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Meet Mike Mezeul II

Whether it’s the explosive eruption of a volcano or the swirling chaos of a tornado, one can sense this Texas based photographer’s deep connection to nature. There’s an undeniable thrill in witnessing the intensity of nature’s most powerful moments through Mike Mezeul II’s lens. Yet, amidst the excitement, there’s also a sense of refinement and skill in his compositions and technical execution. Each image is meticulously crafted to convey not just the raw energy of the scene, but also its underlying beauty and complexity.

Which such a breathtaking portfolio, we jumped at the chance to ask this remarkable photographer some of our burning questions. So get ready for some inspiring insights and spectacular images!

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Much of your photography includes the raw power of nature, such as active volcanos and the sheer force of atmospheric conditions, like tornadoes. Do you need to have nerves of steel to be doing what you do and how much risk is involved?

Mike Mezeul II: So I think there are several factors at play in regards to what I do. There is 100% a risk involved with photographing any sort of natural disaster / severe event. No matter how much you know, or think you know, nature is in control. I’m not going into these environments with no knowledge of what I am shooting. Several years of education, mentorship and experience with other experienced individuals within the field have allowed me to access these moments as safely as possible. In some instances, the only way to access them is to be escorted by the military or search-and-rescue crews. But yes nerves do play a role, haha. In fact, I get asked every year if I ever get scared while documenting storms, and the answer is indeed yes. Now I’m not terrified, but a bit scared in a way though because I respect what I’m looking at, and I understand the power it has. The moment you lose respect for what it is you’re dealing with, that’s the moment you start setting yourself up for a really bad day. 

LAPPG: Obviously skill plays a major role but after that, how much of your photographic success is based on “right place at the right time” vs. “patience and taking your time?”

MMII: I’d say it’s a 70/30 split there. I love the saying, “If you’re not there, you’re only going to hear about it” and that’s so true. You have to put yourself out there into the elements to get the shot…if it happens. Patience is key, perseverance is key, and understanding that you’re not in control is key. I’ve failed many times. Too many to count. But, I’m stubborn and I go for the shots I want. This has allowed me to capture some great moments, and I still have many moments to capture.

LAPPG: Can you detail your workflow on an average shoot day?

MMII: So my workflow starts before I even pull the camera out of the bag. As most of my shooting and editing is done on the road, I always make sure I have what I need with me. This will consist of two 4 TB OWC Envoy Pro or Elektron SSD hard drives for redundancy, as well as several OWC Atlas Pro & Ultra CFexpress cards, with the Pro cards being for still imagery and timelapses, and the Ultra’s for 4K and 8K video work. Once I’m done shooting, I download the images from my cards via an OWC USB4 card reader, directly to my harddrives where they are labeled and organized. Content is then created and saved as well to the harddrives. Once I’m home from the road, I offload everything from my portable drives to my ThunderBay 8.

LAPPG: I’ve read that storytelling plays an important role in your work. What makes a good story to you?

MMII: I think a good story is one that can bring your audience into the moment, from wherever in the world they may be. They experience the big details, the little details. The big moments, the small moments. They can feel the environment around the scene and understand the significance of the moment. I like to create content that immerses the viewer to the point where they forget where they may be right there and then.

LAPPG: What has teaching photography brought to your personal photography practice?

MMII: Teaching has really embedded two things into my mind. First off, it’s to never forget that we all are always learning and growing. No matter how long you’ve been doing this for, don’t ever allow yourself to stop growing in your creativity. I love when I take participants to locations that I’ve shot dozens of times, and they show me a new composition I never thought of. Secondly, photography is great. I mean, we all know that but what I’m saying is how fortunate we are to have an artistic way to connect so many individual people from so many different places in the world, through one medium. It doesn’t matter what your race, religion, sexual orientation, political views, etc., photography connects us as one. That sticks me when I’m shooting and just allows me to see differently during some of my work. I hope that makes sense.

LAPPG: What would surprise people most about how you, as a professional photographer, spend much of your time?

MMII: I think people don’t realize how doing photography for a living is a blessing and a curse in a way, haha. I love what I do. 100%. I am so incredibly grateful for the moments I’ve been able to experience, places I’ve seen and people I’ve met. But at the same time, my mind doesn’t shut off. I see the world in a different way. I see the world in light, color, patterns, moments, and so on. Sometimes I wish I could just shut it off and maybe lay on a beach and relax, but instead I’m thinking about how that last wave probably looked, how the light was, and how maybe I wish I was in the barrel shooting it, haha. So yeah, I don’t think people realize how 24/7 my mind is in regards to creating an image.

LAPPG: I understand you actually storyboard your shoots down to the gear you will need.
What might that look like, for example, if you were shooting a volcano in Hawaii?

