grade, but it also needed to have a style and palette that would connect back to the 1900s look in some way. Having Brandon and John both involved at that point was a treat, as it was like having two DPs at all times! It sounds possibly challenging, but I loved working with both of them and hearing their stories from set as well as their different viewpoints. We were able to try a variety of looks bouncing different scenes off each other, and then, again narrowed the modern day look. Once we had the major direction in place for both time periods, our DP left the process to shoot another film, and the director, Brandon and I spent the remaining weeks refining the palette and style– we ended up reaching what we called a modern storybook look. Because the pandemic lockdown hit right in the midst of the film, we did bridge our process over a hiatus – that hiatus allowed for a bit of a recut as the film was picked up by HBOMax and we had the opportunity to revisit the film and comb through to refine for the subtle changes that were made between the first and second final cuts.
LAPPG: How much of your job is creative vs. technical?
AC: I like to think that color grading happens at the crossroads of art and technology – but I do think my work is mostly creative. That said, getting to this place has involved a lot of technical training and a firm understanding of the technology involved at every step of the process. I also am constantly keeping myself up to speed with what is new in technology – but I admit it is always in service of the creative, if a new process or innovation has the potential to improve or deepen the creative experience, then I am all in – but I really try to break out the overly technical or tasks in my work, giving dedicated time to both critical thinking and intuitive artistic flow.
LAPPG: What are the most important skills for a colorist to have?
AC: While the eye for color is obviously important, I would also say people skills are an extreme asset. I think it’s important to be able to communicate and read the room so that you can keep everyone engaged and on track. Being in tune with the energy in the room, knowing when to take breaks or change up the focus can absolutely elevate the work and bring forth new, more refined ideas.
LAPPG: What are some of the challenges of working with a huge budget and what are some of the challenges of working with a smaller budget?
AC: I think when you are working with a large budget, the expectations on speed and quality of work are very high, which is a challenging contrast. Bigger budget projects sometimes have more creatives on board, so there are more reviews, and that comes with more last-minute changes. I often aim to lay a strong foundation of the look and main creative direction upfront so that I know what to do when new scenes or shots are dropped in late in the game. Small budgets have similar challenges but, time for grade is often a lot shorter on smaller budgets – either there are less grading hours in total, or less lead up time – so the creative work is often compressed leaving less time for any experimentation or contemplation.
LAPPG: How much of your work is done with the DP?
AC: It really depends on the project. Some teams designate the DP as the main supervisor for color, and others it is the all the director – I find that I typically get the combination of the two, where we work all together and then individually – I find it really fruitful when there is a solid foundation of trust between DP and Director, so they can seamlessly hand the baton throughout the process and we can work in both mindsets. In most projects I have had the chance to be a part of, the DP is there for about 75%-100% of the grade.
LAPPG: Who usually gets the final say in color decisions?
AC: Another situation that is very specific to the project or team dynamic, but I rarely have seen a film signoff without the director. Even when the DP is there the whole time, there is always a director signoff – and if there is ever a conflict in ideas, it is the director who typically makes the final decision (even if it is to agree with the DP).
LAPPG: What tools do you prefer to use?
AC: I learned to grade on Baselight and I built my layering style and approach using that platform, so I am very much aligned with that grading tool. In the last few years, I have also used Resolve for a variety of reasons, from colorist collaboration to specific client workflow requirements. I also grew up on the Adobe suite, so I will still use Photoshop, After Effects and Lightroom on stills if I am working offline to collaborate virtually or experiment with crazy ideas.
LAPPG: What do you recommend to someone just starting out in the field?
AC: I always tell those asking for early guidance, to study, study, study images. When I say that I mean, to truly learn about photography, sculpture, lighting, painting and cinema. Even playing with photography as a means to understand how you see the world can really help you define your unique offering. I push this idea first vs learning how to use Resolve or grade and then copying some look you really like. I’ve seen a lot of younger colorists do wonderful imitations, but I think going outside the medium for inspiration actually tunes your eye to color much faster – and gives you a much bigger sandbox to play in later on. Along with that, I think it is really important to learn how the peripheral processes work – conform, VFX, color science and editing. When I started as a colorist, I conformed my own projects and also mastered them to their final formats, I have worked in VFX compositing and lighting as well as even titling and layout– I have so much respect for my colleagues, and my knowledge of their role (ie where we overlap and where we do not) allows me to build on my collaboration style, and in turn, be a better colorist.
LAPPG: What types of projects stretch you creatively?
AC: I would say that documentaries really push me to find meaningful uses of color. As docs usually film over months or years, footage can be quite varied in format, style and content. I’ve always been so honored to work on documentaries, but I usually get very emotionally invested in them – which makes for a lot more tears in my grading suite than usual.
LAPPG: How is your approach to coloring a documentary different from the way you would color a narrative?
AC: In some ways the approach is similar, but the timing or pacing is just a bit different. With a documentary I find that I spend more time with the overarching meaning and message, trying to really refine that for myself and then addressing any challenges the filmmaker has in communicating ideas – establishing that upfront helps me intuitively work through the film and grade for emotional impact. With narrative film, we spend more time upfront exchanging and aligning on inspiration, and then working that into the film in an organic way. With narrative palette and thematic use of color is often solidified right at the beginning, if not before the grade. I think with documentary, color themes reveal themselves more towards the end, after the more challenging work of matching or integrating is done.
LAPPG: If you weren’t coloring film what do you think you’d be doing?
AC: That is such a funny question to me, as there have been so many things that have led me to where I am that I sometimes cannot find the spot where a different road would have split off. I would say that if an AI program took over the color grading process tomorrow, I would probably take a leap into neuroscience and meditation. During this pandemic, I completed a training in meditation instruction, and while I mostly did that out of curiosity for how mindfulness can impact the brain and the creative process, I have found it to have profound impact on many facets of my life and would love to dive more into that someday.
