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Meet Simon Hayes, Digital Imaging Technician

We had the chance this month to sit down with Simon Hayes, a digital imaging technician to discuss the role of a DIT as well as well as to share with us some of his recent work on the important feature film, Trees of Peace, about four women who find unity, hope, and strength through one of the world’s darkest tragedies, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Join us as we learn about the various solutions used to deal with the very large files that were generated.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Most of us know what a DIT does but for those who don’t, can you share with us a bit of a job description?

Simon Hayes: Digital imaging technician or DIT has been a bit of a catch all phrase. There are few other job titles/roles that often get confused with that of a DIT, but those roles have fewer responsibilities. Loader/Utility is the most basic role. They handle the media that the camera uses and put the cards into and out of the camera. Next is Data wrangler or media manager. Not only are they capable of handling camera media but they are also responsible for backing up the media to multiple storage devices and recycling the media for reuse. A data wrangler/media manager will also sometimes transcode footage for dailies and/or editorial. They will apply a basic look or LUT to the footage but won’t do any color grading or corrections to the transcoded footage.

Finally, the DIT role is the most involved. Besides establishing the workflow and directing the work of the Loader and Data Wrangler, DITs serve several additional roles that are important to the production process. First is working with the DP or cinematographer to preserve their visual intent. Second is working with post production teams to ensure that image and cinematic intent of the footage carries through, as well as making sure that transcoded footage will reconform with the source footage for the final color process.

A large part of DIT work involves color management. It starts with the camera and it’s sensor and continues on with things like calibration of onset monitors to building looks for scenes and creating colored dailies and transcodes for editorial. The role of a DIT is two fold: they ensure the capture and preservation of best image quality in the original data, and they also serve as a bridge between production and post production process while maintaining the cinematographer’s vision.

LAPPG: What attracted you to this type of work and how did you get started?

SH: For me, the attraction is the balance between being highly technical and visually creative. It’s using both left brain and right brain to overcome challenges.

I started working in the entertainment industry in the mid-90’s on the grip and electrical side of production before the switchover to digital. In the early 2000’s, I transitioned out of entertainment and into a computer data center, and from there, I finished my college education studying film, video and photography. Upon graduating, I moved to Los Angeles and tried to establish myself as a cinematographer. However, within a few years, I realized I had the necessary skill set for being a digital image technician.

LAPPG: How has your role and tasks changed during the pandemic and if they haven’t what did you learn or discover during the pandemic to help your work?

SH: My role hasn’t really changed much. When I’m working on-set, I spend the majority of my time isolated inside a tent.

I would say one thing that has happened more recently is the use of things like Zoom and streaming picture from remote sets to client/agency. It is not without its own challenges.

LAPPG: How did you get involved with the film, Trees of Peace and can you tell us a little bit about the film, your involvement and the timeline for production and post?

SH: The cinematographer, Michael Rizzi who I had worked with on other projects, asked me if I’d be interested in working the Sony Venice camera on a feature film. It was our first time working with this camera system, as it had just been recently released. Sony generously provided us a camera to do several camera tests. This allowed us to develop a look, with help from The Lodge at FotoKem, and test the post production workflow all the way through to the color process before principal photography started.

Bola Koleosho (actress in Trees of Peace), Ron Ray (producer of Trees of Peace), Simon Hayes (DIT on Trees of Peace)

Trees of Peace is the story of four different women hiding together for survival during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Most of the story is told from a 5×5 foot box with the four actresses.

Principal photography started in the middle of October (2019) and concluded in mid November. The original goal was to have post finished by March (2020) for a submission festival deadline. Due to the onset of COVID-19, this allowed for more time to be spent refining the cut of the film and working with the composer.

LAPPG: What were the biggest challenges when shooting this film from a DIT standpoint? What specific solutions did OWC provide?

SH: The biggest challenge had to do with the data generated by the camera. We were shooting 6K 2:3 but framing for 1.85 4K. Because of the higher resolution and larger frame size, this generated very large video files. The large files required three different solutions.