MMII: So I’d first list out all of my gear that I plan on bringing depending on the conditions involved in the eruption. For example, how close of access will I have? Will I be doing aerials from a helicopter? If so, are there any TFR’s in place and how does that impact my gear selection? What’s the story involved? Am I doing any environmental portraits where I may want prime lenses for? Or am I focusing all on volcanic landscapes? Once I understand the conditions and limitations, I will start to either write out detailed scenes I want to capture or even sketch them out. All of these storyboards will help me shoot more efficiently in the field and make the most out of every second I’m there. So for example, one scene I storyboarded out for the most recent Icelandic eruption was for a drone shot. It involved detailing the approximate height I wanted the drone at, the angle looking back on the fissure to include the eruption and town of Grindavik, the focal length of the lens to create the compression I wanted and also the time of day so I had the right light on the landscape.

LAPPG: What advice do you give to people who say, “I want to do what you do?”

MMII: Simple, don’t take no for an answer. If I had listened to all the people who said, “Mike, be real.” I’d be doing a job I hated. But at the same time, you have to be realistic. This industry is competitive and it takes so much hard work, drive, and patience to make it. You have to work, and work hard. It is completely doable, but you have to understand it doesn’t come easy. Educate yourself, push your creativity, network like crazy, and don’t forget to have fun while doing it.

LAPPG: How do you insure that your work is safe, organized and future-proofed? What is the benefit of using an archiving solution rather than just leaving your photos on an SSD?

MMII: So my workflow over the years has definitely evolved. It used to involve dozens of small harddrives, scattered about, horribly labeled, haha. Now I have everything organized on my ThunderBay 8 and in one spot, easily and quickly accessible, as well backed up. 

LAPPG:How do you balance your work life with your personal life? What things do you enjoy doing after the photos are delivered and the bills are paid?

MMII: It is a bit challenging, as I mentioned before, turning off my photographic mind is beyond difficult. But, when I can step away from the camera, I enjoy playing hockey, rock climbing and going to the gym. Every now and then, you can find me on the couch watching a good movie…of course, critiquing the lighting.

LAPPG: What is the most stressful part of the job and what do you enjoy most?

MMII: I think the most stressful part of my job is missing the big moment. So many of these moments with volcanoes and storms are so quick and temporary, that there is a lot of pressure to be there right at the optimal moment. Just a few seconds late, and the shot doesn’t exist. And the most enjoyable part is getting to share the beauty and awesomeness of the world with everyone. Cliche, yes? True, absolutely. 

Meet Marcus LeVere

We want to introduce you to Marcus LeVere, a Vancouver-based VFX supervisor who used his time this year, after being laid off due to the strikes, to create OpenBID Client, a passion project fixing all the tedious issues with VFX bidding. This free, cloud-native collaborative bidding tool leverages AI and other automations so VFX Supervisors can better focus on the more creative aspects of their role.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thank you for taking time to answer some questions for us, Marcus. How about we begin with how you got started in the entertainment industry and what the path was that brought you to the world of VFX?

Marcus LeVere: My entrance into the world of VFX was fueled by some key mentors who went out of their way to help me. It started when I attended art school at Manchester Metropolitan University. That’s in the rainiest part of England, and it never stopped raining! Somehow the school got a grant to fill a tiny room full of SGI machines. As soon as I saw those SGI O2s, I was in love. I just loved how everything looked – the machines, the blue shelf buttons in Power Animator, the manuals. I’d take all the manuals home and read them front to back, one by one, as bedtime reading. I was in heaven in that little 3D animation room. It was as if I was in flow the whole time. They ended up just giving me a key to the room, and I never left , not even for school breaks. I only went home for Christmas because my mum would have killed me if I didn’t.

Anyway, Keith Brown and the rest of the faculty noticed my commitment. They awarded me not one but two travel bursaries. So, I borrowed another thousand quid from my brother and used the money to buy a ticket to Los Angeles and a few weeks stay on a bunk bed in a youth hostel on Washington Boulevard in Venice. I didn’t have any internships set up, so I bussed around LA with my backpack, knocking on the door of every post-production house I could find, just looking to see if they would let me work for free.

They all said no, except for the very last shop on my list, Pacific Ocean Post (POP) Film. They let me in the elevator and somehow, I got into a meeting room and sat down with Andrew Whitelaw. I don’t know what Andrew saw in me, but he said yes. And I was in. 

I can still remember that feeling, skateboarding along the Venice boardwalk the next morning, coming from that youth hostel to work at a post-production company in LA. It was the opposite of Manchester. Makes me well-up just thinking about it. What a huge fork in the road! I found out years later that Andrew actually got in trouble – he was just a tape-operator at the time and had no authority to hire anyone. But their Producer, Todd Davidovich, did also meet me in that room and must have taken a shine to me. I owe these guys everything.

So there I was as an intern, more than happy to pick up Jamba Juice for Carl Seibert and his clients, eventually, they put me on a machine to create some Gerber daisies. I’d never heard of those flowers before that, but I have a soft spot for Gerber daisies now.