LAPPG: What are the three most important things someone should think about/know when coming into a DI suite to work with a colorist?
AC: -Know that each colorist brings their own unique offering and approach, so to get a sense of what that may look like beforehand can be helpful.
-Understanding what a colorist can and cannot do is also helpful – understanding while color is in fact a visual effect, that compositing or painting tasks can be laborious and distracting to a color grade (i.e. break that time out in a different session).
-Be open to things changing or discovering a new look or palette, while coming in with inspiration, sometimes the material naturally goes in a different direction and it works better for the story.
LAPPG: What is a look development colorist?
AC: Look development is a process of exploring, creating and/or defining a look for a project. In some cases, it helps refine a look and in other cases it helps to produce a variety of directions that later become the obvious choice. A look development session can be either grading a selection from every scene of the film with the DP and Director, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, it can be just spending a few hours with camera tests to set up a look that can translate into a selection of LUTs for use on -set and in dailies. I build time for look development with all of my films, but in some cases I have been credited with that title, as for some reason or another, I was not able to finish the film as the final colorist. Most recently I was look development colorist on Watchmen series, collaborating with DP Gregory Middleton to set distinct looks as part of his process for setting up the visual language for the series.
LAPPG: How do you balance the stress of long hours in the DI suite?
AC: I don’t find my job very stressful weirdly – but the long hours can weigh on my personal life. I make sure to create mental separation when I put down my work each day so that I dedicate my downtime to family and catching up with friends. Meditation, yoga and spending time in the outdoors are all also restorative for me.
LAPPG: Has being a woman hurt or helped you in any way in the color world?
AC: This has become such a huge question for me, and I don’t know if I can answer it eloquently. In simple terms, I would say, both. In more recent years I’ve had the experience of being rewarded a film based on my gender – this coming from studios, productions and/or filmmakers themselves, becoming conscious of the inherent bias in our industry with the awarding of major creative roles, and therefore, making a point of choosing a woman to be the colorist even though we, when stacked up against our male colleagues, may not have perfectly comparable experience. I’ve heard many complaints about this, but to be honest, it is still far from actually tipping the scale for me. The legacy of the “who you know” and “how much have you done” is still very much alive – and because that is driven from an evolving, but originally a male dominated place, it has been sometimes difficult to prove hiring a woman is not a “risk”.
As a woman, I think there is a lot more proving of oneself whether technically or creatively or personally. I am more often invited to panels about women in film vs anything else I am qualified to speak or share about. While some may think it is a slight advantage these days with diversity and inclusion efforts being at the forefront of studios minds, I still don’t think women, Black, Indigenous or People of Color in this role has been at all normalized, and that reality makes it a disadvantage.
It is not that I feel directly victimized every day, but what a lot of people do not realize is, that for women who choose this profession, there is a lot of additional emotional labor involved -this all means less time for the actual job – or in most cases, more time working, which makes the cycle continue.
LAPPG: Do you see more opportunities for women in the world of color than when you started?
AC: I only directly experienced a lack of opportunity in the camera or VFX departments when I started – post production was really the most welcome entry point. But I do think that things have changed on all fronts for sure, and yes, I see a lot more women starting on this path that I did 15 years ago when I started – but I am looking forward to the next 15, and doing everything I can to normalize the inclusion of all marginalized groups in our industry.
It was wonderful having the chance to speak with longtime LAPPG member and presenter Bruce Logan. As you can already see, Bruce has done just about everything and is quite a legend in the film industry. In our discussion of his work and his 45+ year career, Bruce shares some insights into his inspiring career where he’s worked with directors like Stanley Kubrick and Joel Schumacher as well as making a pivotal contribution to a little movie called, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. If you don’t know Bruce, you’ll be glad you now do. Please meet Bruce Logan.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: You’ve worn many hats over the years. From VFX Artist to Cinematographer to Colorist to Director. Is there a role to you enjoy more and why?
Bruce Logan, ASC: Each job I take on I give 110%. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to develop many skills in the business. I wouldn’t say I enjoy one more than another. They all have aspects that I enjoy intently. I would say that I use different amounts of my brain’s RAM and processing power performing each function. Being a director uses the most and is the most stressful and therefore creates the greatest consciousness high. Being a DP and spending 12 hours a day making the image look great is aesthetically enjoyable and slightly less stressful, especially in the digital age. Editing and grading have a very different rhythm. I think they are “final processes,” meaning that you’re making final decisions, the last rewrite. It’s very satisfying.
LAPPG: With all of the technological changes from film to digital how has your creativity been impacted as a cinematographer, editor and colorist?
BL: Having grown up in a very analog age, life has just gotten more and more exciting as time goes by. I have totally embraced the digital age and won’t be looking back any time soon. Technology has made things possible that one could never have dreamed of when I started in the business. But please, enough with the drone shots! I don’t mind people shooting on film, if that’s what floats their boats. But a photo-chemical finish for me is just an undesirable indulgence. The film comes on-screen flickering. I cringe and slink down into my seat. But of course, like 3D, I don’t notice it after a while. But why?
LAPPG: Along with that you’ve also seen VFX change so much over the years from when you worked on Star Wars Episode IV in the miniature and optical effects unit to a film like Batman Forever. What has it been like having a front row seat to the advancements in cinema? And how did you blow up the Death Star?
BL: I guess that’s my other pet peeve with the over digitization of VFX. Yes, I marveled at the magical motion blur of the fast flying ships in Star Wars. And I gasped as the first dinosaur loped across the screen in Jurassic Park. But the total reliance on CG for effects in film somehow has an unsatisfying synthetic gloss. For me the uncanny valley runs much deeper in digital VFX movies than the latest youthification techniques like the Irishman. But CG VFX based on live-action footage are the most effective for me. I still think the last really great, full-satisfaction VFX movie is the original Blade Runner.