The first were the Thunderbay 6 RAID solutions for storing the data. We used three of these to backup all the data in triplicate: a master and two backups. These were configured for RAID 5 which allowed for some redundancy: if a hard drive were to fail in an enclosure, we would not have any data loss. Also, having 6 hard drives in an enclosure ensured that there was enough speed/ bandwidth for the media to be offloaded quickly. This was helpful when shooting high frame rates for things like the dream sequence.

Next was a 4TB Thunderbay mini with solid state drives. We used this as a temporary drive to load the day’s footage and create AVID transcodes that editorial needed. This drive is capable of moving very large amounts of data very quickly. Using this drive allowed DaVinci Resolve to create HD transcodes from the original 6K footage at more than twice real time speed.

Lastly were the OWC Envoy Pro Ex drives. These solid state drives were used to shuttle transcoded footage and audio files to post daily. Because these drives have very high read and write speeds it took minutes to move footage, which allowed the AE to get started working instead of waiting for the data to be moved onto his system. With traditional hard drives, this could have been as much as an hour. An hour might not seem much in the post world, but couple that with 20 days, and the time becomes quite sizable. The OWC Envoy drives are also super rugged, so I had no worries if one was dropped accidentally.

LAPPG: What factors played a role in deciding to use OWC products?

SH: I have been a customer of OWC since 1996. Besides delivering great products at good prices, their customer service has been outstanding. If I had a problem with something I was able to get a replacement quickly, sometimes the next day. Knowing that they stand behind their products and take care of me as a customer gave me added peace of mind.

LAPPG: How did OWC’s products fit into your workflow for the film?

SH: The Thunderbay 6 RAID drive were great due to the large capacity and bandwidth. They allowed all the original camera footage, audio, BTS footage and photos to be consolidated on one drive. It simplified keeping track of assets in post. The OWC Envoy drives allowed footage and audio to be moved quickly to the various groups working on those things.

LAPPG: What would you like to see in the future to help your workflow be more efficient?

SH: Quantum storage, but we may be a lifetime or two away from that being a reality.

I’d also like to see a continuing collaboration between OWC and the industry. OWC has invested time and resources working with DITs to come up with solutions in the ever changing landscape that is digital production. A great example of this is the new Flex 8.

LAPPG: Work/life balance has been a big talking point lately. How do you find that balance for yourself while working on a film?

SH: I think this has and will always be challenge. The long hours and difficult schedules make finding time for family and friends a real challenge. As Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I really enjoy my work but the drawbacks are not being able to celebrate friends and family members birthdays and other special events.

Meet Bryce Button, Director of Product Marketing, AJA Video Systems

We’re so thrilled that we were able to take some time with Bryce Button, Director of Product Marketing, AJA Video Systems to discuss various developments at AJA in relation to the exciting evolution we are seeing in the industry such as the new M1 silicone chips for Macs, post pros sharing timelines and content across the internet via streaming, editors working remotely and requiring flexibility, the rise of virtual production and the growth of HDR delivery demands. So, start scrolling and find out what’s happening at AJA, an industry leader in the video and broadcast markets.

bryce

Los Angeles Post Production Group: It must be such a challenge with technology changing so quickly and so often. For example, Apple® has introduced its new M1 silicon chip for iMac, MacBook Air and Mac Mini, with rumors that the future MacBook Pro will also feature this powerful Arm-based chip. So, are AJA’s cards and software now compatible with Apple M1 systems?

Bryce Button: Hardware platform changes from computer manufacturers are always a complex transition, both for the company itself and for third-parties looking to extend software compatibility with new chips. AJA has now released Desktop Software v16.1, which adds support for Apple M1 chips to 19 AJA KONA, Io, and T-TAP Pro products. Desktop Software v16.1 is optimized to deliver native Apple M1 support for AJA macOS drivers and application plug-ins, plus AJA Control Room, AJA Control Panel, and AJA System Test and NMOS software, allowing users to harness the power and cost-efficiency of Apple M1 compatible systems for professional video I/O tasks.