That was just my toe in the door, though. I was on a student exchange visa, so I went back to England and finished my final year of school. Amazingly, Todd Davidovich got me a job as I graduated, and I flew straight from my graduation in Manchester back to LA. He’s long retired now, so I can probably say this, but Jeff Ross, the managing director at the time, paid me cash every week in an envelope while I was transitioning from my student exchange visa to my H1-B visa. I look back on that and can’t believe how kind they were to me. They had no reason to help some random black kid from England. But they did. Can’t help but be grateful, right? I think about it a lot these days. 23 years ago… seems like yesterday.

LAPPG: You’ve worked on some really big projects at some highly respected studios like, Lucasfilm / ILM, Zoic Studios and FuseFX. From your experience as a VFX supervisor, what were some of the biggest challenges you face?

ML: The craft is quite easy, but the business of VFX can be challenging: strikes drying up work, having to follow subsidies to Australia, Singapore, Canada. Let’s be honest, most CG guys would do the work for free. It’s like playing video games. Less so now for me, now that I’m VFX supervising. So maybe that’s it, transitioning off the box. (Laughing) I don’t miss the tendonitis in my hands, though.

LAPPG: How did the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strikes affect you and how did you deal with that?

ML: The strikes flipped a switch in my head. I started working on OpenBID like a madman. ChatGPT4 was new and I hit it hard. All day long. I’d come out of my basement office with a stunned look on my face like I just got a Matrix upload. The first 4 months were a fire hydrant into my brain.

OpenBID Vendor had been out for a while, but some users really wanted to get the crew planning and profit projections into it, so I added those, and then I just kept going, and going, and going. Like a man possessed really. Everything the users voted for with the User Suggestion Form I added in the end. I put so much love into it. I spent months just writing custom functions with instructions, so the formulas wouldn’t scare users.  

LAPPG: How were AI and machine learning leveraged in creating this platform?

ML: Well, I was working on OpenBID all alone, so I collaborated with AI on most of it, really. It increased my productivity tenfold by helping me with new ideas for faster functions, guiding me on the best security architecture, and commenting all my code. I didn’t study computer science at University; I just learned it on the job, building MEL Scripts, and a little Google Apps Script on the weekends for side projects. ChatGPT is great if you have a task that you need help with. It helps you break the task down into steps and push through to get it done. It’s not easy, though. You have to learn how to work with it. You’ll end up getting a sixth sense for when it is hallucinating, and when to ask it again if that’s really the best way. It often surprises you with radically different ideas though, which is definitely one of the benefits of working closely with large language models like ChatGPT. The key thing when collaborating with it on something you know nothing about is to make sure it explains all the parts for you, all the time. 

AI is going to be a game-changer in developing countries. Kids will be going straight to NukeGPT or something like it while they’re still at school. That’s why I added the OpenAI tab inside all of the OpenBID templates. I wanted to make sure that people got a chance to see what they could do with it. Just last year, I was jumping through hoops trying to join together columns of data from clients’ breakdowns, and now I can ask ChatGPT to do it all for me in one go.

Tracking bids using OpenBid Client.

LAPPG: What are the benefits for a VFX supervisor to use this technology?

ML: Well, for production-side visual effects supervisors, the OpenBID Client templates will speed their workflow by streamlining the emailing out of breakdowns and automatically bringing all of that data back into a main table. Normally, that would take many long email chains and then trying to compare all the PDFs against each other. An utter nightmare. 

For vendor-side supervisors, OpenBID Vendor has lots of little checks and automations built right into the spreadsheet. And you can connect all your bids together to really do proper crew planning and cost projections across all your projects. It tracks compounding crew needed and dynamically adjusts the people days for the time available, as you are bidding. It also shows you how that will affect all of your other shows. It’s amazing. 

And if you were forced to start a small company because you were laid off, you now have a chance to get in front of new clients using the vetted vendor list. A client doesn’t have to only rely on their usual list. As the floodgates begin to open again, just like after COVID, clients will have trouble finding a vendor with availability. Now with the click of a button, they can get a list of vendors plus their availability and showreels, before even sending out one NDA. This VFX clearing house has the potential to not only help the tiny boutique houses, but speeds up the whole process of getting that initial list of available vendors to work on your show.

Oh, and the AI part of OpenBID is just a sample implementation of what you can do with it so far. By default, it creates example thumbnail images, shot titles, and status update emails for you when you are on set. But it can do much more. I’m sure we’ll see some very interesting and unexpected uses of it.

Marcus LeVere on set.

LAPPG: How do you see this platform being utilized and evolving in the VFX industry?

ML: It’s important to note that OpenBID is more than just a free set of open-source spreadsheet templates. No one is winning awards for bidding templates, there’s no competitive advantage. So why don’t we all just use the same one? It makes all of our lives easier. The fundamental concept that made me build the system is the idea of speeding up the communications loop. Instead of long email chains, you just leave a comment directly in the bid, on the cell you have questions about. This new faster way of communicating can really help us all be more productive. Don’t get me wrong, there is still an ‘Export Bid as PDF’ button if you need it. But just imagine, you’re in a production meeting discussing a script change, you can leave a comment in the bid in the meeting, and get live updates from your vendors there on the spot. That’s a game changer.