“Blowing up the Death Star” is my greatest PR coup, but was in fact very low tech. The “Zero-G” explosions were achieved by looking “directly up” at some very exotic bombs made by Joe Viskocil. Using a high-speed camera, we detonated the explosion directly above the lens. Voilà.
LAPPG: Tell us a bit about working for Roger Corman back in the day. Was the Corman film Vendetta your first directorial opportunity?
BL: I met Roger Corman at a cast and crew screening of a movie I shot for Peter Fonda called Idaho Transfer. There were no seats left, so Roger had to sit on the floor near the screen. He saw that I could shoot great images with almost no lights. He immediately offered me a movie called Big Bad Mama starring Angie Dickinson. Then his wife Julie Corman offered me Crazy Mama, which led to Jackson County Jail, then I Never Promised You a Rose Garden which was short-listed for Academy Award. Then producer Jeff Begun brought the project Vendetta to Roger. Roger green-lit the film as my feature debut as Director.
LAPPG: It’s been 34 years since Vendetta, and now you’ve directed the award-winning film Lost Fare. How do you feel you’ve change or developed as a director?
BL: Vendetta was truly my first directing job. When I finished the film, Roger told me… “Bruce, this is not a good film.” But I think after 4 years of Fox’s rating sweep week broadcasts and a current 3.5 stars on Amazon, it wasn’t that bad.
After Vendetta I directed 300 television commercials and music videos over 20 years. This is where I honed my directing skills. The discipline of telling a story in 30 seconds and mounting 300 productions and post productions was invaluable. With out these abilities, I could never have written, produced, edited and directed, Lost Fare, a 100K road movie with kids in eleven 12 hour days.
Lost Fare was a real labor of love for me. I was inspired by Rachel Reaugh’s devastating but beautiful story based on her abusive childhood. We wrote the screenplay together. Then I looked for an actor that could play the eleven-year-old heroine. Finding the incredible Alexis Rosinsky, I went ahead and made the film with producer and old friend Elliot Rosenblatt. Lost Fare is available on many platforms and has been streamed for tens of millions minutes on Amazon Prime. I’m really proud of the work.
LAPPG: I think you won Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve at an LAPPG meeting a number of years ago. Can you talk about what your experience was like editing and coloring in DaVinci Resolve?
BL: Being a self-taught colorist for the last 8 years with a copy of Resolve I won at LAPPG emboldened me to cut my movie in Resolve. I had to build a rocket-ship Mac Tower as I wanted to cut in 4K so that everything I did in the timeline was “finished movie.” I colored the movie as I went and then did final pass when all the VFX were in. I started in Resolve 12.5 and ended in 14. I was my own system tech so it wasn’t without a few sleepless nights.
LAPPG: What were you aiming for in terms of audio for this very dark and troubling story?
BL: I wanted to use as much real productions sound to give the movie a gritty reality. Unfortunately, I didn’t get great production sound, so Woody Woodhall, CAS had to dig it out with iZotope and reconstruct the natural sounds I was after. I’m super happy with the final track.
LAPPG: Everyone reacts to the fact that your career started with 2001: A Space Odyssey. What was your experience like working with Kubrick on this film?
BL: People ask me if I went to film school. I tell them I worked on 2001, A Space Odyssey. That was my film school. I was hired by Douglas Trumbull and he had the run of the studio. So as his assistant I got to do live action, miniatures as well as animation which I had been teaching myself since I was 12, and then doing professionally for three years. Preparation met opportunity and there I was working for the director I idolized. It was trial by fire in the hot seat defending my work in dailies with Stanley scrutinizing my footage for two and a half years. Phew!
LAPPG: You’ve worked on so many memorable movies like Airplane, Tron, Batman Forever, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and one of my favorite favorites when I was a child, The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Can you talk about what it was like as special visual effects supervisor creating a giant world for tiny Lily Tomlin?
BL: The Incredible Shrinking Woman was an opportunity to use process photography, Front Projection and Rear-screen Projection to create all the VFX shots. This meant no VFX post schedule. Everything was done in camera as part of principle photography. This was probably of dubious financial value, as a 100 compositors working in a dark room is probably cheaper than a full production crew working an extra 8 weeks on stage. But it enabled director Joel Schumacher and myself to be very creative with our shots, and to see exactly what we were getting. Working with Lily was fantastic.
LAPPG: And it wasn’t just films that you were involved in back in the 80’s. How did you get involved producing a music video for Madonna?
BL: I produced Madonna’s second video Borderline for my friend Mary Lambert who was directing her first project for Warner Records. I remember I made it under-budget by not buying production insurance. Talk about stupid, but somehow I got away with it. Madonna was great. I didn’t know who she was at the time, but she did. And then we all did.
LAPPG: So on top of everything it turns out you are also a screenwriter! Can you tell us about the script you are currently working on?
BL: My new project is called God and Country. It’s about a Marine Pilot who is raped by a psychotic war hero, and is failed by the justice system. She takes matters into her own hands using her hi-tech aviation skills.
LAPPG: For a man who has worked in so many aspects of the filmmaking process and has worked with so many seminal directors what inspires you still at this point in your career and are you still racing cars and flying planes?
BL: Learning new stuff is always stimulating. Right now it’s learning social media to sell my movie. But really it’s writing great stories that turns me on.
Although I don’t really formally race, I do the occasional track day which is really racing against myself. My friend built a pro-simulator so I go over and race different tracks all over the world. And I recently renewed my old paper flying license for a flashy plastic one. It occasionally falls out of my wallet and starts a conversation. That’s about it!
