We had the pleasure of having Maxim Jago present at LAPPG and found that not only is he a sensational presenter, but a fascinating human being as well! So, we wanted to explore not only what advice he has for filmmakers and content creators but also what life is like for this busy multi-hyphanate. We were also curious about the motivation was behind his upcoming The Creativity Conference and how he sees the future of media and work.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: As a filmmaker, futurist, author, and media technology expert, I see you as a modern-day Renaissance man. Is there one aspect of your professional life that takes center stage?
Maxim Jago: It is so kind of you to say it this way, though I sometimes wonder if I ought to pick one thing! I am just in love with the universe and want to understand how everything works – and to celebrate it all! There’s this absolutely amazing thing that happens when you, even temporarily, put aside value judgements. Rather than fearing what might come next, how someone might behave, or what you might get right or wrong, you become fascinated by all possibilities.
I share time and energy between perhaps 15 projects but right now, I’m mainly writing books on Futurism, film editing, and philosophy, consulting, editing the film I directed last year, speaking at conferences, and have set up The Creativity Conference – a new global meeting of minds to explore the quintessential essence of creativity. We will be running an in-person event in August 2021 and there’s a completely free taste of things to come in January.
The Creativity Conference is at the heart of my attention these days – it is growing into becoming a truly amazing event.
LAPPG: Can you share how you got started in the film industry?
MJ: It started out as an experiment when I was 15. I’d been taking photos for a couple of years and someone wise recommended that I try making films. I didn’t know what I was doing but was instantly transfixed by this incredible medium. I won’t get into it now, but I have a theory that film is the closest thing we have to real experience being the medium. True VR takes this even further.
I started out making as many short films as I could, went to two film schools, made even more films, and along the way learned some valuable technical skills. I always wanted to be either an actor or a director. I realized early on that if you focus on wanting to do something, then “wanting to do it” is what you get; you have to focus on just doing it, knowing that you will fail, fall, and pick yourself up again to do it again. Almost all change is, really, iterative, not some major switch to a new situation.
Along the way, I started teaching post-production skills, and I suppose I’m best known as the British voice behind quite a lot of tutorials on video editing.
My journey into the industry was a mixture of technical and creative work. My advice for newcomers is to just produce as much content as you can, and don’t hold off production because you don’t have an ideal budget. There’s a myth in the major production industry that you can finance a film if you have a great idea and a great screenplay. This isn’t true – you need an internationally recognizable cast to be able to estimate sales and fulfil the needs of the business aspect of the movie business.
However, what you CAN do is produce amazing low-budget content that will get you noticed as a filmmaker. I doubt anyone checking out your reel will worry too much about whether you used the best possible camera or grip equipment. They just want to know that you have a recognizable flair in your chosen occupation.
I started out in the film industry by making films. I had to work to live while working on projects, so I developed a parallel IT career, and this slowed down development. At the time I found it frustrating and would sometimes judge myself harshly for not making more progress. This, eventually, taught me an important lesson: If you are going to judge at all, be as realistic and precise as you can be about what you are judging. We tend to judge ourselves much too harshly – and if we were realistic about the burden we carry, the strength we have, our commitments, needs, fears, skills, expectations, and experience, we would probably be kinder to ourselves!
LAPPG: Was there a particular event or a series of events that led up to you studying the future and being a futurist?
MJ: It was a mixture of experiences. I paid my way through film school by giving tech support on behalf of Microsoft – a job I got thanks to one of my Tai Chi students at the time. By the time I graduated, I had a healthy IT resume. My passion for understanding everything led me to explore a wide range of topics – not in any formal way but just deeply enough to get the gist and begin to detect some underlying patterns across most technologies, philosophies, organizational systems.
I began contributing to technology steering groups because of my experience that bridged media production and technology. These, in turn, led to increasingly complex technology-based and education-centric organizations inviting me to contribute ideas and forecasts for novel technologies and services.
My job as a futurist is simple to define but a little complex to describe. I estimate what will happen, and when… These forecasts are always contextual. It’s not a general look at everything in the future but rather looking at one or other aspect of the human condition in a particular context or scenario.
For example, when exploring the impact of Virtual Reality, I might look at technical limitations (like often needing to connect a headset to a computer) or creative opportunities (like the audience being free to move in three-dimensional space).
My work is always centered on human nature, which is universal and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of thousands of years.
One feature of the universality of the human condition that I love is that all the evidence so far suggests that we are not-only related to all other human beings but also to every living thing on the planet.
LAPPG: Overall in terms of media, what is your feeling about the future of media?
MJ: I think the future is incredibly bright. We are approaching the limits of human perception, in terms of acquisition and delivery. The development of compelling virtual reality and augmented reality experiences is a natural progression, and I anticipate future visual storytellers will have even more extraordinary tools available as we move towards real-time photorealistic virtual production, artificial characters producing natural speech procedurally, and meaningfully creative artificial intelligence.