LAPPG: As we all have experienced, during the pandemic, there has been a growing need for post professionals to share timelines and access content across the internet via streaming. How does AJA support these streaming needs, and can you discuss any recent advances?

BB: The new Desktop Software v16.1 release improves Telestream Wirecast support for KONA, Io and T-TAP Pro products, including 4K I/O via 12G-/6G-SDI, digital AES audio input, and analog (line level) audio input. AJA’s KONA 4 and KONA 5 cards with multichannel SDI support are used with streaming apps, including vMix and Telestream, for input from sources and output onto streaming platforms, as well as integrations with various third-party software companies to receive streamed timeline playback for playout at a local system. For example, Colorfront’s Transkoder software, with SRT support, can be used to receive a color grading session timeline from anywhere in the world, then play it out locally to a broadcast or HDMI monitor through a KONA card or T-TAP Pro. This type of flexibility facilitated by AJA’s I/O products is a testament to the wide range of solutions they provide outside of pure ingest and output.

For additional streaming needs, using a simple setup with AJA’s HELO H.264 standalone streaming, recording and encoding device, editors can stream the timeline output from NLEs via HELO to private CDNs for review by remote production teams. More complex productions can use AJA’s BRIDGE LIVE multi-channel HD / single channel UltraHD enterprise-level streaming solution within a machine room to provide multiple editors with access to streams for review and approval.

LAPPG: We’ve heard that AJA recently released the new PAK Dock Pro. What are the benefits of this media reader for editors?

BB: Many productions use AJA’s Ki Pro Ultra digital video recorders, which can encode captured material to either Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHR® / DNxHD®. The new PAK Dock Pro features USB-C connectivity and provides faster transfer of files from PAK media drives used in the Ki Pro Ultra 12G and other Ki Pro models, while also offering broad compatibility with NLE systems. 

The connection is rated at 10GB/second, and the transfer rates depend on the PAK media model and host computer workflow, among other factors. In most production environments, the PAK Dock Pro is around 10-20% faster than the previous PAK Dock, amounting to a significant time savings for editors.

PAK Dock Pro

LAPPG: We all know especially after this past year, editors are required to be flexible and adapt to working in a variety of different environments at a moment’s notice, making mobility a key factor in equipment choices. What new product(s) do you have to address this?

BB: The new T-TAP Pro is a versatile Thunderbolt™ 3-connected device that simplifies very high-quality 4K/UltraHD and 2K/HD/SD monitoring and output over 12G-SDI and HDMI from compatible Mac or PC desktop and laptop computers, enabling editors and post professionals to work efficiently from home or any location. T-TAP Pro is ideally suited for USB-C connectivity on Macs or PCs and features high-performance support for 4K and HDR, as well as RGB 4:4:4 12-bit support for large format narrative and episodic productions, and 4:2:2 10-bit support for broadcast or AV environments.

T-TAP PRO

Essential for editors, T-TAP Pro offers HDR metadata auto playback detection, as well as a local headphone jack allowing professionals to monitor timelines and more while working in loud environments. It is also driven by our powerful and feature rich application plug-ins, offering out-of-the-box compatibility with Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and many others.

LAPPG: We’ve been taking note of virtual production as a growing industry trend, due to affordability and the merging of efficient production and post technologies. How do AJA’s products fit into this trend?

BB: Virtual production essentially combines a range of workflows and pipelines, drawing from traditional production, post and gaming techniques. Rather than shooting actors, hosts or scenes against greenscreens, VFX components are integrated into sets using real-time game engine technologies that drive screens both as background – and occasionally, foreground – elements. Using game engines, these virtual elements can be tracked in a 3D space to match the movement of the camera itself.

Producers and studios are excited about this growth, as it has potential to decrease lengthy post processes, offers cost efficiencies, and provides actors or hosts with more of a realistic sense of the environment that they’re performing in.