We had the pleasure of having Maxim Jago present at LAPPG and found that not only is he a sensational presenter, but a fascinating human being as well! So, we wanted to explore not only what advice he has for filmmakers and content creators but also what life is like for this busy multi-hyphanate. We were also curious about the motivation was behind his upcoming The Creativity Conference and how he sees the future of media and work.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: As a filmmaker, futurist, author, and media technology expert, I see you as a modern-day Renaissance man. Is there one aspect of your professional life that takes center stage?
Maxim Jago: It is so kind of you to say it this way, though I sometimes wonder if I ought to pick one thing! I am just in love with the universe and want to understand how everything works – and to celebrate it all! There’s this absolutely amazing thing that happens when you, even temporarily, put aside value judgements. Rather than fearing what might come next, how someone might behave, or what you might get right or wrong, you become fascinated by all possibilities.
I share time and energy between perhaps 15 projects but right now, I’m mainly writing books on Futurism, film editing, and philosophy, consulting, editing the film I directed last year, speaking at conferences, and have set up The Creativity Conference – a new global meeting of minds to explore the quintessential essence of creativity. We will be running an in-person event in August 2021 and there’s a completely free taste of things to come in January.
The Creativity Conference is at the heart of my attention these days – it is growing into becoming a truly amazing event.
LAPPG: Can you share how you got started in the film industry?
MJ: It started out as an experiment when I was 15. I’d been taking photos for a couple of years and someone wise recommended that I try making films. I didn’t know what I was doing but was instantly transfixed by this incredible medium. I won’t get into it now, but I have a theory that film is the closest thing we have to real experience being the medium. True VR takes this even further.
I started out making as many short films as I could, went to two film schools, made even more films, and along the way learned some valuable technical skills. I always wanted to be either an actor or a director. I realized early on that if you focus on wanting to do something, then “wanting to do it” is what you get; you have to focus on just doing it, knowing that you will fail, fall, and pick yourself up again to do it again. Almost all change is, really, iterative, not some major switch to a new situation.
Along the way, I started teaching post-production skills, and I suppose I’m best known as the British voice behind quite a lot of tutorials on video editing.
My journey into the industry was a mixture of technical and creative work. My advice for newcomers is to just produce as much content as you can, and don’t hold off production because you don’t have an ideal budget. There’s a myth in the major production industry that you can finance a film if you have a great idea and a great screenplay. This isn’t true – you need an internationally recognizable cast to be able to estimate sales and fulfil the needs of the business aspect of the movie business.
However, what you CAN do is produce amazing low-budget content that will get you noticed as a filmmaker. I doubt anyone checking out your reel will worry too much about whether you used the best possible camera or grip equipment. They just want to know that you have a recognizable flair in your chosen occupation.
I started out in the film industry by making films. I had to work to live while working on projects, so I developed a parallel IT career, and this slowed down development. At the time I found it frustrating and would sometimes judge myself harshly for not making more progress. This, eventually, taught me an important lesson: If you are going to judge at all, be as realistic and precise as you can be about what you are judging. We tend to judge ourselves much too harshly – and if we were realistic about the burden we carry, the strength we have, our commitments, needs, fears, skills, expectations, and experience, we would probably be kinder to ourselves!
LAPPG: Was there a particular event or a series of events that led up to you studying the future and being a futurist?
MJ: It was a mixture of experiences. I paid my way through film school by giving tech support on behalf of Microsoft – a job I got thanks to one of my Tai Chi students at the time. By the time I graduated, I had a healthy IT resume. My passion for understanding everything led me to explore a wide range of topics – not in any formal way but just deeply enough to get the gist and begin to detect some underlying patterns across most technologies, philosophies, organizational systems.
I began contributing to technology steering groups because of my experience that bridged media production and technology. These, in turn, led to increasingly complex technology-based and education-centric organizations inviting me to contribute ideas and forecasts for novel technologies and services.
My job as a futurist is simple to define but a little complex to describe. I estimate what will happen, and when… These forecasts are always contextual. It’s not a general look at everything in the future but rather looking at one or other aspect of the human condition in a particular context or scenario.
For example, when exploring the impact of Virtual Reality, I might look at technical limitations (like often needing to connect a headset to a computer) or creative opportunities (like the audience being free to move in three-dimensional space).
My work is always centered on human nature, which is universal and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of thousands of years.
One feature of the universality of the human condition that I love is that all the evidence so far suggests that we are not-only related to all other human beings but also to every living thing on the planet.
LAPPG: Overall in terms of media, what is your feeling about the future of media?
MJ: I think the future is incredibly bright. We are approaching the limits of human perception, in terms of acquisition and delivery. The development of compelling virtual reality and augmented reality experiences is a natural progression, and I anticipate future visual storytellers will have even more extraordinary tools available as we move towards real-time photorealistic virtual production, artificial characters producing natural speech procedurally, and meaningfully creative artificial intelligence.
There is a threat though, to our perception of reality itself. As a species, we are not very good at telling the difference between something that is compelling and something that is true. There are solid evolutionary benefits to be had from trusting the strongly held opinions of others – particularly where there are many others who hold the same strongly held opinion. The challenge we face is that our media creators are becoming exceptionally efficient at giving the impression that something is both “true” and the “strongly held opinion of many people”. This is a combination that we are very poor at defending against, to remain reasonable and pragmatic. In fact, in any given example, neither of these two things may be the case – appearances are so easy to fake now.
Without a clear independent and objective reference to measure evidence against, it becomes difficult to differentiate between proof and conjecture. We are lazy thinkers too, and so we either tend to accept the most violently expressed view or disengage from a topic that we find to be too much work to navigate intellectually. This tendency to disengage or agree on emotional, rather than rational grounds is a vulnerability that is exploited by our media – and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
The issue is that our media is becoming even more precise and targeted when it comes to analyzing our behaviors and characteristics. This analysis (increasingly assisted by AI) allows them to present information that appears neutral, though it is not. Our laziness when it comes to thinking means we tend to interpret neutral seeming information as truth. Knowing this, the media finds it relatively straightforward to sway opinions – and those opinions can lead to real world consequences.