There is a threat though, to our perception of reality itself. As a species, we are not very good at telling the difference between something that is compelling and something that is true. There are solid evolutionary benefits to be had from trusting the strongly held opinions of others – particularly where there are many others who hold the same strongly held opinion. The challenge we face is that our media creators are becoming exceptionally efficient at giving the impression that something is both “true” and the “strongly held opinion of many people”. This is a combination that we are very poor at defending against, to remain reasonable and pragmatic. In fact, in any given example, neither of these two things may be the case – appearances are so easy to fake now.
Without a clear independent and objective reference to measure evidence against, it becomes difficult to differentiate between proof and conjecture. We are lazy thinkers too, and so we either tend to accept the most violently expressed view or disengage from a topic that we find to be too much work to navigate intellectually. This tendency to disengage or agree on emotional, rather than rational grounds is a vulnerability that is exploited by our media – and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
The issue is that our media is becoming even more precise and targeted when it comes to analyzing our behaviors and characteristics. This analysis (increasingly assisted by AI) allows them to present information that appears neutral, though it is not. Our laziness when it comes to thinking means we tend to interpret neutral seeming information as truth. Knowing this, the media finds it relatively straightforward to sway opinions – and those opinions can lead to real world consequences.
In the 1950’s, cigarette manufacturers were still producing ads with doctors announcing that smoking was good for you. This was a rather blunt attempt to add emphasis through authority. Now, advertising companies show that your friends like a product – an even more compelling reason to like it too.
There are enormous risks ahead from fake news (which isn’t actually news at all, it’s a fictional narrative made to look news-like), and from deep fakes. Deep fakes are fake videos of famous people and political figures that give the impression that they have said or done things that they have never said nor done. Deep fakes are so convincing, and people check the facts so rarely, that we are likely to see serious legislation limiting their use.
The good news is that there is a positive way forward. Major organizations are gradually restricting access to the data necessary to perform the most precise analysis of our activities, and limiting tracking in general. We are developing ways to verify content, so that deep fakes don’t matter anymore (because they won’t be ‘certified’).
Also, these tools for analysis have incredibly potential for good. Imagine if your computer could analyze your use of language, heart rate, pupil dilation, breathing rate, and sub-vocal stresses to gauge your mood and give meaningful, helpful feedback to guide you towards a positive mental and emotional state.
We have that technology today – and it’s going to become more ubiquitous. The opportunities for improved health, communication skills, relationships, education, and personal development are enormous – and they are all connected to our media.
LAPPG: What would be your best advice for people wanting to be media makers in this day and age?
MJ: Ultimately media production is all about distribution. Any work that is created to be experienced must be distributed in some way for that experience to occur. If you paint a picture, you need people to see it. If you record a song, you need people to hear it.
The internet provides the most extraordinary opportunity ever to provide access to your created work. New models for monetizing content mean that you no-longer need to wait for that studio deal or agent to earn a living by producing media content.
Start making media, start distributing it, learn how the new platforms work, learn how you can monetize your content, and you are a media maker.
This new development, in which it’s possible for most people to create content and earn a living from it is amazing – but not necessarily easy.
In many ways, the rest of the media production world hasn’t changed in many years – the studio system is still the studio system, and television shows still need to be made. Right now, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and many people are concerned this might be a new normal. We’ll mostly go back to the way things were when we overcome the impacts of the Coronavirus because nothing else has changed. People still want to go to theatres to see movies, they want to grab food with friends to talk about what they just saw, and they want to learn by experiencing stories with characters onscreen.
LAPPG: How have you kept yourself busy during this pandemic?
MJ: It has actually been a wildly busy time – my work hasn’t changed all that much. When people ask me where I live, I usually say, ‘a window seat’ and a huge part of my work is meeting with and working with friends and colleagues in person. Still, the core effort is usually me with a laptop writing, designing, planning. I work from ‘wherever’ and that happens to be home at the moment. I’m one of the lucky ones that can continue to work without going out, and I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.
My usual days are a blend of emails, consultancy analysis and documentation, film editing, creative and professional design projects, learning (as much as possible), and coffee. Just yesterday, I realized that the number of emails I’d flagged to deal with had topped 1,100 – sorry if I owe anyone an email!
I’m also still speaking at conferences (Adobe Video World, Post-Production World, Horasis, The Bermudian Government Education Summit), albeit remotely, and those speaking sessions take just as long to prepare for as in-person sessions.
LAPPG: So it sounds like you certainly know your way around large events. What was the impetus for creating The Creativity Conference?
MJ: The genesis for The Creativity Conference was that I had been speaking for audiences for about 20 years and I was
wondering, one day, what kind of conference I would wish attend to learn and grow into my creative work. The Creativity Conference is the result of that thought experiment; a global meeting of minds to cross boundaries, with a focus on personal, professional, and creative growth.
It’s an opportunity for people all over the world to connect on a subject that lies at the heart of our nature – to feel human with people and learn ways that others have explored this vital path. The more people I discussed the idea with, the more excited I became – and now we have a really focused team and an event that is growing quickly – with such a wide range of topics, from drone cinematography to parenting and beyond. It’s wonderful. We see the conference as a creative ‘vitamin shot’ for the start of 2021. It’s an opportunity for creatives to connect with one another and build a community.
LAPPG: Is creativity something that can be taught?
