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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
We’re excited to introduce you to Peter Boychuk, Senior Producer of Picture Post, at HARBOR. Peter has worked on delivering such features as, The Irishman, Little Women and Ocean’s 8. In this post he shares what it’s like running a DI department, what a typical day is like, what makes a good DI producer, as well as what DI workflow was used when he helped deliver the Disney+ streaming production of Hamilton.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Hi, Peter! Thank you for sharing your time with us. Before we dive into your work as a Senior DI Producer, can you tell us how you got interested in film?
Peter Boychuk: For 2nd grade show & tell Travis Pastrana brought in a video of him riding a dirt bike – I think that’s when the subconscious seed was planted for my interest in “things outside of the box”. In my early teens, I was super into skating, and was pretty obsessed with the old-school VHS skate videos that were around at the time. I’d follow my buddies around Buffalo with my parent’s camera trying to mimic what I saw in the latest Hoax or VG releases. I wanted to edit our own videos together, but at the time, it was pretty tough to get access to video editing software, so I stuck with stills. Shout out to Uncle Jimbo, our family photography guru – he always let me mess around with his latest gear.
I ended up moving to Connecticut when I was 15 and our High School had a Video Art class, which rekindled my interest in shooting and editing. Mom and Dad said goodbye to their most recent video camera purchase, and I started running around with a camera again making ridiculous videos. Once I hit college, I signed up for any Film related courses that were available, purchased a DVX100 and Final Cut Studio with some help from my Dad, and set out to score an editing internship with an alternative sports company. These ski guys out of Denver were cool enough to give me a shot remastering some over their older flicks to DVD – time to learn how to design, encode, and author DVD’s! There weren’t too many internet forums around at the time, so the manual was really my only source of how-to information. I delivered those 2 DVD masters, but I’m pretty sure they became coasters – hell of a learning experience though. I started my own key-turn LLC when I graduated college shooting and producing instructional videos and weddings but was still flying solo and decided it was time to get my foot in the door somewhere.
LAPPG: So it looks like you worked at Deluxe Digital Studios and then Technicolor- PostWorks NY before making you way over to HARBOR where you worked as a DI Producer. Can you tell us about this role and what it entails?
PB: For any DI Producer, you’re pretty much quarterbacking each project that runs through the facility. You’re the main point of contact for internal and external teams that could span multiple facilities and vendors, and it’s your job to make sure it all comes together on the picture side. Generally, you’re managing overarching post schedules for the project, keeping internal operations inline, understanding workflow and color pipelines, defining vendor and studio needs, tracking budgets and actuals, and juggling creative needs – which usually spans multiple features, maybe an episodic, and some smaller projects you might be supervising.
It gets intense, but I dig it. Reminds me of slinging pies at Naples Pizza on a busy Friday night when I was a younger. You learn to move fast and mold that chaos into productivity.
LAPPG: Now you’re making me hungry! Well, it seems that congratulations are in order on your in your recent promotion to supervising DI’s at Harbor. How have your responsibilities changed?
PB: High-five, thanks! Right up front, responsibilities became a bit more global – helping assign projects, juggling multiple post schedules, and keeping an eye out for the entire Harbor team became part of my daily agenda. With a lighter producing load though, I was able to start a deep dive into what our DI Producers deal with on a regular basis and begin to dissect and tweak our approach a bit. The main goal is to dial-in workload balance and maintain efficiency, so our Producers don’t get tied up in certain time-consuming undertakings. Every project has common needs, so we’ve isolated those common operational and technical preparations which can be a heavy lift while you’re producing multiple DI’s. Aside from supervising where needed, it’s been fun to sit back and observe how someone tackles a task, then take that approach and maybe tweak it a bit or present it to the team so we can make it an official part of our ecosystem. It’s all about defining and maintaining a common structure for how we work.
When you’re in the trenches, having someone with a broad view of what’s going on is crucial, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to use what I’ve learned over the years to help out our fellow Harbor producers.
LAPPG: What does a typical day look like for you?
PB: Let’s go pre-pandemic on this one, because honestly, I miss the bike commute to work and the daily bodega ice coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love wearing sweatpants to work every day, but there’s something nice about a morning routine in the city before you dive into the madness. All jokes aside, working remotely has also proven how strong the Harbor team is as a whole, so I’ll take it both ways.