Assigning shots using OpenBid Client.

LAPPG: What has the feedback been so far on OpenBid Client and how do people get access to it? Has it been used on released projects?

ML: I know it is definitely being used in production, but I have no clue on how many shows. I guess that’s one of the downsides of it being an open-source spreadsheet. You are allowed to copy it, modify it, and share it as you wish. No one can take it away from you, and no one can track what you’re doing with it. It’s not a subscription service that if you stop paying, you lose access to your data. It’s out there, free. I do know that there’s over 220 members in the OpenBID user group though.

Using OpenBID Client.

LAPPG: What is on the horizon for you?

ML: Now that OpenBID is finally out I wish I could take a breather, but amazingly the AI start-up I launched through Nvidia’s Inception Program just got funded! Do you remember the R&B singer Aaliyah? Back in 2001, she died tragically in a private plane crash in the Bahamas. Well, her film, Queen of the Damned, was in post at the time. To get the thing finished they had to bring in Aaliyah’s brother to re-dub some of her lines. That was the first film I worked on, and it always stuck with me. So when the SAG strike hit, it seemed like good timing to help actors take control of their own AI-powered likenesses. If Aaliyah (and subsequently, her estate) had owned her own digital replica, Queen of the Damned would have been a much more successful film for her family. Imagine, actors could take on extra projects anywhere around the world, or even prolong their careers indefinitely. So that’s what I’m up to now. I sell cinematic-quality AI cloning technology clones directly to A-list actors and sports stars, so they can own, license, and control their digital replicas. I came out of stealth mode just recently at the Launch Builders demo in Vancouver, Canada.

Learn more about OpenBID here.

Meet Charles Little II, ACE

We are happy to introduce you to Charles Little II, ACE, a film and television editor-director-producer and an award-winning multimedia creative. Charles and the editing team for FX Network’s internationally acclaimed documentary series, Welcome To Wrexham have recently been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Picture Editing For An Unstructured Reality Program – 2023. Charles took a moment to share some of his insights and experiences with us including how an ACE’s event inspired him to start editing, how his background in the US Navy helped to give him valuable skills for a collaborative career in editing, and how being a good person is one of the keys to making it as an editor.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for taking the time to share your story and insights with us, Charles. For starters, how did you get interested in editing?

Charles Little II: I became interested in picture editing at a time early in my career when I began to seek more substance in my work. I was first introduced to computer graphic design in the mid-1990s which progressed into Motion Graphics 3-D animation, and stage/production design by the mid-2000s. As a visual artist, I took a lot of pride in my work, but in a concert or theater environment it often felt like the audience paid little to no attention to all of the video content surrounding their experience, and that led me to pursue an avenue to channel my creativity that would result in a more poignant and lasting result. I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2007 and at that time I wanted to be a Director of music videos and television. In 2010, a friend invited me to the Egyptian theater for ACE’s ‘Visible Artists Invisible Art’ event, which was a live panel where the current roster of Oscar-nominated film editors discussed their work before a crowd of like-minded, wide eyed storytellers. Witnessing that discussion was the exact moment that I knew I wanted to become a picture editor. I’ve been on an amazing journey from assistant editing to cutting reality television, scripted television, and documentaries; and now I’m a member of ACE, one of the industry’s most respected organizations of film and television editors and the producer of the event that first lit that fire within me.

LAPPG: How did your time in the US Navy prepare or offer you skills that are important in the world of editorial?

CLII: My time serving in the United States Navy (the world’s greatest navy) has impacted my life in the most profound ways. It was there I learned how to collaborate, how to lead, and how to follow. Film making above everything else, in my opinion, is a collaborative experience. So the fundamental respect for and ability to collaborate continues to serve me each and every day.

LAPPG: What is the biggest difference for you between editing a show like “Welcome to Wrexham” which is under Emmy consideration as an unstructured reality show vs. a narrative show that you worked on like “9-1-1” or “9-1-1 Lone Star.”

CLII: Yeah, that’s a great question which I do get asked from time to time. I’m sure that my answer here will be a subjective one, but for me the biggest difference between working with unscripted material and scripted material is a fundamental one. With unscripted material, it’s very much what I call hands on. I have to manhandle that material to make it often do what it was never intended to do, in order to tell a story that viewers can follow, connect to, and believe in. That’s a direct contrast to my approach with scripted material that has been pre-visualized and crafted to do a specific thing. With scripted material I have to get out of its way and allow the performances to be, allow the elaborate sets, costumes, and dialogue to live in all its glory. With unscripted material I am creating a script from the material. With scripted material I am serving the script to bring its story to a level beyond anyone’s expectations including my own. I am always trying to amaze myself and everyone else in the process. LOL.