MJ: I don’t think so but only because it does not need to be learned. It is intrinsic to every decision you make. Every choice, every thought, every time you phrase something to communicate it, note down words to remember it, or even imagine something – all of these things are creative. To be alive is to be creative.
There are specific skills one can learn, and there are natural aptitudes people have for particular forms of creative expression – some people are amazing singers, for example, and perhaps have a genetic predisposition to ‘feeling’ the music.
But I would argue that creativity is a state of mind that anyone can choose to focus on. Every time you move your body or express yourself intentionally, you are creating. It is an absolutely beautiful and fundamental aspect of being alive.
LAPPG: The Creativity Conference is set for January 22-24, 2021. Who is this conference designed for and what will people be able to take away from it?
MJ: Anyone with an interest in the arts, or in human nature, will benefit from attending the conference. We are recording all the sessions, so nobody will miss out – we have 5 concurrent sessions, 6 times a day – 90 sessions in total plus 3 keynotes.
The goal is that everyone attending is inspired and re-invigorated in their creative practice. We hope that attendees will attend presentations by speakers from beyond their usual creative focus, to expand their sense of what they can do and see and experience things in new ways. There is only a little focus on technique – the focus is on being inspired and inspiring others. It’s an opportunity to learn new approaches to creativity and to living a creative life – to being a change-maker.
LAPPG: How did you choose the topics and presenters for the conference?
MJ: Initially I reached out to speakers I was privileged to know from my travels and broad professional experience. I have been so fortunate to know such insightful and capable professional creatives. Any by ‘creative’, I don’t necessarily mean the commonly expected types of creativity. We have the CEO of a bank and an expert on creative parenting alongside performance poets, fine artists, and singers.
My goal is for the conference to be so broad in its reach that it might become possible to see the universal themes that drive and accommodate creative thinking, so that we can all be more attentive to it.
It is humbling and exciting to see the incredible individuals willing to give up their time and share their experience with the world.
The conference is completely free to attend, thanks to our sponsors – thank you Dell, Nvidia, and Intel – and is supported by our brilliant partners – Artists United, Raindance, Adobe, and Blackmagic Design.
Rather than charge for tickets, we are encouraging attendees to check out charities that have a creative focus, and consider making a donation. So far we are supporting Artists United and Awareness Ties – two charities that focus on the Arts as a means to improving the lives of countless people. We’ll be announcing more charities very soon.
LAPPG: Many of our members and readers are filmmakers. Can you tell us about the One Minute Creative Film Competition?
MJ: This is just wonderful – you can submit any genre, any theme, documentary, fiction, or animation – anything at all, as long as the entire experience is under one minute (excluding closing titles). We have a list of prizes from our partners, including One Year Adobe Creative Cloud Licenses, and a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Entry is completely free, and the winners will be chosen by Raindance, Filmdoo.com, and our guest judge, Vashi Nedomansky!
If you produce any other kind of art, watch this space as we will be announcing our open creativity competition very soon – with the same rule, that it must be possible to experience your creative work in under a minute – whether it is a poem, a song, a short story, a painting or a photograph.
LAPPG: I saw a great video of you from Lunch with Philip and Greg and I was fascinated about the living for free work as an option theory! Can you share a bit about your thoughts on the future of work?
MJ: They [Philip Hodgetts and Greg Clarke] are both so fascinating to speak to because they have a deep understanding of the creative process and getting things done!
Yes, we are moving inexorably towards the post-scarcity society – one in which work is optional, thanks to (initially) universal basic income and (ultimately) the completely free economy.
Money works very well as an upgrade on the barter system but it’s time to upgrade again. The combination of the cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, blockchain, and sovereign identity concepts and supporting technologies, along with major improvements in autonomous robotic automation and artificial intelligence will open up new ways to live.
This is not to say that people will not work – most people will – but now they will be working because they choose to. The impact on quality of life, emotional and biological wellbeing, global security, and even lifespan is significant.
None of these changes are likely to happen overnight but along with us taking responsibility for establishing a symbiotic relationship with Nature (in place of our current parasitic abuse of Nature), we are on track to establish healthier relationships with each other and with ourselves.
It’s time for us to take care of ourselves and everything and everyone around us – I think Kindness is an important key… But could speak about this all night!
LAPPG: When will be seeing you on the big screen for your James Bond debut?
MJ: You are an angel for asking… My door is open if Barbara Broccoli wants to visit!
I do have a martini named after me…
We’re so thrilled to have the chance to talk best practices with Director of Photography and Steadicam Operator extraordinaire, Dan Kneece. Many of you have seen his work on films such as Blue Velvet, Muholland Drive and Jackie Brown and some of you know may recognize his face from our LAPPG meetings where he’s been a member for a few years now as well as a presenter. Dan has worked with some of Hollywood’s most well known film directors including Quentin Tarantino, Joel Schumacher, Wes Craven and David Lynch.
So let’s jump into the production side of things with some of Dan’s best practices and advice for working in this field.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: What do you think someone starting out in the field should know about filmmaking?
Dan Kneece: The business wants to categorize you, so once they know you in one classification, it can be difficult to change to another. Choose wisely as you will be there for a while. That said, don’t try to start at the top. If you do, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to work under masters and learn. Contrary to your current beliefs, you don’t know it all.