AJA’s KONA 5 is being used in many of these virtual production environments, whether working in combination with the Unreal Engine to playout materials for screens at appropriate raster sizes and frame rates, or when engaged in real-time interactions with virtual set technologies to simplify production and post processes across the board.

KONA 5

Today, for editors or VFX artists, this effectively means that traditional post elements are actually being created earlier in the production process to be used on set in a real-time environment.

LAPPG: HDR demands from delivery platforms, including Netflix, Apple TV and beyond, are growing. How do AJA’s I/O products assist in creative processes to meet these burgeoning demands?

BB: With Desktop Software v16, HDR over SDI is available on select AJA KONA and Io products and T-TAP Pro. The included AJA Control Panel software features a redesigned HDR tab, offering controls for HDR to be signaled via both SDI and HDMI simultaneously. New HDR capabilities for AJA Control Room and AJA Control Panel include the addition of HDR metadata capture and HDR auto playback detection for ease of use for critical monitoring applications.

AJA is also working closely with all NLE, graphics and color correction partners, as they bring further HDR support to their offerings.

For more information, visit: www.aja.com.

Meet Shannon DeVido

We’d like to introduce you to Shannon DeVido, an accomplished actor, comedian, writer and singer. She has appeared on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Difficult People, Law and Order: SVU and Sesame Street. She also creates her own content for her YouTube channel,  “Stare at Shannon” where she breaks societal standards of disability through humor.  Shannon serves at the Initiative Director for the Blackmagic Collective All Access Initiative which is focused on helping disabled writers and directors create valuable contacts with key players in the industry and helps inform executives about the need for more authentic representation of disabilities both behind and in front of the camera.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: What got you interested in going into entertainment?

Shannon DeVido: When I was a kid I wanted to be an athlete but my disability had other ideas. So, I found theater and it just felt like home. I loved the people, I loved creating, I loved going places and being different people. When I graduated college, I knew I needed to become an actor. My journey has been a twisty turny one, but once I found comedy, I knew that was the path I wanted to follow.

LAPPG: How would you describe you style of humor?

SD: I think it’s sarcastic and self-deprecating but while holding a mirror to the ridiculousness of our society. It’s often silly but I also try to remain positive. My improv team and people I’ve met doing comedy throughout the years have really help shaped who I am as a comedian. I’ve been so lucky to work with some of the most talented and creative comics in the world and I’m so grateful for their work and influence.

Shannon and Kristin Finger perform as the sketch duo Spirit Animal. 

LAPPG: This is certainly an important time in Hollywood for both what and who we are seeing in front of as well as behind the camera. How much has the industry changed in terms of including people with disabilities since you started?

SD: It’s definitely improving. When I was first starting I couldn’t tell you any series regulars with disabilities, but now you see people pop up more and more. Behind the camera, I think it is taking a bit longer. There was a study recently that like 0.7% of writers in Hollywood identify as having a disability, which is horrifying. There is still a lot of work to be done, but there is some more light at the end of the tunnel than before.

LAPPG: Can you share with us how and why the Blackmagic Collective All Access Initiative was started and the role you play?

SD: All Access was started out of the need to open more doors for writers and directors with disabilities. We really need to look out for each other because there are many writers out there with excellent work. They just need the connections to break through.

LAPPG: What are you most excited about for the Blackmagic Collective All Access Initiative and how do you see it opening up opportunities?

SD: I think what I am most excited about is hopefully seeing these amazing writers get work from this program. They all deserve to be staffed and I’m really excited to introduce the industry to them.

LAPPG: Are there any particular products Blackmagic Design makes that help you as a filmmaker?

SD: I am a huge fan of my Blackmagic Cinema Pocket Camera 6K. It’s truly a level of professional camera that I could never have dreamed of owning, but Blackmagic believes in their independent creators so much that they made it an attainable reality.

Blackmagic Cinema Pocket Camera 6K

LAPPG: Has landing on the inaugural list of The Casting Society of America’s Top 20 Actors from historically underrepresented communities for 2020 given you hope that Hollywood is on its way to becoming more inclusive?