Photo by @Instajoshmadsen

LAPPG: For you, how much of editing is technical vs creative?

CLII: Oh yeah, that’s also a good one, but for me, the answer is rather short and simple. The act of editing is 100% creative. It’s the act of utilizing the tools that is technical. And similarly to photography, picture editing today requires a mastery of the technical aspect, so that you no longer have to think and you can just do. So that the creativity can flow through you freely without the technical aspects hindering that process and rather fostering it.

LAPPG: How does a platform like Avid Media Composer allow for your creativity?

CLII: Avid Media Composer does a great job of allowing for that creativity to express, because it streamlines the process enough that the technical, the bells and whistles, don’t overshadow or hinder the creative process. For me, cutting in Avid Media Composer is like playing an instrument. I don’t think anymore, I just do.

photo by @Tyliner

LAPPG: You are a member of major industry organizations such as the American Cinema Editors and Motion Picture Editors Guild. Can you tell us about the work that you are doing on the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s African-American Steering Committee?

CLII: That’s another important topic to touch on at least for me in my particular career path. During the early days of my career, I was so hungry I literally walked union picket lines before I was ever a union member. I shot photographs of union editors on those picket lines, and I contributed to the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s communication efforts. It was my way of introducing myself to the industry and ultimately it paid off. Once I joined the Editors Guild, my work had really just begun. Because I realized it’s not the union’s job to find work for its members, that’s a responsibility for me and me alone, so I remember thinking to myself, well “if the union can’t do anything for me what can I do for the union?“ And that’s when I sought out ways for me to give to the union. I looked through their list of committees and their diversity committee spoke directly to me, being a person of color, and so I joined. I became very active and as the diversity initiative grew, it spawned the development of various subcommittees, which included the African-American steering committee. That committee has become a great source of camaraderie, inspiration, and mentorship throughout my career and continues to be so today. I am grateful to be a member and proud of the work that we do.

LAPPG: What advice do you have for someone starting their career as an editor?

CLII: I’d say make certain that editing is something that you truly love because it requires a 1000% commitment. And also, make certain you have some heroes and goals. For sure, it’s not about the destination but the journey, that’s completely true, but I feel that you need goals as benchmarks to guide and track your journey as much as heroes to inspire your vision and your pursuit.

LAPPG: How important is it for someone to become proficient on Media Composer?

CLII: Well, Avid Media Composer is the Cadillac of NLE’s and the industry standard tool when crafting feature films, television series, and documentaries at the highest levels. But I do think that today the landscape has a lot of powerful tools that allow creators to express themselves. Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve are among a range of creative tools that are widely and constantly in use in filmmaking today. So I think today’s editors should have proficiency in Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro at the very least.

LAPPG: The Welcome to Wrexham episode, “Do or Die”, which has been nominated for a 2023 Emmy seems to go more into the backstories of some of the players and townspeople. It also seems to use some special editing techniques. Can you share with us what made this particular episode so special?

CLII: Welcome To Wrexham’s Episode 118 “Do or Die” is the culmination of a really interesting exploratory and groundbreaking series of television as much as it was all of the aforementioned for the characters on the screen in real life. The game happened on the pitch, but the real game playing out was the game of life. As editors, our constant responsibility in cutting Welcome To Wrexham Season One, was to tell an authentic story, to make certain that what viewers experienced on the screen within the context of our 18 episode series, was what actually happened. It was our duty as much as our pleasure to just amplify that experience a bit. Season One ofWelcome To Wrexham was always about the townspeople at its heart. And the editing techniques flashing from the pitch into the homes and hearts of the townspeople and the players was specifically designed to give the viewers access to that coveted insight as much as to make the experience that much more emotional and entertaining. The editors with whom I collaborated on Welcome to Wrexham are simply some of the best editors I’ve ever encountered. They made up those techniques off the hip. I myself spent the majority of my time crafting scenes from raw material, and when Curtis McConnell or Michael Brown or Micho (Mohamed) El Manasterly got their hands on the material, the scenes took on a new life which inspired me to another level when the material often made its way back to me. We all touched one another’s work a bit and inspired one another healthily. Working with this team on this series was really like what I would expect playing in a really great band might feel like. I mean I’m not the best musician and I used to fancy myself a singer back in my band days, so please pardon the band references. LOL.

LAPPG: What does it mean to you for this episode to have been nominated for an Emmy?

CLII: For me this Emmy nomination is a confirmation that I am exactly where I need to be and I’m doing exactly what I was born to do. It all really does feel great.

LAPPG: What other skills, besides having good editing chops do you think an editor needs to have in their belt?