In the 1950’s, cigarette manufacturers were still producing ads with doctors announcing that smoking was good for you. This was a rather blunt attempt to add emphasis through authority. Now, advertising companies show that your friends like a product – an even more compelling reason to like it too.
There are enormous risks ahead from fake news (which isn’t actually news at all, it’s a fictional narrative made to look news-like), and from deep fakes. Deep fakes are fake videos of famous people and political figures that give the impression that they have said or done things that they have never said nor done. Deep fakes are so convincing, and people check the facts so rarely, that we are likely to see serious legislation limiting their use.
The good news is that there is a positive way forward. Major organizations are gradually restricting access to the data necessary to perform the most precise analysis of our activities, and limiting tracking in general. We are developing ways to verify content, so that deep fakes don’t matter anymore (because they won’t be ‘certified’).
Also, these tools for analysis have incredibly potential for good. Imagine if your computer could analyze your use of language, heart rate, pupil dilation, breathing rate, and sub-vocal stresses to gauge your mood and give meaningful, helpful feedback to guide you towards a positive mental and emotional state.
We have that technology today – and it’s going to become more ubiquitous. The opportunities for improved health, communication skills, relationships, education, and personal development are enormous – and they are all connected to our media.
LAPPG: What would be your best advice for people wanting to be media makers in this day and age?
MJ: Ultimately media production is all about distribution. Any work that is created to be experienced must be distributed in some way for that experience to occur. If you paint a picture, you need people to see it. If you record a song, you need people to hear it.
The internet provides the most extraordinary opportunity ever to provide access to your created work. New models for monetizing content mean that you no-longer need to wait for that studio deal or agent to earn a living by producing media content.
Start making media, start distributing it, learn how the new platforms work, learn how you can monetize your content, and you are a media maker.
This new development, in which it’s possible for most people to create content and earn a living from it is amazing – but not necessarily easy.
In many ways, the rest of the media production world hasn’t changed in many years – the studio system is still the studio system, and television shows still need to be made. Right now, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and many people are concerned this might be a new normal. We’ll mostly go back to the way things were when we overcome the impacts of the Coronavirus because nothing else has changed. People still want to go to theatres to see movies, they want to grab food with friends to talk about what they just saw, and they want to learn by experiencing stories with characters onscreen.
LAPPG: How have you kept yourself busy during this pandemic?
MJ: It has actually been a wildly busy time – my work hasn’t changed all that much. When people ask me where I live, I usually say, ‘a window seat’ and a huge part of my work is meeting with and working with friends and colleagues in person. Still, the core effort is usually me with a laptop writing, designing, planning. I work from ‘wherever’ and that happens to be home at the moment. I’m one of the lucky ones that can continue to work without going out, and I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.
My usual days are a blend of emails, consultancy analysis and documentation, film editing, creative and professional design projects, learning (as much as possible), and coffee. Just yesterday, I realized that the number of emails I’d flagged to deal with had topped 1,100 – sorry if I owe anyone an email!
I’m also still speaking at conferences (Adobe Video World, Post-Production World, Horasis, The Bermudian Government Education Summit), albeit remotely, and those speaking sessions take just as long to prepare for as in-person sessions.
LAPPG: So it sounds like you certainly know your way around large events. What was the impetus for creating The Creativity Conference?
MJ: The genesis for The Creativity Conference was that I had been speaking for audiences for about 20 years and I was
wondering, one day, what kind of conference I would wish attend to learn and grow into my creative work. The Creativity Conference is the result of that thought experiment; a global meeting of minds to cross boundaries, with a focus on personal, professional, and creative growth.
It’s an opportunity for people all over the world to connect on a subject that lies at the heart of our nature – to feel human with people and learn ways that others have explored this vital path. The more people I discussed the idea with, the more excited I became – and now we have a really focused team and an event that is growing quickly – with such a wide range of topics, from drone cinematography to parenting and beyond. It’s wonderful. We see the conference as a creative ‘vitamin shot’ for the start of 2021. It’s an opportunity for creatives to connect with one another and build a community.
LAPPG: Is creativity something that can be taught?
MJ: I don’t think so but only because it does not need to be learned. It is intrinsic to every decision you make. Every choice, every thought, every time you phrase something to communicate it, note down words to remember it, or even imagine something – all of these things are creative. To be alive is to be creative.
There are specific skills one can learn, and there are natural aptitudes people have for particular forms of creative expression – some people are amazing singers, for example, and perhaps have a genetic predisposition to ‘feeling’ the music.
But I would argue that creativity is a state of mind that anyone can choose to focus on. Every time you move your body or express yourself intentionally, you are creating. It is an absolutely beautiful and fundamental aspect of being alive.
LAPPG: The Creativity Conference is set for January 22-24, 2021. Who is this conference designed for and what will people be able to take away from it?
MJ: Anyone with an interest in the arts, or in human nature, will benefit from attending the conference. We are recording all the sessions, so nobody will miss out – we have 5 concurrent sessions, 6 times a day – 90 sessions in total plus 3 keynotes.
The goal is that everyone attending is inspired and re-invigorated in their creative practice. We hope that attendees will attend presentations by speakers from beyond their usual creative focus, to expand their sense of what they can do and see and experience things in new ways. There is only a little focus on technique – the focus is on being inspired and inspiring others. It’s an opportunity to learn new approaches to creativity and to living a creative life – to being a change-maker.
LAPPG: How did you choose the topics and presenters for the conference?
MJ: Initially I reached out to speakers I was privileged to know from my travels and broad professional experience. I have been so fortunate to know such insightful and capable professional creatives. Any by ‘creative’, I don’t necessarily mean the commonly expected types of creativity. We have the CEO of a bank and an expert on creative parenting alongside performance poets, fine artists, and singers.