LAPPG: Are there certain things someone should do before they start shooting?
DK: When you walk into a location don’t mess up what’s already there! Turn on the camera and look at the location before you start lighting. You may be pleasantly surprised. Encourage the director to have a private rehearsal so you can see how the actors play the set. Then have a crew rehearsal for marks. Afterwards the actors go to makeup while you light the set.
LAPPG: What is an important trait for all cinematographers have?
DK: A cinematographer should always be story driven. The script is the foundation of the film. Everything you need to know is in the script and your job is to serve it.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for running a camera crew and making sure production runs smoothly?
DK: Hire people better than you are and let them do their jobs. Empower people. Don’t micromanage. If you do, you cheat only yourself.
LAPPG: What are your tips for working well with a director?
DK: Always remember you are not making your film. You are making the director’s film. That is the reason you are there. You both have to be making the same movie. Otherwise you are doomed for failure.
LAPPG: What are some strategies you use when you have to shoot a feature on a tight budget?
DK: Serve the script to the best of your ability with the resources and time allotted. Your only priority is to capture the performances, hopefully without burning too many bridges along the way. It takes very little to make a film. First you need an idea, people to execute that idea and a camera. If you have that you can make a film. It’s very simple really. You can make a film for no money at all if you have these elements. Everything else is luxury.
LAPPG: What is on your Pre-Production Checklist?
DK: I decide on what we need after talking with the director and producer so we know what is required and what we can afford. Always be ready to do it another way if your first thought does not fit with the thoughts of others. I don’t usually make lists unless there is something very specific. My camera package is similar most times, usually a body and primes, head and sticks, the usual stuff. For dramas this is fine. For fantasies things get more elaborate, but less is more in my world.
LAPPG: What do you think about when framing a shot?
DK: Does what I do serve the script? How does this shot tell the story? How does it move the story forward? The script tells you what you need to do, what the movie should look like, what the feel of the film is. Do not betray that. Your duty, your loyalty lies there.
LAPPG: What are some down and dirty tips for Steadicam operators?
DK: Don’t fall down.
If you do fall down, break as little as possible.
When you fall down, if you have to choose between damaging equipment or yourself, sacrifice the equipment.
LAPPG: Any tips that a DP should keep in mind when they get to a location?
DK: The ability to look and realize what you are seeing is very important. Many times what you find when you arrive looks beautifully natural in a way that will be hard to recreate without much work. The downside is it doesn’t stay that way so you have to work quickly. If you lose it, it will never come back so think about how you are going to match the close ups when it’s gone and shoot the wide shot first.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for solving on-set problems?
DK: Keep an open mind and think quickly. Be flexible.
LAPPG: How much influence do you have in terms of color and how the final image looks?
DK: Only half of a Director of Photography’s job is done when the cameras quit rolling. The other half is in the Digital Intermediate. This is the biggest challenge for the DP today, to convey the importance of having time in the DI suite alone with the colorist so the look of the film can be realized. When that point is reached, then bring in the director for input.
[Editor’s note: To see highlights of Dan’s visit to LAPPG where he spoke about “Shooting Short Schedule Features”, please click here for our YouTube Channel.]
We had the pleasure of having Richard co-present at a LAPPG meeting early in 2020 (highlight video here) with his training series, “Master the Workflow” co-creator Lawrence Jordan, ACE. There they taught us about the role of the assistant editor. We wanted to delve a little deeper into Richard’s experience with his work as a VFX Editor and find out what that’s all about. We appreciate Richard pulling back the curtains a bit for us to learn about how finishing a big project like Bill & Ted Face the Music was done remotely, due to the pandemic. Please meet Richard Sanchez!
Los Angeles Post Production Group: It sounds like you got to editing by way of theater in college. I’ve heard that from many in the industry. What was it that attracted you to editing?
Richard Sanchez: I was a theatre major when I discovered editing as a craft, but it was two events that are probably most responsible for leading me down that path. The first was I got really into George Romero in college and Dawn of the Dead quickly became one of my favorite films (and still is). I bought a two DVD set that included both George Romero’s American Cut, and Dario Argento’s International Cut. Watching the two versions back to back, I found it amazing how from the same footage came two very different films. Romero’s was a slower paced horror film that filled you with a sense of foreboding and Argento’s was a faster paced film that had a more action feel. Both films were great for different reasons. That being one of the early seeds planted, at the end of my senior year I had to take a studio art class as part of my major requirement. I was going to take black and white photography, but a friend convinced me to take a video art class instead. It wasn’t editing narrative, per se, but it was a lot of Bill Viola and more abstract video art but sitting down on the Final Cut Pro systems, I fell in love immediately. After that, I was completely hooked.
LAPPG: You have a lot of experience as an assistant editor on projects like the films Suicide Squad and Table 19 and the television series The Good Place and I’m Dying Up Here. What advice do you have for people interested in following your path into the AE world.