I’ll hit the ground running early to make sure we don’t need to put out any fires that popped up overnight. After that, I’ll knock off any emails that need attention and check in with my early morning operators to make sure they’re in good shape. If a supervised session is on the books that day, that’ll be my main focus, making sure that’s teed up properly and everyone is well informed and prepared. The team will dive into our morning Producer meeting, chat daily schedule and needs, and then everyone breaks off to manage their own day. Each day can vary wildly, but I’ll start to tackle certain things like…
As a Senior member of the team, you’ll jump in and advise other producers if needed, get looped into operational and technical conversations, and help refine day to day interactions across neighboring departments. The producing team will regroup again at the end of the day to dial-in swing shift needs and schedule out the upcoming day.
LAPPG: You’ve worked on so many high-profile projects such as The Irishman, Marriage Story, Tiger King, and Little Women. One that jumped out at us is the recent streaming Disney+ production of Hamilton. What challenges were you up against for this project and what workflow did you use?
PB: Hamilton was in the works for a couple of years before I jumped into the producing chair. We were finally gearing up to finish the DI onsite site, but the pandemic forced us to pivot quickly, and we moved to a full-blown remote workflow. Hats off to our talented engineering team for moving the entire team offsite in record time! Hamilton ended up being my first remote project, so that was a logistical challenge in itself. We were initially going to finish via projection in DCI P3, but we pivoted to a 1000nit grade for the streaming release. Modern color pipelines allow you to be display flexible, and our color managed workflow made that shift totally seamless. Overall, we had to plan our time wisely and remain highly efficient, especially when running remote sessions out of multiple facilities on both coasts. Solid communication across all of the teams involved was top-notch, and we were able to successfully deliver everything to Disney.
LAPPG: How is a DI department generally staffed and what is the hierarchy in terms of how the work is broken down?
PB: Traditionally you’ll have the following departments – Color & Assists, Conform, VFX, Data Management, Digital Lab, Engineering, Scheduling, Billing, Sales, Leadership, Client Services, and Producing.
HARBOR has always focused on staffing folks who are proactive, creative, independent, and thoroughly knowledgeable of every step in the DI process, so we run a bit of a hybrid model compared to the above breakdown. All of us manage projects holistically throughout their entire DI timelines, allowing for single points of contact and subject matter experts on each job. Keeping an open mind and focusing on solutions rather than the traditional red tape allows us to move freely and efficiently in seeing the creative vision through to a successful execution and delivery.
Ultimately, it’s all about supporting our Clients and Artists. Sure, we have a hierarchy in place in to ensure maximum coverage, quality, and oversight, but it never feels that way with our team. It’s a collective effort with lots of high-fives all around.
LAPPG: What are the traits and skills you look for when hiring a DI Producer?
PB: After a couple years in Post, I began to realize that I enjoyed living in between the industries technical and creative factions, so I look for folks who can bridge that gap and bring everyone together. That inherent quality of being able to manage and maintain a massive to-do list under pressure is key, and you can usually pick up on that trait when you have a conversation with someone. I’ll always prefer hiring an individual who’s a good fit personality wise and spend the time teaching them the ins and outs of the job in the field.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for people who are working up the ranks like you have?
PB: Be curious, ask questions, and strive to be the hardest working individual in the room. Most importantly though, be a genuine person and try to be the nicest person in the room too!
If you’re just starting out, look for any position that will allow you to get your foot in the door at a post facility. You’ll get full exposure to a multitude of post-production departments and people, and if you work your butt off you can climb your way to the top.
LAPPG: How involved are you in the pre-production stage of a project?
PB: Depends on the project, but if we’re doing the Dailies and/or Finishing, we’ll get involved early for sure if the door is open. Best case scenario – you have the opportunity to solidify geometry and color pipelines before they hit the record button. It’s kind of like a reverse puzzle sometimes – you identify the hero deliverable and work your way backwards from there.
LAPPG: Is there a project that really challenged your team to find a creative solution? Did it change your later approach to projects?
PB: Project Pandemic has been one hell of a challenge. We’ve been creating, innovating, and adapting for almost an entire year. Looking ahead, I don’t think we’ll go back to the way things were, so when the dust settles, we’ll get to implement what we learned about remote workflows and offer that as an additional creative solution for HARBOR projects. “We are where you are” sums it up well.