SD: It’s definitely an amazing sign that they are working hard to make change.

LAPPG: Can you talk about why you started to make your own content?

SD: I got tired of sitting around and waiting for someone to give me opportunities, so I started making my own stuff. Plus, I also just really love making content with my friends. They are full of incredible ideas and passion, it’s a dream to work with them. Doing that full time is the goal, so at least we can do it on a small scale.

LAPPG: What are the major roadblocks, if any, to creating your own content?

SD: Money. It’s always money. Haha.

LAPPG: What would you like producers, directors, and casting directors to know about including people with disabilities in their projects?

SD: When you include diverse groups it not only makes your project fuller, it reflects how our society looks. That’s so important because everyone deserves to see themselves represented.

Aubrie Williams and Shannon pose at the Difficult People premiere with their hero Amy Poehler.

LAPPG: This is a hard industry and rejection is such a huge part of this business. What keeps you going to audition after audition?

SD: My family and friends, the knowledge that this is what I was meant to do, and a lot of cookies. Mostly cookies.

 

Meet the Post Team Behind “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil”

We had the opportunity to speak to some members from Therapy Studios, the post team from the recently released docu-series, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil. This 4-part series is an emotional look at Demi’s life and career including her near-fatal overdose in July 2018, how she began abusing drugs, her eating disorder, her bipolar misdiagnosis, her engagement and subsequent breakup, her sexual assault, and her sexuality.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (credit: OBB Media)

The staff of Therapy Studios who we spoke with include:

Margaret Ward – Executive Producer

Shannon Albrink – Editor

Omar Inguanzo – Colorist

Brandon Kim & Dillon Cahill:  Re-recording Mixers & Sound Designers

Juliana Watson: Senior Producer

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Can you tell us a little bit about Therapy Studios and at what stage was the team at Therapy Studios brought in on the project?

Margaret Ward: Therapy Studios is an Emmy award-winning production and post-production company in West Los Angeles, CA. With work ranging from long-form television and feature films to commercials and music videos, the company’s client roster includes global brands like Google, Pepsi, Audi, Activision, Kia, and Apple Beats, as well as major artists OK GO, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, A Tribe Called Quest, The 1975 and The Foo Fighters. Therapy has also produced original content from feature documentaries like Transcendent Man and Sound City to docu-series Sonic Highways on HBO.

We got involved with the Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil docu-series when OBB reached out to Therapy to come in to edit the final episode of the series and provide finishing (color, sound design/mix, & finish/delivery) on the full series. Shannon Albrink worked closely with director Michael D. Ratner and editor Paul Little, who edited the 1st three episodes.

LAPPG: What was different or particularly challenging about doing the post finish on this series?

Shannon Albrink: The answer to this is one you can probably guess: the pandemic quarantine made things particularly challenging. We were all working from home, sending bins back and forth to assistants, Alaina Stevenson and Tim Binmoeller, with zoom calls almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day with Michael and the OBB team. Through it all, we were able to stay connected and safe, while also being able to experiment with ideas editorially, which ultimately made the final cut better.

A particular challenge for me personally was dealing with the heaviness of the content of the series. Demi Lovato’s story is heartbreaking in many ways, not just as a pop star, but as a person dealing with addiction and trauma. With everything happening in the world today, Demi’s story definitely added an emotional weight throughout the editorial process. Hearing about these devastating experiences coming from Demi herself was tough, especially as a woman around the same age as Demi. However, through her bravery and honesty in her interviews, it really inspired me to be as true and honest in the edit as I could.

Lovato with Dr. Shouri Lahiri, the physician who saved her brain functioning. (credit: OBB Media)

LAPPG: That really comes across to the viewer. It felt very honest and real and as a viewer I feel like I got to know this person way beyond the well-crafted image you are usually allowed to see. So, can you share with us some insights about the editing process?