RS: I feel the need to not misrepresent myself in that my time on Suicide Squad was short. I wasn’t on that film for the entire run, but I met some ferociously talented folks there whom I’m grateful to had had the opportunity to work on a project of that scale. My best piece of advice for people trying to follow a similar path is: Be kind, be generous. The work can be taught. The attitude is almost more important. People want to work with somebody who they enjoy being in close quarters with for twelve hours a day. Touching on generosity, the old adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” is a motto I also live by. I’ve built relationships with colleagues by answering questions in Facebook forums and other outlets. Those have led to great friendships and even work. There’s nothing to lose in kindness and everything to gain.
LAPPG: What skills do assistant editors need to be successful and competitive?
RS: There is no single skill more important than adaptability. Everybody works a little differently and there are often good reasons to work one way versus another in context. Rolling with the punches instead of relying on the comfort of familiarity will be invaluable. Touching on that adaptability: never ever stop learning. Don’t shrug off subjects or technology because they seem boring or complicated. The process is changing at an exponential rate and with this influx of new technology comes new challenges. It’s not unreasonable to have never worked on the bleeding edge before, but it can be invaluable to be able to say, “I’ve never worked with that process before but I have read up on it quite a bit and am excited to finally try it out.”
Attention to detail is another skill that cannot be overstated. I won’t pretend to have the best memory in the world, so I make sure that I never enter my editor’s cutting room without a pad of paper. We all have our days, but I try to never knock on my editor’s door a second time to say, “I’m sorry, what was that?”
The final skill I want to mention, and this is a big one: have the courage to ask for clarification when you’re asked something that you’re unsure of. I hear a common refrain in people who are afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid of looking dumb. The problem with this dilemma is, if you take the time to admit you need clarification and do the job right, you look pretty good. If you say, “I understand.” and you carry out the task wrong, you will look bad because now you’ve lost time doing the task incorrectly, and you weren’t truthful when you said, “I understand.” If somebody judges me for seeking clarification, I suppose that’s just how it is, but I’ll opt to measure twice cut once.
LAPPG: What was the impetus behind you and Lawrence Jordan, ACE creating Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion?
RS: Larry and I came up with the idea for Master the Workflow: Feature Film Assistant Editor Immersion as we were wrapping a Netflix project called Naked. I was showing Larry the database I had built for the show which incorporated most of the show paperwork. I was considering turning it into a product but was running into several challenges, among the biggest was that it was very dense and I needed to make a video tutorial to teach all of the functions in it. Larry had suggested we cover the entire feature post process which would be valuable for new assistant editors trying to transition into features and Master the Workflow grew out of there.
LAPPG: As we all know the long, crazy hours and tight deadlines can really take a toll on people health – both mental and physical. What activities or things do you like to do to manage the stress and to stay balanced?
RS: About a year ago I became a father so I spend most of my off time trying to be the best daddy that I can. In addition to that, I’ve been drawn to musicianship for a long time. I’ve played the upright bass for many years and I occasionally pretend to be a bluesman on the roundneck Dobro, but my fingerpicking technique is not quite there yet. Cycling is also a deep love of mine.
LAPPG: On recent projects you’ve worked as a VFX Editor. How has the transition been from Assistant Editor to VFX Editor and can you explain what skills needed to have to become a VFX Editor?
RS: For me, the transition to VFX Editor was terrifying and exciting at the same time. If imposter syndrome were an Olympic sport, I’d be a heavy contender, but I justify it by reframing the anxiety into the mantra that self-doubt is just the curse of integrity. My first job as a VFX Editor was on Catch-22 for Hulu. While one part of me knew I could do the work, another part said, “Oh my God, you’re a fraud and this is the job that they all find out.” It helped that both the editorial and VFX crew on that show were A+ artists, by far one of the best post teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between being a VFX Editor on the side of production versus being a VFX Editor on the vendor side. As a production side VFX Editor, strong skills for creating quick temp comps are very important. The VFX Editor will need to be able to quickly build and revise comps for the director and editor, especially in heavy green screen sequences, to allow the cut to be seen as representative of the intent as possible. These temps will inform the VFX Vendors as to what the director wants and will be necessary in the event of friends and family screenings. Once the VFX are ready to be handed off to the vendors, it is the VFX Editor’s task to prepare count sheets, order shot pulls and keep track of VFX as they come in. For me, being strong in Filemaker Pro has been imperative for this task. I know some VFX Editors work in Google Sheets and Shotgun but Filemaker Pro is my tool of choice for its scripting abilities and layout flexibility. To put it succinctly: Avid comping skills, Filemaker Pro, a “can do” attitude and the fortitude to roll with the punches and revise and revise until you get it right are the most important skills of a VFX Editor.
LAPPG: So now that you recently completed delivery as VFX Editor for the film Bill & Ted Face the Music, what was so special for you about working on this particular film?
RS: Bill & Ted Face the Music was perhaps the biggest dream job that I could have ever had the pleasure of working on. I was born in 1981 so my air guitar years were a little past the release of these films, but had an older cousin that was into hair bands so I loved that music as a kid. In addition, I grew up in Arcadia, CA which was close to San Dimas, CA and though I’d later learn that they shot in Tucson, I’d be lying if I didn’t think back to that film every time I passed through San Dimas. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was one of those films that really made me fall in love with film long before I’d ever even considered the possibility of working in film: It was fun, silly and absurd. I watched it so much that I wore out the VHS tape.