LAPPG: What principles do you follow for running a smooth DI producing team or keeping a production on track?
PB: Open and honest communication is #1 for me, whether that’s with your internal team or external clients and vendors. Managing expectations, look after your team, work you’re a** off, and if you’re not 100% sure you know the answer, keeping asking questions until you’ve got it just right.
We’re all in this together, so no matter how tired you are, stay focused and keep a smile on your face knowing that once you wrap that project up, someone will be there to buy you a cold beer.
LAPPG: We always like to check in and find out how people find a balance between a demanding work schedule and family/home life. (Aside from the fact that we are all home now! Are there things that you enjoy doing that allow you to decompress and unwind?
PB: Hanging around with my partner in crime Stephanie and all of our four-legged furry friends. Goofin’ off with my nieces and nephews – Smush, Turkey Man, Russ the Bus, and Parker. Random roadtrips, face-melting metal jams, visiting breweries and pizza joints, and weekend hikes help to unwind a bit too. Gotta play cards with Grandma for sure – she’s an absolute shark.
Jay Miracle has been a longtime member and supporter of the LAPPG. In this interview he shares some stories from his incredible career working with such legends as Francis Ford Coppola, Milos Foreman, and George Lucas plus, he offers our members and readers some of his strategies and insights into the documentary editing process. We hope you are inspired!
Los Angeles Post Production Group: You’ve had an incredible career in filmmaking having worked with so many of the great directors of our time. How did you find your way into filmmaking?
Jay Miracle: I feel quite lucky that I was able to get into filmmaking.
I was fortunate to get my start in the film world when I moved to the Bay Area in the mid-70’s and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was an art major at UC Berkeley and working with my sculptor teacher/mentor: Peter Voulkos – who was well-known for redefining large-scale ceramics as an art form. I worked with him in one of his foundries doing metal work, but I had a day job as an art installation assistant at Berkeley’s University Art Museum.
I used to hang out at Swallow Café on the ground floor, which was directly opposite a tiny theater named the Pacific Film Archives – that I ignored for months. One afternoon I noticed a poster for a “Screening by Artists-Filmmakers” at the Archives and decided to check it out. The show featured experimental films by Bruce Conner and other artists. The films were on a double bill with some movie by a Swedish guy named Ingmar Bergman: “The Hour of the Wolf”. I’d never heard of him and I thought he was maybe the father of Ingrid Bergman.
The movie was a total shock: I’d never seen anything like it, and fell in love with the possibilities of cinema. I instantly volunteered to work at the Archives. I immersed myself in all types of movies and virtually lived there every night, and by chance happened to run into Eleanor Coppola who was involved in an art installation project at the museum.
Within a few weeks, I was an apprentice assistant editor on “Godfather 2” and worked for the editor Peter Zinner. It was daunting, but exciting to learn on the job. It was an amazing time for filmmakers like Francis, and I got to study every scene and actor through my hours of reconstituting thousands of trims and lifts.
There was also the time-consuming task of trying to lip sync Lee Strasberg – because he had a weird mouth tic and speech pattern that made it nearly impossible to sync up.
And I must have gained over 10 pounds in the first few months, because one of the main scenes we worked on was the cake-cutting scene in Havana. We recut that for several weeks. I’d reconstitute those shots and study the trims over and over of that incredible cake getting sliced and eaten. The subliminal seduction worked: every afternoon I’d wander around North Beach on lunch break, looking for cake!
LAPPG: What were some your early filmmaking experiences that impacted you most?
JM: Since I was hired through Paramount Pictures in L.A. and the local San Francisco IATSE 16 was in the middle of a labor dispute with Francis, I didn’t get screen credit, but it did get me a job as an assistant on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. That was an amazing creative journey. By far, the most impactful experience to me as a filmmaker and editor was working with Milos Forman.
Milos’ directorial style for shooting “ Cuckoo’s Nest” was more aligned to a documentary shooting approach. He allowed Jack Nicholson and the extraordinary cast: Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, et al, to have improvisational freedom, and we kept shooting and reshooting for days. This was a low-budget indie at the time, and yet we had over a million feet of film to edit. The final shooting script was this humongous bible with tons of multiple takes – often where the dialogue was completely different.