CLII: Well, that’s a great one, and another simple answer. Just be a good person. Filmmaking is an intimate, laborious, collaborative and challenging undertaking. It takes a lot. A lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of resources and a lot of people and the latter is the most important ingredient. Of course you need to be a great editor. You need to be a great storyteller, you need to be a powerful creative, because ultimately no one wants to spend weeks and months holed up in a room with someone that’s just no fun to be around. So it’s easy, just don’t be that person. Do great work, be a great person and just give. Give at every turn and it will feel absolutely great. 🙂

Meet Michael Kammes

Michael Kammes has been a long time supporter and friend to LAPPG and for those of you who may remember way back in 2016, he served as our terrific MC for LA Post Fest! Currently, Michael is the Senior Director of Innovations at EditShare where he shares his vast knowledge and expertise, helping to shape their suite of solutions in the marketplace.  If you’ve been in this industry for almost any amount of time, you’ve probably seen him serving as a keynote speaker, presenting at various industry organizations and trade shows, sharing his insights on various podcasts, or on his hit series, “5 Things,” where he does a brilliant job demystifying and simplifying film, TV, and media technology.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Michael. I know with IBC and the brand new merger between Shift Media and Editshare you are one busy guy, so I’ll make this quick! What are you most looking forward to seeing at IBC 2023 and what will Editshare be showing?

Michael Kammes: I’m interested to see how real the implementations with AI technology are with the existing products in our industry. While I have no doubt there will be more AI tools than we can count, I’m interested to see just how useful implementations are. More steak, less sizzle.

MediaSilo’s integration with Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio is now shipping – no need to leave the application to use the MediaSilo goodness! Our integration with MASV and Telestream’s Content Agent is also available today!

On the new side of the house, EditShare One gives a single, streamlined user experience across our high-performance production asset management and media storage solutions. Plus, Editshare’s EFS Swift Link (bridges the gap between remote editing and centralized EditShare EFS storage systems in the cloud or on-premises) – now adapts to the network conditions of individual workstations allowing users to maintain a strong connection to the storage network.

Speaking to a sold out crowd at NAB on post production and the cloud

LAPPG: Over your long career you’ve designed and built thousands of production and post-production systems, workflows, and facility integrations. So were you always on the technology side of post figuring out how everything works and goes together?

MK: I had collegiate aspirations of directing, and then picture editing, but these roles didn’t fulfill me creatively. Sound editing fit like a glove, and I did this for many years. However, it became apparent to me that I was often “painting by numbers”, that is, triaging more than creating. Subsequent jobs that leaned on technical know-how resonated with me. The logical flow of the technical processes- the cause and effect – just made sense. I parlayed this interest into live A/V, and ultimately the hardware and software that are used to create media. Having been on the creative side, I had a great balance of what was needed by creatives, and now how technology could provide that.

I had to take the long way to get here, however. But without perusing what I believed was the right path at the time – creative roles in the film industry – I think I would have always wondered “what if…?” Discovering where the creative spark started with me allowed me to know when to look elsewhere for additional professional fulfillment.

LAPPG: It seems that all the AI buzz has really been keeping you busy! (LAPPG members should be sure to check out “AI in Post Production – Your Questions Answered” on Michael’s 5 Things series and “Is Artificial Intelligence Coming for Your Job? Maybe…and Here’s How to Prepare” on Zack Arnold’s Optimize Yourself.) So we’re wondering if there is one particular AI advancement that you think will have the most impact on the post production workflow or the industry as a whole?

MK: AI will be your co-pilot. The tedious tasks that are cumbersome – that’s where AI will fit perfectly. Object, logo, and facial recognition, speech to text. Natural language processing – meaning, interacting with AI conversationally like you would like ChatGPT – will enable less technical users to “build” smaller applications for more post production specific tasks. We’re going to be flooded with applications and tools with varying degrees of reliability and accuracy, unfortunately.

LA Post Fest MC Michael Kammes with LA Post Fest Winner Misha Tenenbaum

LAPPG: Many years ago you were very vocal about the importance mental health and the industry and at a time the subject wasn’t talked about very much. Recently mental health has taken the spotlight and is finally being addressed more openly. So, first, thank you for being open and working to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and secondly, how do you think the post production industry and even the entertainment industry is doing with this subject? Have you personally seen a shift in the way mental health is being addressed and what else would you like to see?

MK: Thank you very much! Over the years I’ve had many folks reach out and share their struggles. It legitimizes the fact that every single one of us is built a bit differently, and we all react to our life’s experiences in our unique way. And sometimes that unique way means getting help. The Media and Entertainment industry, more so than most fields, has traditionally encouraged longer and more grueling work schedules – not to mention most of your work is reacting to notes from folks who want changes to what you’ve done!

In terms of addressing the topic of mental health, our industry is being dragged along kicking and screaming. M&E is risk averse. Change is bad. However, the staggering amount of content that’s being made outside the M&E realm means there are more jobs outside of M&E. This helps to introduce a more normalized work/life balance for creatives. I’m hopeful that the recognition of the importance of mental health in other verticals will influence how our industry addresses the issue. But it’s going to be slow.