LAPPG: What was the biggest highlight from your work on this film?
RS: Getting to meet Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves on one brief occasion was certainly a highlight of working on the film for me. That said, the whole team was a veritable who’s who of amazing artists whom I had endless respect for. Our editor, Don Zimmerman, cut Rocky III & IV. Our director, Dean Parisot, directed Galaxy Quest. I spent the early days trying to keep myself from going full fanboy on my co-workers!
LAPPG: How did you handle the workflow on Bill & Ted Face the Music when COVID-19 hit and studios were shut down?
RS: When COVID-19 hit, we had to act quickly to set up a process that would work for our cutting rooms. We were nearing picture lock but we still had a lot of VFX revisions coming in so we needed to be able to bring in our shots, review with the VFX team and get those to the editorial team. I cloned the NEXIS on a large drive that I took to work from home. From there, we were doing VFX reviews via the streaming service Frankie. This allowed us to stream our VFX with the vendors and our VFX team in our respective locations, take notes and even draw directly on the screen. I’d then get the VFX from vendors via Aspera to cut into my sequence and I had to make sure I was being very diligent to keep track of all new VFX MXF media and bins that I’d send the Associate Editor each night so that the editorial team had current visual effects. Likewise, each night editorial would send me the Avid bins as the cut was changing so that I was cutting VFX into the current cut. It worked, but I’ll admit it was quite a challenge.
LAPPG: What was the biggest challenge working remotely to finish this film?
RS: I used to think that working remotely would be easier than I found it to be. Coordinating schedules and wrangling people to look at a shot is a matter of minutes in the office. You knock on your editor’s door, bring them and the director in, get feedback and you’re good to go. Working remotely, we’d have to call all parties to see if they were available, set up a Zoom, send out the link and hope there are no technical difficulties along the way. We were often at the mercy of the lowest bandwidth and sometimes one person would be unable to follow our meetings. I upgraded my internet service to the highest tier that I could in my area and I still found that my turnovers would take several hours to upload whereas they would take minutes at the office. I know I’m going to upset some people by saying this, but I think that the technology to work remotely is just not quite there yet. It’s not even a matter of simply having the software to support it. It’s also a matter of municipal infrastructure such as the ready availability of fast internet service which can vary drastically from provider to provider. So many internet providers stress download speeds to consumers, but my upload speed was absolutely critical particularly when it came to turnovers. There were also a few critical moments when my internet was down for hours which prevented me from being able to share assets with my team. Communication becomes significantly harder when working remotely which was the biggest challenge that I encountered working remotely.
LAPPG: What are important considerations for people to think about when they are launching new projects remotely?
RS: Time. Everything is going to take more time. That needs to be understood across all parties involved in a project. For example, if you’re remoting into a system via VPN, something as simple as importing an editor’s sound effects library is normally a task that would take a few minutes. Given the current system, you’d need to first upload the files from your local system at home to your remote system, then import them. Depending on your home upload speed and the size of the library, that could take a while. If you’re mirroring drives, you’d need to import those SFX, then either coordinate a drive to your editor or send the files to your editor and make sure you copy the media to the correct location. Likewise, if your editor imports a song they like, you’ll need to arrange to get that song on your local system before you do an output. The smallest things we take for granted when working on a shared environment in an office will require more steps and care.
As long as everybody is realistic about the logistical challenges, it will be fine but knowing that speed will be the biggest casualty is paramount. I saw a phrase a while ago that I think summed it up well when it said, “You’re not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” As is our job, we will make it work but it will just take a bit more time.
It was great having the chance to speak with longtime LAPPG member and expert colorist Tal about his work, how he’s spent his time during the pandemic, his go-to tools and his advice for people wanting to get into this field. Meet Tal!
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Tal. We’ve been fortunate to have you present and showcase some of your impressive work at LAPPG over the years. How did you get started as a colorist?
TAL: I was an online editor and finisher for years and did color with the tools I had in the linear online rooms and later with what Avid Symphony had to offer. Once DaVinci Resolve was released as software by Blackmagic Design I gave it a try on a tough color job I was working on and never looked back. For me, it was a very natural progression of the finishing work I was doing before. I always look around and try to learn more and better myself. Grading work came as the next step to make my work look better.
LAPPG: What are some of your favorite go-to tools?
T: I always start and (for now) finish my work in Avid Symphony, since most of my projects are cut on Avid offline systems. I have a very solid roundtrip setup where I take my footage to be graded in DaVinci Resolve. My next go-to toolset is the Boris FX plugins family, I utilize these all the time. Boris Continuum, Mocha Pro, and Sapphire effects are in every show I work on. Sapphire usually arrives from offline as it is something offline editors use all the time and the other two are utilized constantly for fixing and perfecting shots.
LAPPG: What is one of the biggest misconceptions your clients may have about the work you do?
T: I am not sure my clients have any misconceptions; I am very open to explaining how I work and what my process is. My clients mostly let me do what I do, in a way they do not really want to know about how specifically the work is done. My clients hand me an uprezzed offline show and come back a few days later to watch a pristine, good looking show ready to go to air.