So, the editing process was daunting but Milos spent every day ensconced in the editing room. He had to supervise every single cut. These were the days of 35mm, where editing was done on Kem flatbeds, with tons of bins and massive reconstituting work that took hours to assemble and rebuild. Physically cutting 35mm was quite slow – and it demanded enormous patience for anyone who was just sitting in the room and watching. You’d think of a simple cut or an elaborate edit, and then have to wait for five minutes – or ten – or forty minutes – or whatever – before you could see it.
It was not a fun event for visitors. A lot of Saul Zaentz’s friends and investors would wander in and drift away almost immediately. I remember Milos’ girlfriend at the time: Aurore Clement, brought another friend with her who was a famous Madame from Paris (Suzie W.). She showed up at the editing room with an entourage, wearing a wild gold lame pantsuit outfit that had a 20-foot train attached to it. They managed to last about five minutes.
Milos was obsessed with every aspect of post-production and quite brilliant at editing. I learned a tremendous amount about timing and structure from him. He had this innate ability to look at a scene, or scenes, and would often suggest a one frame cut or a frame addition to an edit. I would be amazed numerous times when he would suggest “just take a frame off the outgoing shot, and add one frame to the incoming shot,” or whatever combination. This was a splicing nightmare– removing and splicing one frame – one 24th of a second. I used to think that “a frame edit” was absurd: really? Would that have a major impact? It would surprise me how often the shift in timing would make a tremendous difference.
These days, we’ve all become dissociated from that visceral experience of handling film at 24 frames per second – and we often blast through cuts without the nuance of breath or attention to facial details. Milos was all about the face – the most subtle details and expressions – often those moments before or after they said their lines.
The most fun for us was our weekly meetings, where we’d all go over the cut and get to critique the movie. I felt for the first time that my opinion and input were valued, and we had a tremendous team of collaborators.
I was still attending Berkeley after “Cuckoo’s Nest” and managed by luck (there just weren’t that many people in feature post in the Bay Area at the time) to get involved on “Star Wars” as George and Marcia Lucas’ assistant.
Both Marcia and George were incredible editors, and we all shared editing rooms in their house, which was an amazing collective experience. George went through many ups and downs. The film would go over budget at times – but then the British pound would be devalued or some other event would impact the budget. There was a constant uncertainty, and we had no idea about the future.
One aspect of my job was to spend hours studying all the original Flash Gordon TV shows, because we cut some of the shots into the temp edits as a motion pattern for the Effects people. If you want to be tortured, screen all the Flash Gordon shows in a row – they endlessly reprise all the previous episodes at the beginning of each program.
At one point, when there was a lot of pressure from the studio, George would hunker down back in his garage and spend meditative time building a small wooden storage desk that fit under his Kem.
No one had the slightest idea of what would happen to this movie, nor how this would be received once it was released. We would have these crew lunches at the house, and I remember one particular guest who amazed me with his observations – and who would help shape writers and filmmakers for some time: Joseph Campbell. Undoubtedly, the mythic structure of “Star Wars” will permeate our zeitgeist for generations.
LAPPG: What is it about documentary filmmaking that attracts you to it?
JM: I started working on documentaries after “Star Wars” and discovered an entirely different world of challenges in production and post. I loved the uncertainty and difficulties around creating a story, building an emotional arc, and delivering a message.
I was still inhabiting the Pacific Film Archives almost every night, and at the time, every major filmmaker from around the world would come to show their films. I was heavily influenced by the German new wave: Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, Silberberg, etc. I met another Archive denizen there: Errol Morris, and began collaborating with him on the production of his documentary: “The Gates of Heaven”.
At one point, early in the production of the documentary, Werner Herzog challenged Errol that if he ever finished his film, he’d eat his shoe. A year later, after one of his boots was simmered for a week in a special sauce, Werner got up on stage at the UA Theater and ate it.
I’ve always had incredible inspiration and admiration for filmmakers like Herzog and Wenders – who move so effortlessly and without ego between feature films and documentaries.
There’s nothing more compelling and challenging than figuring out how to deliver an effective documentary. There’s no actors, there’s usually no repeat takes, no script, none of the usual safety nets of scripted work. I think documentary editors are the creative powerhouses behind documentaries – and yet they are the least appreciated.