My goal is for the conference to be so broad in its reach that it might become possible to see the universal themes that drive and accommodate creative thinking, so that we can all be more attentive to it.
It is humbling and exciting to see the incredible individuals willing to give up their time and share their experience with the world.
The conference is completely free to attend, thanks to our sponsors – thank you Dell, Nvidia, and Intel – and is supported by our brilliant partners – Artists United, Raindance, Adobe, and Blackmagic Design.
Rather than charge for tickets, we are encouraging attendees to check out charities that have a creative focus, and consider making a donation. So far we are supporting Artists United and Awareness Ties – two charities that focus on the Arts as a means to improving the lives of countless people. We’ll be announcing more charities very soon.
LAPPG: Many of our members and readers are filmmakers. Can you tell us about the One Minute Creative Film Competition?
MJ: This is just wonderful – you can submit any genre, any theme, documentary, fiction, or animation – anything at all, as long as the entire experience is under one minute (excluding closing titles). We have a list of prizes from our partners, including One Year Adobe Creative Cloud Licenses, and a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Entry is completely free, and the winners will be chosen by Raindance, Filmdoo.com, and our guest judge, Vashi Nedomansky!
If you produce any other kind of art, watch this space as we will be announcing our open creativity competition very soon – with the same rule, that it must be possible to experience your creative work in under a minute – whether it is a poem, a song, a short story, a painting or a photograph.
LAPPG: I saw a great video of you from Lunch with Philip and Greg and I was fascinated about the living for free work as an option theory! Can you share a bit about your thoughts on the future of work?
MJ: They [Philip Hodgetts and Greg Clarke] are both so fascinating to speak to because they have a deep understanding of the creative process and getting things done!
Yes, we are moving inexorably towards the post-scarcity society – one in which work is optional, thanks to (initially) universal basic income and (ultimately) the completely free economy.
Money works very well as an upgrade on the barter system but it’s time to upgrade again. The combination of the cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, blockchain, and sovereign identity concepts and supporting technologies, along with major improvements in autonomous robotic automation and artificial intelligence will open up new ways to live.
This is not to say that people will not work – most people will – but now they will be working because they choose to. The impact on quality of life, emotional and biological wellbeing, global security, and even lifespan is significant.
None of these changes are likely to happen overnight but along with us taking responsibility for establishing a symbiotic relationship with Nature (in place of our current parasitic abuse of Nature), we are on track to establish healthier relationships with each other and with ourselves.
It’s time for us to take care of ourselves and everything and everyone around us – I think Kindness is an important key… But could speak about this all night!
LAPPG: When will be seeing you on the big screen for your James Bond debut?
MJ: You are an angel for asking… My door is open if Barbara Broccoli wants to visit!
I do have a martini named after me…
We’re so thrilled to have the chance to talk best practices with Director of Photography and Steadicam Operator extraordinaire, Dan Kneece. Many of you have seen his work on films such as Blue Velvet, Muholland Drive and Jackie Brown and some of you know may recognize his face from our LAPPG meetings where he’s been a member for a few years now as well as a presenter. Dan has worked with some of Hollywood’s most well known film directors including Quentin Tarantino, Joel Schumacher, Wes Craven and David Lynch.
So let’s jump into the production side of things with some of Dan’s best practices and advice for working in this field.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: What do you think someone starting out in the field should know about filmmaking?
Dan Kneece: The business wants to categorize you, so once they know you in one classification, it can be difficult to change to another. Choose wisely as you will be there for a while. That said, don’t try to start at the top. If you do, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to work under masters and learn. Contrary to your current beliefs, you don’t know it all.
LAPPG: Are there certain things someone should do before they start shooting?
DK: When you walk into a location don’t mess up what’s already there! Turn on the camera and look at the location before you start lighting. You may be pleasantly surprised. Encourage the director to have a private rehearsal so you can see how the actors play the set. Then have a crew rehearsal for marks. Afterwards the actors go to makeup while you light the set.
LAPPG: What is an important trait for all cinematographers have?
DK: A cinematographer should always be story driven. The script is the foundation of the film. Everything you need to know is in the script and your job is to serve it.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for running a camera crew and making sure production runs smoothly?
DK: Hire people better than you are and let them do their jobs. Empower people. Don’t micromanage. If you do, you cheat only yourself.
LAPPG: What are your tips for working well with a director?
DK: Always remember you are not making your film. You are making the director’s film. That is the reason you are there. You both have to be making the same movie. Otherwise you are doomed for failure.
LAPPG: What are some strategies you use when you have to shoot a feature on a tight budget?
DK: Serve the script to the best of your ability with the resources and time allotted. Your only priority is to capture the performances, hopefully without burning too many bridges along the way. It takes very little to make a film. First you need an idea, people to execute that idea and a camera. If you have that you can make a film. It’s very simple really. You can make a film for no money at all if you have these elements. Everything else is luxury.
LAPPG: What is on your Pre-Production Checklist?
DK: I decide on what we need after talking with the director and producer so we know what is required and what we can afford. Always be ready to do it another way if your first thought does not fit with the thoughts of others. I don’t usually make lists unless there is something very specific. My camera package is similar most times, usually a body and primes, head and sticks, the usual stuff. For dramas this is fine. For fantasies things get more elaborate, but less is more in my world.
LAPPG: What do you think about when framing a shot?
DK: Does what I do serve the script? How does this shot tell the story? How does it move the story forward? The script tells you what you need to do, what the movie should look like, what the feel of the film is. Do not betray that. Your duty, your loyalty lies there.
LAPPG: What are some down and dirty tips for Steadicam operators?
DK: Don’t fall down.
If you do fall down, break as little as possible.
When you fall down, if you have to choose between damaging equipment or yourself, sacrifice the equipment.