LAPPG: What project(s) has challenged you most and why?
T: I look at every project as a challenge, it is a way for me to keep things fresh and exciting, things change constantly even between seasons of shows. I recently did a presentation for a new show, this was a scripted project with puppets. The director was a big feature film guy and the things that were being looked at and the notes were very different from reality shows. Challenging and lot of fun.
LAPPG: What advice do you have for people wanting to do the type of work you do?
T: Be willing to accept and enjoy the fact you will be indoors in a dark room a substantial part of your day and your life. Doing your job well means it is invisible. If you are ok with that, it is an amazing profession, creative, technical, challenging and can be a very satisfying job. The sky is truly the limit on where your career can go, with so much work out there from Internet production, TV shows, streaming services, small feature films, and major motion picture films, the range is endless.
LAPPG: How has joining groups like LAPPG help you as a professional?
T: I am constantly educating myself, even when I am giving a lecture or doing a webinar, I am going over the material again and learning more. I am always looking for ways to make things faster and that allow me more time to do things better and experiment. Coming to LAPPG meetings are always interesting. If I walk away with one or two new tricks it was worth it. Don’t forget the door prizes! I won my first paid DaVinci Resolve license at LAPPG.
LAPPG: How have you passed the time at home during the Covid-19 pandemic?
T: I waited until my office was empty and went back to work, I have been the only person in a giant office suite all by myself. During the past three months, I finished the entire season two of Songland on NBC and I am halfway through World of Dance on NBC, as well as some consulting work on Legendary for HBO Max.
LAPPG: What skills and abilities does someone need to do to be a good colorist?
T: Be a techie for starters, the most basic aspect of colorwork is highly technical, you need to be able to run extremely complex software on very expensive setups so getting up to speed fast is a must. Attention to details, self-confidence, and the ability to make hundreds of little decisions and not doubt oneself. Grading software are very deep and with millions of combinations, one can go down a rabbit hole very quickly. It is paramount to be able to realize when things do not “look right” and backtrack or even start over. Also, have great communication skills, to be able to dig deep and understand what the clients are are saying about what they want. Sometimes they do not have a formulated idea and it is your job to produce the final product for them. Have an eye and be able to “make it look good”, without that it is pointless.
LAPPG: You have worked on some popular TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” “Fear Factor” and “Running Wild with Bear Grylis.” How much creativity where you allowed in finishing these projects or is it more of a polishing process?
T: My work is a combination of creative and technical work. The shows mentioned are reality shows, so in most cases, they are shot under less than ideal conditions and in less controlled environments, the important thing is to capture “the moment” of drama and how it is exposed is sometimes secondary, so my job is to even it all out. Make it look seamless, so the technical aspect of things does not take the viewer out of the story. The last thing colorists want is for the viewer to start wondering why things look a certain way, why it is too bright or too dark or the person looks sickly green, etc.
When I do my work well, it is invisible to the viewer.
LAPPG: As the Director of Cinema Sales at ZEISS, Americas you’ve been so busy over this quarantine helping to create some amazing educational content for the community. What were some of the highlights and where can we watch some of the webinars?
Snehal Patel: Yes thanks for asking! Our cinema team felt that the best way we could do something for the industry, was to offer education and conversations at a time where people were stuck at home or unable to do their regular gigs. That was the onus behind creating the #LearnFromHome hashtag and Conversations playlists on our regional YouTube Channel. To let people know we had stuff for them to watch and participate in. The main activity is a series of Zoom conversations with renowned cinematographers like Matty Libatique, ASC, Nancy Schreiber, ASC, Mihai Malamaire Jr., and many others. We schedule the conversations once a week and allow participants to join the call and ask questions during the Q & A. The quality of participants is very high and we always have lots of great questions asked to our guests. Anyone can be listening, by the way. It’s always surprising and nice to see some other “celeb” cinematographer listening in to the convo because they like hearing their friends talk about their work. It’s a lot of fun and very informative. Our team learns as much from the convos as anyone else.
Additionally we have a series of videos available to learn about topics like cinematic look, and a presentation about the new ZEISS Radiance lenses & the development of custom flares.
LAPPG: What’s some of the feedback that you’ve been receiving about the new ZEISS Supreme Prime Radiance Lenses?
SP: Cinematographers (DPs) that have filmed with them, really love the look the provide. You can see the results with shows like Fargo, Season 4 with Chris Rock. DP Dana Gonzales, ASC and other DPs that worked on the show, used the Radiance Lenses as the primary set for the whole season. Jon Joffin, ASC utilized the Radiance on the last two episodes of Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem. This show can be streamed on Hulu. Quite a few other DPs have used the lenses for feature films, television shows, music videos and commercials. These lenses have the beauty and pleasing characteristic of the Supreme Primes, but with the added flare characteristics that were scientifically designed to match amongst the set of seven focal lengths. There will be more exciting productions to come and we have extended the sale of the limited-edition Radiance lenses for a bit longer.
LAPPG: How have the Supreme Primes been doing over the last year – being used on various film and TV projects?