LAPPG: What strategies do you use during a documentary edit?
JM: Whenever I take on any documentary project, I always search for a hook beyond the information or message that the film is about. I try to find a protagonist with whom the audience can hang their emotional hat and follow along for the journey. Of course, any great documentary needs to deliver a powerful message, but it’s a bit more challenging to convey an impactful message with just facts, or flashy effects or graphics. I feel my main responsibility is to find a strong, emotional arc throughout the piece. I’ve always felt that viewers watch with their heads, their hearts, and their guts. The head is constantly downloading data and assessing, but if you can find a way to powerfully connect to the latter two, the head will come along for the ride. When I see projects with a ton of data and graphics, or endless talking heads, I tend to tune out, unless there’s some deeper hook to it – so I’m always searching for that in my documentary work.
I also follow a basic formula, and I cannot stress its importance: follow the KISS formula: Keep It Simple Stupid.
If you’re presenting a story and somehow there’s a misunderstanding about the character, the topic, or the journey that you are on – the viewer will tune out. To me, editing is basically creating a flow: what follows from A to B, what connects B to C, etc. Does everything build and have a logical progression to it? If it’s audio and text driven – is it clear, easy to follow, and builds the story?
I often work with a radio cut of the audio on the first pass and refine the story to that. If the project is more vérité based, the challenge becomes more about discovering the story.
I will initially edit the sequences that resonate with the theme. I’ll assemble these and assign cards to each scene (just like assembling cards for writing a script) and build a breakdown chart.
You then become the writer and begin to align the cards to build the story. Invariably, I’m always looking for those scenes that deliver the most dramatic or emotional impact – the “trailer scenes” – because you’ll build around them.
Do the visuals have clarity and impact? Do they support the concept or the scene?
Sometimes I don’t have the luxury of a clear, story progression – sometimes I have to create something from a more abstract structure – where the synthesis of an idea is a visual or auditory progression of similar concepts. Sometimes I need to build a “parallel universe” that works as a metaphor. If there’s a hole or a leap in concept, audiences can follow along if you’ve built a solid base.
LAPPG: You won an Emmy for your work editing “Hearts of Darkness, A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.” How did you get that opportunity and what was it like uncovering the behind the scenes story for such an iconic film? Can you tell us about a challenge you came up against and how you found a creative way of telling the story?
JM: When I was working on “Hearts of Darkness, A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” there were instances where we had no concrete visuals to propel the story. I came onto the project since I’d worked on “Apocalypse Now” and had some additional insight into the production and post. The initial edit had been more of a didactic behind-the-scenes breakdown of how the film came together. Like so many documentaries, after further review and discoveries, we realized we needed to include the deep, emotional angle of Eleanor’s notes and interactions with Francis.
After we discovered this, it became imperative to create an entirely different direction to the edit.
Her recordings became the visceral anchor that propelled us on the journey for the entire documentary. But the fun was finding out how to tie Eleanor’s thoughts to the evolution of the story.
We had lots of footage, but there were times when there wasn’t an appropriate shot.
As an example, there’s a moment where Eleanor is wondering whether the entire trajectory of Francis and the film would be a disaster. We couldn’t find a perfect visual, but we found a metaphor: a shot we’d discarded six months earlier as totally useless – it was a shot of some kids playing in a shoal. They launch a tiny, toy boat that floats for a moment, then slowly sinks.
Of course, now, many documentarians solve those problems through highly-stylized graphics, animation, re-enactments, etc. When we were editing “Hearts of Darkness”, our consideration was to find material that was organic to the time and the story.
LAPPG: What are you noticing about the documentaries of today?
JM: The evolution of the documentary form and the tools available to filmmakers and editors are extraordinary. And documentaries have continually evolved in story form. Today, many follow a traditional, scripted three-act structure, exactly like their scripted sisters.
I’m amazed at the level of subjects and the higher quality of story-telling in documentary filmmaking that comes out every year. But the bottom line to me is: everything revolves around character, story and emotion. My perpetual questions are: can I find, or create those elements.
There never has been a better time for working in documentaries because the viewing world has become much more sophisticated and engaged with the form.
Let’s all enjoy the adventure.
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