LAPPG: Any tips that a DP should keep in mind when they get to a location?
DK: The ability to look and realize what you are seeing is very important. Many times what you find when you arrive looks beautifully natural in a way that will be hard to recreate without much work. The downside is it doesn’t stay that way so you have to work quickly. If you lose it, it will never come back so think about how you are going to match the close ups when it’s gone and shoot the wide shot first.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for solving on-set problems?
DK: Keep an open mind and think quickly. Be flexible.
LAPPG: How much influence do you have in terms of color and how the final image looks?
DK: Only half of a Director of Photography’s job is done when the cameras quit rolling. The other half is in the Digital Intermediate. This is the biggest challenge for the DP today, to convey the importance of having time in the DI suite alone with the colorist so the look of the film can be realized. When that point is reached, then bring in the director for input.
[Editor’s note: To see highlights of Dan’s visit to LAPPG where he spoke about “Shooting Short Schedule Features”, please click here for our YouTube Channel.]
We had the pleasure of having Richard co-present at a LAPPG meeting early in 2020 (highlight video here) with his training series, “Master the Workflow” co-creator Lawrence Jordan, ACE. There they taught us about the role of the assistant editor. We wanted to delve a little deeper into Richard’s experience with his work as a VFX Editor and find out what that’s all about. We appreciate Richard pulling back the curtains a bit for us to learn about how finishing a big project like Bill & Ted Face the Music was done remotely, due to the pandemic. Please meet Richard Sanchez!
Los Angeles Post Production Group: It sounds like you got to editing by way of theater in college. I’ve heard that from many in the industry. What was it that attracted you to editing?
Richard Sanchez: I was a theatre major when I discovered editing as a craft, but it was two events that are probably most responsible for leading me down that path. The first was I got really into George Romero in college and Dawn of the Dead quickly became one of my favorite films (and still is). I bought a two DVD set that included both George Romero’s American Cut, and Dario Argento’s International Cut. Watching the two versions back to back, I found it amazing how from the same footage came two very different films. Romero’s was a slower paced horror film that filled you with a sense of foreboding and Argento’s was a faster paced film that had a more action feel. Both films were great for different reasons. That being one of the early seeds planted, at the end of my senior year I had to take a studio art class as part of my major requirement. I was going to take black and white photography, but a friend convinced me to take a video art class instead. It wasn’t editing narrative, per se, but it was a lot of Bill Viola and more abstract video art but sitting down on the Final Cut Pro systems, I fell in love immediately. After that, I was completely hooked.
LAPPG: You have a lot of experience as an assistant editor on projects like the films Suicide Squad and Table 19 and the television series The Good Place and I’m Dying Up Here. What advice do you have for people interested in following your path into the AE world.
RS: I feel the need to not misrepresent myself in that my time on Suicide Squad was short. I wasn’t on that film for the entire run, but I met some ferociously talented folks there whom I’m grateful to had had the opportunity to work on a project of that scale. My best piece of advice for people trying to follow a similar path is: Be kind, be generous. The work can be taught. The attitude is almost more important. People want to work with somebody who they enjoy being in close quarters with for twelve hours a day. Touching on generosity, the old adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” is a motto I also live by. I’ve built relationships with colleagues by answering questions in Facebook forums and other outlets. Those have led to great friendships and even work. There’s nothing to lose in kindness and everything to gain.
LAPPG: What skills do assistant editors need to be successful and competitive?
RS: There is no single skill more important than adaptability. Everybody works a little differently and there are often good reasons to work one way versus another in context. Rolling with the punches instead of relying on the comfort of familiarity will be invaluable. Touching on that adaptability: never ever stop learning. Don’t shrug off subjects or technology because they seem boring or complicated. The process is changing at an exponential rate and with this influx of new technology comes new challenges. It’s not unreasonable to have never worked on the bleeding edge before, but it can be invaluable to be able to say, “I’ve never worked with that process before but I have read up on it quite a bit and am excited to finally try it out.”
Attention to detail is another skill that cannot be overstated. I won’t pretend to have the best memory in the world, so I make sure that I never enter my editor’s cutting room without a pad of paper. We all have our days, but I try to never knock on my editor’s door a second time to say, “I’m sorry, what was that?”
The final skill I want to mention, and this is a big one: have the courage to ask for clarification when you’re asked something that you’re unsure of. I hear a common refrain in people who are afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid of looking dumb. The problem with this dilemma is, if you take the time to admit you need clarification and do the job right, you look pretty good. If you say, “I understand.” and you carry out the task wrong, you will look bad because now you’ve lost time doing the task incorrectly, and you weren’t truthful when you said, “I understand.” If somebody judges me for seeking clarification, I suppose that’s just how it is, but I’ll opt to measure twice cut once.
LAPPG: What was the impetus behind you and Lawrence Jordan, ACE creating Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion?
RS: Larry and I came up with the idea for Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion as we were wrapping a Netflix project called Naked. I was showing Larry the database I had built for the show which incorporated most of the show paperwork. I was considering turning it into a product but was running into several challenges, among the biggest was that it was very dense and I needed to make a video tutorial to teach all of the functions in it. Larry had suggested we cover the entire feature post process which would be valuable for new assistant editors trying to transition into features and Master the Workflow grew out of there.
LAPPG: As we all know the long, crazy hours and tight deadlines can really take a toll on people health – both mental and physical. What activities or things do you like to do to manage the stress and to stay balanced?
RS: About a year ago I became a father so I spend most of my off time trying to be the best daddy that I can. In addition to that, I’ve been drawn to musicianship for a long time. I’ve played the upright bass for many years and I occasionally pretend to be a bluesman on the roundneck Dobro, but my fingerpicking technique is not quite there yet. Cycling is also a deep love of mine.