Shannon Albrink: The first two episodes were cut one after the other by editor Paul Little, while the final two were cut simultaneously — Paul cutting episode 3 while I worked on episode 4, because we needed multiple editors working simultaneously to meet deadlines. Paul and I passed interview bites and scenes back-and-forth, and we’d check in throughout the edit to bounce ideas off one another and make sure we didn’t have any overlap between episodes. The through-line of the series was maintained by director, Michael D. Ratner. Through the edit, some topics came up that hadn’t yet been introduced, so we all worked together to figure out the best place for these ideas. Ultimately, Demi’s honesty truly inspired us all.

 

Demi Lovato among the butterflies. (credit: OBB Media)

LAPPG: Did editing the season finale episode produce any specific challenges?

Shannon Albrink: Since I was coming on for the last episode, I wanted to make sure I matched what Michael and Paul had already crafted together for the first two episodes. However, as the wrap-up for the series, I knew that episode 4 had to be different from the others tonally as well. Michael was very clear from the beginning that this final episode wasn’t to be wrapped-up with a perfect-ending and neatly tied with a bow. It was to be a forthright portrayal of Demi’s life today and the challenges that she’s still facing, some challenges that she may be struggling with for the rest of her life. It was about finding the balance between addressing it all and getting excited for Demi’s new chapter ahead.

A particularly challenging section of the episode was the explanation of Demi’s moderation sobriety. We wanted to be very clear about what moderation means for Demi in particular, but also be respectful to all parties’ opinions involved. Not only did we want to give Demi the opportunity to explain her truth, but we also wanted to treat the topic with the utmost respect by bringing in informative voices, such as with Demi’s case manager, Charles Cook. Finding the right combination of commentary was crucial, and that meant including dissenting opinions of moderation, like with Elton John and Scooter Braun. We had to be clear we were in no way telling other people how to live their lives, and if people need help they should absolutely seek it. We were speaking to Demi’s unique journey.

LAPPG: Were there any incidents or issues that were just too painful to be included in the final edit?

Shannon Albrink: No, Demi really bared it all, which is a testament to herself and her relationship with Michael. It felt like my responsibility to honor that and put everything in the edit. As we got to the first screening with Demi, I felt particularly nervous, knowing that some of the traumas were fresh in her life. But hearing positive feedback from her and the rest of the team encouraged me to not leave any stone unturned. I was more than happy to be a part of this catharsis for her and I have only gained more respect for her throughout the process.

LAPPG: One of the things that jumped out to me was just how beautiful the color was, especially with many of the interviews. What were your directives when you started the color process and how did you land on the final look?

Omar Inguanzo: Thank you! I think color was an important character in this piece. As per Michael’s direction, we didn’t want it to be too stylized or ever take away anything from the interviews and content itself, but instead support everyone’s honesty within their interviews. At the end of the day our goal was to always be as natural and true to the environment as possible.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (credit: OBB Media)

LAPPG: There was certainly a lot of different audio sources over the course of this documentary from concerts, iphone footage, emergency 911 calls to interviews, etc. What was the most challenging aspects for you and what tools and techniques did you rely on?

Brandon Kim & Dillon Cahill: We were given a lot of audio source material ranging from Demi’s unreleased 2018 documentary to the present day interviews with Demi and her friends and family. We had to do a lot of fine tuning using EQ and dialogue matching to make sure that the tonality of all the different sources was seamless.

Another challenge was making sure that the mix of the documentary would sound good in any setting. Although a large portion of the audience will probably watch the series on their phone through YouTube, we knew that the four episodes were going to be compiled as a longform to headline at SXSW. With that fact in mind, we wanted to make the episodes play well back to back and feel as cinematic as possible.

One other unexpected challenge was sound designing the moments that the cameras were not there to capture. There was already so much good footage from her past tours and documentaries to work with, but when it came to some of the more private matters like Demi’s overdose or her stay at the hospital, there was not much to work with. We didn’t want to completely drop the sound in those moments, so by using the audio from Jordan’s 911 call mixed with the sounds of ambulances, paramedics, radio calls, EKG monitors and blood machines, we were able to create a soundscape that made it feel like you were really there.