SP: The Supreme Primes are doing quite well as they are a popular choice for those that are utilizing ‘full frame’ type of sensors in cameras like the Alexa Mini LF, Sony Venice, RED Monstro and other cameras such as Panavision’s DXL2. The lenses are available in PL or LPL mount, making them compatible with not only the new sensor technology, but also for Super35 style cameras, both digital and analog. In terms of productions, the Supreme Primes are everywhere. There are plenty of feature films, television shows, commercials shot with these lenses. Our rental house customers are happy with the response from the market. You can catch a lot of trailers on our YouTube playlist. Be sure to check out HBO’s upcoming series Lovecraft Country, which was filmed with Supremes by Robert McLachlan, ASC and the other DPs on the show.
LAPPG: Aside from your day job, I know you’ve helped produce some exciting projects including the SXSW 2020 Special Jury Recognition Stucco. What was your biggest highlight for that project; and what other projects do you have on tap when production gets back in full swing?
SP: Stucco was certainly special for me because I got to work with an old friend. Janina Gavankar and I go way back and she had recently helped produce a short film for the ARRI Alexa LF camera. Since we had done projects together in the past, which were well received, I knew she probably had some idea up her sleeve. For ZEISS and RED, we needed a short film to highlight the in-camera recording of ZEISS XD lens metadata. It was a new feature for RED DSMC2 cameras, to be able to see and record extra information about lens shading and distortion characteristics for Visual Effects and other applications. Producing the short for both ZEISS, and as a personal passion project, was challenging for sure because I was much more involved than normal, but it was well worth it in the end. The film has a fantastic look, thanks to cinematographer Quyen Tran, and both the practical effects (that got us the SXSW award) and digital visual effects are seamless and quite well done. But nothing is important without a good story and that is where Janina and Russo, the writers and co-directors, really nailed it. Plus, Janina’s performance as the lead was quite good. The reception has been excellent at film festivals, and by now it has multiple features on streaming and online platforms. You can watch the film on the ALTER YouTube channel for free.
For ZEISS, I get to participate in multiple production projects when we create content to help promote our cinema lens solutions. I’ve worked with a lot of great directors and cinematographers in the past like when we recently produced a short film with Rodrigo Prieto, ASC for the Radiance lenses. A new, upcoming short this is really exciting for me is one created for the CP.3. It’s one that shows how these lenses can capture beauty and will be released soon through our marketing team. The film was shot by cinematographer Beth Napoli, who I have been trying to work with for a long time!
LAPPG: Although you’ve been working lots from home over the last few months, have you had the opportunity to explore or work on any side projects, or learn any new tools or techniques to help you as a filmmaker?
SP: Yes, one cool thing I did while at home is pick up my old Canon Super8mm camera and shoot a short film at home. Luckily, I live with an actor, so we put our ideas together and came up with a one minute short film called DateNite with her as the lead. It was like being back in film school because I limited myself to one roll of Super8 film from Pro8mm in Burbank. The film stock was Kodak 500T, cut and spooled into a Super8 cartridge. At 18 frames a second, you only get three and a half minutes of footage. Every shot had to be well planned and practiced before taking. We couldn’t afford to do more than two takes most of the time, as the film gets used up quickly. I took time with lighting and metering, as well as checking the focus like a million times. Using a tripod for most of the shots helped a lot. I used tungsten Fresnel lamps and a soft box for lighting. We shot over three separate days and took our time with the setups.
Pro8mm processed and scanned the film in 4K quality. I asked for ProRes files, but you can get uncompressed image sequences if you want. Editing was done in Adobe Premiere. The scan was not in log but a low-con version of Rec709. Which was great because I was able to add tone and contrast with the Lumetri color plugin. The colors came out nice in the end and I’m happy with cut, music and storytelling. It was such a great exercise to do because creating a short film from concept to reality with only yourself and one other person is challenging but so rewarding. It reminded me why I love this vocation so much and why I am in this profession.
LAPPG: You spend a lot of time with Directors of Photography in the business. What do you think are the attributes and skills that make someone successful in that field?
SP: Perseverance and endurance are the two qualities that I see in a lot of successful cinematographers (Directors of Photography). They are always trying to one up themselves and make their next project better than the last. At the same time, they know how to survive problems and keep going. They work hard in the trenches and oversee multiple teams on set and continue the fight for their vision in post-production. All this must be wrangled with finesse, while keeping an eye on the creative storytelling. It’s a tough job and takes quite a bit of energy.
The ones that keep at it, no matter the odds, will have more chances of success due to their sheer willpower. Plus, cinematographers are always learning. Their job is a combination of technical know-how and artistry, and they are always straddling the analog and digital worlds when combining lenses and cameras to form a package. They have a lot of choices to make when it comes to equipment, application and technique. In the end, nothing is done without people power, and the top DPs are great managers that follow their artistic instincts and know how to manipulate complicated equipment to get what they want.
LAPPG: What’s your advice for DP’s just starting out?
SP: Shoot stuff! Anything and everything. You must learn and practice for lifetime to be a cinematographer.
LAPPG: Where can the LAPPG community follow ZEISS on social to keep up-to-date with everything?
SP: You can find us at:
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