LAPPG: On recent projects you’ve worked as a VFX Editor. How has the transition been from Assistant Editor to VFX Editor and can you explain what skills needed to have to become a VFX Editor?
RS: For me, the transition to VFX Editor was terrifying and exciting at the same time. If imposter syndrome were an Olympic sport, I’d be a heavy contender, but I justify it by reframing the anxiety into the mantra that self-doubt is just the curse of integrity. My first job as a VFX Editor was on Catch-22 for Hulu. While one part of me knew I could do the work, another part said, “Oh my God, you’re a fraud and this is the job that they all find out.” It helped that both the editorial and VFX crew on that show were A+ artists, by far one of the best post teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between being a VFX Editor on the side of production versus being a VFX Editor on the vendor side. As a production side VFX Editor, strong skills for creating quick temp comps are very important. The VFX Editor will need to be able to quickly build and revise comps for the director and editor, especially in heavy green screen sequences, to allow the cut to be seen as representative of the intent as possible. These temps will inform the VFX Vendors as to what the director wants and will be necessary in the event of friends and family screenings. Once the VFX are ready to be handed off to the vendors, it is the VFX Editor’s task to prepare count sheets, order shot pulls and keep track of VFX as they come in. For me, being strong in Filemaker Pro has been imperative for this task. I know some VFX Editors work in Google Sheets and Shotgun but Filemaker Pro is my tool of choice for its scripting abilities and layout flexibility. To put it succinctly: Avid comping skills, Filemaker Pro, a “can do” attitude and the fortitude to roll with the punches and revise and revise until you get it right are the most important skills of a VFX Editor.
LAPPG: So now that you recently completed delivery as VFX Editor for the film Bill & Ted Face the Music, what was so special for you about working on this particular film?
RS: Bill & Ted Face the Music was perhaps the biggest dream job that I could have ever had the pleasure of working on. I was born in 1981 so my air guitar years were a little past the release of these films, but had an older cousin that was into hair bands so I loved that music as a kid. In addition, I grew up in Arcadia, CA which was close to San Dimas, CA and though I’d later learn that they shot in Tucson, I’d be lying if I didn’t think back to that film every time I passed through San Dimas. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was one of those films that really made me fall in love with film long before I’d ever even considered the possibility of working in film: It was fun, silly and absurd. I watched it so much that I wore out the VHS tape.
LAPPG: What was the biggest highlight from your work on this film?
RS: Getting to meet Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves on one brief occasion was certainly a highlight of working on the film for me. That said, the whole team was a veritable who’s who of amazing artists whom I had endless respect for. Our editor, Don Zimmerman, cut Rocky III & IV. Our director, Dean Parisot, directed Galaxy Quest. I spent the early days trying to keep myself from going full fanboy on my co-workers!
LAPPG: How did you handle the workflow on Bill & Ted Face the Music when COVID-19 hit and studios were shut down?
RS: When COVID-19 hit, we had to act quickly to set up a process that would work for our cutting rooms. We were nearing picture lock but we still had a lot of VFX revisions coming in so we needed to be able to bring in our shots, review with the VFX team and get those to the editorial team. I cloned the NEXIS on a large drive that I took to work from home. From there, we were doing VFX reviews via the streaming service Frankie. This allowed us to stream our VFX with the vendors and our VFX team in our respective locations, take notes and even draw directly on the screen. I’d then get the VFX from vendors via Aspera to cut into my sequence and I had to make sure I was being very diligent to keep track of all new VFX MXF media and bins that I’d send the Associate Editor each night so that the editorial team had current visual effects. Likewise, each night editorial would send me the Avid bins as the cut was changing so that I was cutting VFX into the current cut. It worked, but I’ll admit it was quite a challenge.
LAPPG: What was the biggest challenge working remotely to finish this film?
RS: I used to think that working remotely would be easier than I found it to be. Coordinating schedules and wrangling people to look at a shot is a matter of minutes in the office. You knock on your editor’s door, bring them and the director in, get feedback and you’re good to go. Working remotely, we’d have to call all parties to see if they were available, set up a Zoom, send out the link and hope there are no technical difficulties along the way. We were often at the mercy of the lowest bandwidth and sometimes one person would be unable to follow our meetings. I upgraded my internet service to the highest tier that I could in my area and I still found that my turnovers would take several hours to upload whereas they would take minutes at the office. I know I’m going to upset some people by saying this, but I think that the technology to work remotely is just not quite there yet. It’s not even a matter of simply having the software to support it. It’s also a matter of municipal infrastructure such as the ready availability of fast internet service which can vary drastically from provider to provider. So many internet providers stress download speeds to consumers, but my upload speed was absolutely critical particularly when it came to turnovers. There were also a few critical moments when my internet was down for hours which prevented me from being able to share assets with my team. Communication becomes significantly harder when working remotely which was the biggest challenge that I encountered working remotely.
LAPPG: What are important considerations for people to think about when they are launching new projects remotely?
RS: Time. Everything is going to take more time. That needs to be understood across all parties involved in a project. For example, if you’re remoting into a system via VPN, something as simple as importing an editor’s sound effects library is normally a task that would take a few minutes. Given the current system, you’d need to first upload the files from your local system at home to your remote system, then import them. Depending on your home upload speed and the size of the library, that could take a while. If you’re mirroring drives, you’d need to import those SFX, then either coordinate a drive to your editor or send the files to your editor and make sure you copy the media to the correct location. Likewise, if your editor imports a song they like, you’ll need to arrange to get that song on your local system before you do an output. The smallest things we take for granted when working on a shared environment in an office will require more steps and care.
As long as everybody is realistic about the logistical challenges, it will be fine but knowing that speed will be the biggest casualty is paramount. I saw a phrase a while ago that I think summed it up well when it said, “You’re not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” As is our job, we will make it work but it will just take a bit more time.
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