LAPPG: Can you share with us a little bit about the workflow, software, hardware used and how you organized your team, calendar and the approval process?

Juliana Watson: We worked closely with the director Michael D. Ratner and the team at OBB Media who we were zooming with from their post production facilities, and the other Editor Paul Little to carve out the story that the fourth episode was aiming to tell. Once we had clear direction, we edited in Avid, colored in Blackmagic Resolve, sound designed and mixed in ProTools, and did conform and clean up in Flame. Since this project was in post during quarantine, we used online meeting tools like Zoom for our calls, and frame.io for posting / reviews. As any post producer knows, calendars are constantly changing and evolving, so it was a balance of setting expectations of how long any changes would take and backing out enough time to appropriately get the work done.

Lovato settling into her new home. (credit: OBB Media)

LAPPG: What was the biggest takeaway from working on this project. Was there anything that really stood out to you during the creation of this documentary?

Juliana Watson: I really think that Demi and Michael, alongside Shannon and Paul did a great job on telling a very sensitive story. The trauma that Demi has endured, the eating disorder she’s dealt with, her overdose, her recovery and her current moderation sobriety are all extremely tough subjects to talk about appropriately and sensitively. A lot of attention to detail was paid to make sure that each subject matter was handled respectfully, and I think the docuseries speaks for itself on how well they did that.

Meet Hillary Corbin Huang

It was truly a pleasure to have had the opportunity to interview Hillary Corbin Huang about her unique situation where she works in both the worlds of post management and as a recruiter at Amazon Studios. Hillary shares some insights and insider information about where she finds candidates to hire and tips for increasing your chances in getting an interview so, read on!

What was your first opportunity in the industry after graduating from SCAD with a Masters in Sound Design, Film Production?
A classmate of mine had received a summer Television Academy internship for Sound Design at Larson Studios on Sunset. He was vacating his position to return back to school for the fall quarter and recommended that I backfill his position. It was grunt work, but I sure was happy to watch all the greats at work.

How did you transition from dialogue editing to post management?
This all happened way back in 2009 – Production had dried up after the Writer’s Strike, the economy was in the toilet – the scant Dialogue Editing jobs that were to be had went to a few legacy editors cutting on a dozen shows a year each. The unions were closed up, concerned that there wasn’t enough work to go around for current members, let alone assisting a newcomer without credits get their foot in the door. So I said, “well, if I can’t be one of ‘em, I might as well manage ‘em” and started pursuing Post Management roles at that time. Every early opportunity I got in the beginning was through the grace of my professional and academic network – Shoutouts to SCAD alumnae Julia Mugge, Emma Branch McGill and Sarah Galley for helping me get started – I got by with a little help from my friends. I didn’t land any gigs from online applications until much later in my career.

You’ve done a lot of work as post supervisor, how did those roles prepare you to work at Netflix and now Amazon Studios in their recruiting departments?
I’m going to answer this in reverse: I love the way that being corporate influenced the way that I showed up back in Post. I am a stronger and more direct communicator, I embrace challenges instead of withering underneath them, deploy patience when necessary, and feel more natural exercising a flexible work-life balance. Freelancing drives people to work extra extra hard to prove their worth, and it’s a hard habit to break. You can put in the rough hours, but not drive yourself crazy in the process; protect yourself, because its surest way to take the passion out of your work.

Obligatory red carpet photo – at the premiere of "Only the Brave "in 2017.

What are the 3 things that stand out most to you when you are looking to hire someone?
It’s curiosity, humility and self-awareness: It is nearly impossible to not float to the top of the stack with ease if you demonstrate these to a recruiter or an interviewer. Which is to say, if you are a recent graduate, embrace it – don’t be the “CEO” of your own Production Company of one. If you are trying to pivot your career, own it and talk about it. There’s no advantage to misrepresenting where you are in your journey. Demonstrate that humility and self-awareness. If you get a question in an interview for which you are ill prepared, demonstrate curiosity and ask questions and turn the question into a conversation. Don’t lowball your numbers, don’t chop yourself off at the knees, just be your darn self. We want to hire you, not a weird and curated version of you.