Meet Dedi Felman

You may not know this, but one of the interesting things about LAPPG is that it is not just for post production professionals. Case in point, we’d like to introduce you to the super talented writer turned director, Dedi Felman, who has been a longtime LAPPG member. We spoke with Dedi about how she got interested in directing, what her experience was like winning some prestigious and exciting fellowships, and why she joined LAPPG.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thank you so much for sharing your time with us. Can you tell us about your work as a writer and how you  got interested in filmmaking?

Dedi Felman: I’ve spent my entire life working in story and with storytellers. I just happened to spend the first part of it in the publishing industry, eventually as a senior editor at Simon & Schuster.

I’ve always loved filmmaking. My Dad and I used to go to the movies together. He was deeply emotional yet also very Silent Generation. Getting him talk about his trauma-filled past was impossible. Yet, the movies opened him up. We’d see a film, then spend hours discussing the characters’ choices and dilemmas. As an immigrant, he also loved picking apart even the biggest summer blockbuster for what we could learn from it about American culture. The movies became our way to communicate, to assimilate, and an indestructible bond.

At university, I’d skip whatever I was supposed to be working on to attend the weekly auteur film series. I adored Scorsese—how he captured the sounds and silences of his deeply emotional NY tribe, including their rage, anger, humiliation—and love. Spike Lee also knocked me off my feet. His trailblazing, stylized storytelling in Do the Right Thing brought the streets alive. In full color. His stories were uproarious and pointed; and you couldn’t look away. And then there was Hitchcock, the master. I toted that Hitchcock / Truffaut book everywhere!

So, I did have this vague idea what directors did. But I knew no one in the industry. And back then, a career as a female writer/director just didn’t seem truly viable. So, I shelved that thought and went off to publishing.

LAPPG: I understand you were part of the inaugural class of the HBO Access Writing Fellowship. How did that come about and what did you learn from that experience?

DF: It was an incredible experience. It was effing HBO (can I say that?!)
Kelly Edwards, an ultra-wise, gifted woman was our mentor. (Read her book, The Executive Chair, if you want to share in her wisdom.) HBO’s top writers, directors, and development folk all gave us advice, which was thrilling. But it was a most unexpected meeting that changed my life. Two of my fellow fellows had arranged to meet Jay Roewe, HBO’s head of production. Game of Thrones was going full throttle then, but Jay generously made time for us. At first, I was honestly a bit baffled. Why were we there? We were writers, not filmmakers. But when, after over an hour of some of the best advice I’ve ever received, Jay told us that if we ever wanted to write for HBO, we needed to understand production, a light bulb went off. I wanted to know what the best filmmakers knew. I wanted to learn production. And I wanted to direct. There it was. The path I’d always dreamed of.

I immediately signed up for a UCLA extension course in directing and Adrienne Weiss’s invaluable course on Directing Actors. I was going to do this. Come hell or high water.

LAPPG: What is your favorite part of the directing process?

DF: That’s like asking a parent to identify their favorite child! I cannot choose. I love every piece of the process from pre-pro to post. Being able to collaborate with so many talented, creative artists at every stage, is exactly where the joy of directing lies. I’m currently shadowing a friend on a treatment process and learning how 3D artists, illustrators, and designers collab to create the visual language for cinematically intriguing, unique worlds—and it’s been mindblowing.

smaller Dedi Felman directing Katherine Lee McEwan in AmHoller copy
Dedi Felman directing Katherine Lee McEwan in AmHoller

I love working with my cinematographer(s) to figure out how to frame and tell the story. My DP is my true partner and collaborator at every step. The actors bring all the magic. They also have highly honed bullshit detectors and always help me identify the truthful and untruthful moments. I’m simply in awe of their ability to completely inhabit their characters—and to give us different, brilliant options that allow us to truly feel all the feelings. I always wish I had more money for my production and costume designers, but have marveled at their ability to create rich, believable worlds from next-to-nothing. And I love working with everyone on set from AD to gaffer et al, to create this incredibly special world that we get to step into and live in for all too brief moments. Working with stunt coordinators and grips and Steadicam ops to inject movement and action is its own special joy. And well, I’m not going to tell a post person such as yourself anything new about just how crucial what they do is. Or how they save our stories from dying on screen. But they do. And it’s awe-inspiring. Like when my editor brings me a cut with elements or a solution I never even dreamed of and I’m like, damn, THAT. That wasn’t what was in my head, but THAT is it. Or the composer dreams up a motif for a character that perfectly suits them. Or the sound designer changes the whole feel of a scene for the better by supplying that perfect missing sound. And our incredibly talented colorist just makes the whole thing POP with their painting. Etc, etc. (And this isn’t even everyone!) Collaborating with every single person in the filmmaking process is beyond exciting.

LAPPG: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced creating your short films?