What three tips can you give for people to increase their chances of getting an interview?
#1 – Apply for roles when you meet or exceed the minimum qualifications, and, in doing so, curate your own applicant history. It demonstrates self-awareness and a fundamental understanding of what the role would entail. The Wayne Gretzky quote “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” needn’t apply to your job search – know your own journey and demonstrate it to me. Carpet-bombing applications has the reverse effect.

#2 – The idea of pivoting careers can be enchanting, but it requires someone to give you a chance. I would recommend seeking aide from your professional network instead of applying to roles outside of your experiences. Context is king, so if your resume doesn’t succinctly tell your full story, it won’t translate and you won’t hear back on that role.

 #3 – Make your resume extremely easy to read. Eye-catching resumes can be effective, but recruiters move fast and don’t have time to dig for information. One cool font and color will suffice to make it memorable, avoid busy graphics or pictures. Make sure that the verbiage is clear and that your employment history is at the top. Bold your titles, companies and years worked so we see that first. And, this bears repeating: Credit resumes are for show-facing gigs, but you would want to use a more traditional resume format if applying for roles outside Production.

Where do you find the potential candidates when you are staffing?
LinkedIn. You are doing yourself a disservice if you think that LinkedIn isn’t for you. We use it as our first line for sourcing. We are seeking production-facing candidates for executive roles too – you can’t predict what we might be looking for, so you doubly can’t ignore the importance of having and curating a LinkedIn profile. I’ll occasionally use Facebook groups and cold-call folks from guild rosters to which I belong, and I personally love and use staffmeup.com when I’m show-facing. But one more call-out for LinkedIn – please do it.

I knew I officially became an Angeleno when I started supporting a local sports team. Here I am with Olly, the mascot for LAFC.

What advice would you give to people just starting out in the industry?
Don’t move to Los Angeles until you understand the difference between a Production Company and a Distributor. It’s something rarely discussed in film school programs and its integral you understand it off the bat. Since this is a relationship-based industry, you have to network to get ahead. Best to know how the mechanism of Production works so you show up as your best, most well-informed self.

Finding a Post Coordinator to work from home at MY place was difficult, but she’s really excellent with Clearances. Meet my COVID kitten, Fern!

As post producer on a couple Discovery Shows for Space Launch Live, how did the pandemic affect your workflow. Is there anything you learned that you can see continuing post pandemic?
It was such a joy to work on Space Launch Live in general – the team is second-to-none, and there was a lot of joyful collaboration on that project. We were able to run Premiere on a P2P virtual server built by my gobsmackingly smart Lead Editor Tyrone Tomke, and I would hop back onboard with them in a heartbeat. It’s hard to say how everything will change post-pandemic, but I do hope that productions continue to consider remote editing opportunities, as I have personally really enjoyed doing so.

When freelancing, how do/did you deal with the stress and uncertainly of finding your next project? Do you have any hobbies or outlets that help keep you balanced?
I am a bread-baker! Particularly since pivoting to WFH, I have a well-fed starter culture and there’s a fine dusting of flour across the whole place. Kneading dough is a great stress-reliever! Unrelated, but the key to succeeding in Post is telling me that my sourdough is absolutely delicious. Was that your question?

Hiking during COVID was a major stress-relieving pastime for me and the hubs.

It seems like you are able to straddle two worlds – corporate and post production. What is that like?
I have the corporate lingo down pat and am excellent at messaging show-facing problems to networks. I am supremely empathetic to candidates coming from a Freelance cadence of work. Of course, having interloped in both words, I feel like I never belong in either place. But it’s a burden I am happy to assume, and my latest professional challenge that gives me some motivation to keep pushing. But I do have to pinch myself every single day because I can’t believe that I’ve done both with some measured success.

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