DF: Money. Especially post-pandemic and with the current inflation rates. I believe in paying my crew. It’s short film rates; it’s not even what they deserve. But everything: locations, insurance, has gone sky-high lately. And it’s beyond stressful.

LAPPG: As a director, what made you join a post production group like LAPPG?

DF: As I mentioned, I came to all this late. And I certainly didn’t have the money for film school. So I’m always feeling a bit beyond the curve and always looking for opportunities to learn. Weirdly, enough it was an actor who told me about you. He was hoping to add some editing skills on the side, had learned about the group, and encouraged me to come too. It was way back when, when the group still met in the Community Room at Crossroads. There was delicious cake and coffee on the side and a talk on NAB and assistant editing in scripted TV. There were even lottery tix (though I’ve never won–ahem!) I understood maybe about 10% of what was going on that night, but I was hooked.

LAPPG is simply an amazing educational resource for someone like me. It’s BEEN my film school. Even better than film school, it’s been a concrete, on-the-ground, this is how the sausage-gets-made and it’s-so-cool learning experience. The group is also led by and filled with the most creative, inspirational, and kind people. As far as I know, nothing else like it exists in LA, except maybe Blackmagic Collective, which I also belong to, but which has a different focus. I can’t express enough how appreciative I am that LAPPG exists. You (Wendy) and Woody are a gift to the community.

LAPPG: What have you gotten out of the group or learned from the group?

DF: Yikes, what haven’t I learned? The breadth and depth of the seminars has been incredible.

Highlights for me include Dan Kneece’s presentation on shooting short schedule features. Dan was such an inspiration to so many of us. He exemplified the kind of fun, creative, collaborative, beautiful, generous filmmaking I try for, even within all the constraints of indie films.

Debbie Berman, who edits Marvel films, was another absolutely inspiring speaker. I remember her describing The Final Girls edit and how they used both black and white and bright, bright color to time shift (the characters end up in the main character’s mother’s movie). Those bright, bold yellows and greens and reds of the movie-within-the-movie also help heighten the comedy in this comedy-horror film. It was an eye-opening solution that has just stuck with me!

More recently, the session at ZEISS led to an all-afternoon camera-test for me and a fellow female director, which was illuminating in all senses of the word. We learned so much about different lenses and their uses that day. Yet another valuable connection formed thanks to LAPPG!

Debbie Berman discussing her work on Captain Marvel at the March 2019 LAPPG meeting.
Dan Kneece discussing shooting a short schedule feature at the February 2019 LAPPG meeting.
David Warner discussing ZEISS CinCraft Mapper at the ZEISS Cinema Lens Demo Center in Sherman Oaks at LAPPG's March 2023 Meeting.
Camera and Lens testing at the ZEISS Cinema Lens Demo Center.

LAPPG: Aw, thank you for your incredibly kind words. Woody and I truely appreciate that. So, I know you were a Blackmagic Collective Directing Actors Fellow in 2022. What was that experience like?

DF: Blackmagic is another educational group that I’ve belonged to for years. The Directing Actors program was a unique opportunity for us to put up scenes every month with a troupe of wonderfully talented actors. Selected sessions included invaluable advice from guest working TV directors. Jenn Page, who runs it, is a powerhouse. She would give us these exercises that pushed us way beyond our comfort zone (my first time dp’ing, ack!) but that really helped us grow. Also, as directors we are often in our own silos. To be able to interact with other directors and view how they approach a scene and the choices they make was invaluable. I miss all those folks greatly and wish I could do it all over again!

LAPPG: Do you still do any writing or teaching?

DF: Yes, I still collaboratively write for my day job. I’m also rewriting two features that I hope to direct next. Hollie Overton, a co-ep on All American: Homecoming, and I also teach TV, novel, and screenwriting at Genre Masters. Check us out at www.genre-masters.com.

LAPPG: What projects or topics are you interested in exploring next?

DF: My short film, TAKE GOOD CARE, which will debut at Hollyshorts, and has also been selected for Burbank International Film Festival, is a deeply personal story about aging, ambition, family, and love. The logline is: In a world where older people are expected to quietly die at 65, a single-minded scientist, desperate for more time, needs her long-neglected artist daughter to take good care–of her.

I wrote it for all the men and women who, willingly or unwillingly, ended up as caretakers, and know how emotionally complicated an endeavour that is. There’s definitely a dystopian edge (as a youth-obsessed country, we are so unprepared for and unrealistic about an aging citizenry!), yet, ultimately, it’s a love story. As I discovered taking care of my mother: it’s never too late to communicate the true care we feel for one another.

I’ve got a draft of the feature version for that. In addition, I have another feature I will pitch to anyone willing to listen. It’s a female-forward heist movie. Two estranged sisters on opposite sides of the economic divide in Kentucky must come together for the heist of a lifetime. It’s a total romp and I can’t wait to make it. Let me know if you’re interested. (wink!) And thank you for these amazing questions. I’ve learned lots too!

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