I was only able to make it to a few of the Post Production Master Class sessions, brought to us by Createasphere, this past Thursday and Friday but the panels I did get to were worth the trip to midtown. The Master Class was part of this year’s Entertainment Technology Expo New York. The expo took place last Tuesday and Wednesday (9/20 & 9/21) and continued with the Createasphere Post Production Master Class option on Thursday and Friday afternoon. I had never been to any of the expo before but had been curious. For me, this time had to be limited because of my work schedule but it did give me a taste of at least what some of the Thursday and Friday panels were like. Next year I’ll check out the expo itself, which is actually free of charge.
Since I attended a handful of the The Post Production Master Class events, I’ll just cover the highlights here. The two afternoon sessions on Thursday, which were each about an hour and a half long were good. The Experts Panel consisted of studio post heads, facility leaders and organization leaders. They discussed the current climate of technology and the challenges they face within it.
Richard Friedlander, Co Founder and VFX Producer at Brainstorm Digital, Joe Beirne of PostWorks NYC and Orbit Digital, Terry Brown, CTO at Mega Playground and Michel Suissa of The Studio, B&H all gathered and spoke about everything from the qualitative difference between consumer and professional filmmaking and how cutting costs at the production stage, more often than not, costs more money at the post stage.
There were a couple of themes though that seemed to run through this session and those were how acquisition has changed because of all the recent developments in camera technology and how essential production communication is between its players. Also how these two subjects are intertwined.
The discussion on the camera centered around the fact that new technology is a good thing, however, don’t take it for granted. In other words, pre-production planning is very important in order to save headaches and further costs later. Talk to the post production team before shooting. Budgets are getting cut more and more because of the economic climate but also because many believe that with new technology, in say cameras, will allow for cutting costs in other areas, such as lighting. Not often the case.
There was talk about how difficult it is to use many different formats in one project, which of course is also about all the different acquisition choices available now. As Mr. Suissa pointed out that sometimes it’s necessary and he mentioned high-speed cameras as an example, but in many cases it’s good to avoid multiple formats. It has been my own experience that just because software allows us to incorporate many different mediums, doesn’t mean the quality of the image won’t suffer in the long run from compression and/or conversions.
With the points made about cameras, points were also made about quality. There are limits, one panelist said. Standards have unfortunately dropped dramatically. Michel Stuissa made an excellent observation and that is, “If there is quality in the beginning, there’s quality at the end”. This makes for a good segue into the importance of interconnectivity of the discipline, as Chris, the moderator of the session brought up.
Cinematography is a big part of editing and so should the two departments cuss and discuss before getting started. Speaking from experience, this would be huge for me if I could talk to the shooter in advance. Unfortunately, I often join the crew toward the end of the process. I don’t even know I’m on the job until it’s been completely shot or maybe a shoot or two is left. The idea of talking to a videographer before anything is shot sounds luxurious. I urge filmmakers, even those very independent no-to-low budget documentary artists, to discuss their formats with both their cinematographer, and at least an experienced editor, even if they're not the one to cut your piece. It may make things easier for everyone involved, and as mentioned above, cheaper.
All the discussion was interesting, but I must admit since I work in documentary, I should mention what Joe Beirne had to say about truth storytelling filmmaking, which is simple but thought provoking. Beirne said, "You don't want the viewer to be any more aware of the process". I don't think people always consider that with documentary, but it is good to keep in mind. He also mentioned how filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles brothers really knew their 16mm medium. In fact, the panelists in general really spoke highly of film as opposed to digital video, even though video is pretty remarkable now. The look film gives seems irreplaceable, but also I think the point was that there is great value in understanding whatever medium you are working with and knowing it well.
Which brings me to the other panel, which was a definite highlight and that was The Keynote Conversation: Ed Lachman, ASC and Sam Daley from Technicolor - exploring the Creative Workflow. Ed Lachman's credits are long and impressive and although I was unaware of Sam Daley, he clearly knows his stuff based on last Thursdays session and he wouldn't be in Lachman's company for HBO's Mildred Pierce if he didn't. Mildred Pierce was the main topic of the afternoon.
Attendees were treated to live commentary by cinematographer Lachman and colorist Daley as they played and scrolled through various scenes from the 5-part mini series. From convincing HBO that 16mm film would be cheaper and just plain more beautiful, to the Neo-noir film style often used in the '70's (I'm picturing Chinatown, 1974) director Todd Haynes used as inspiration, to the unusual decision for Daley to be colorist for the dailies through the finished product (it's usually not the same person). The topics varied, but it was all about achieving artistic excellence.
What was clear with Mildred Pierce (although Lachman admitted some projects are best suited for digital, sighting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), is that nothing beats film. As Lachman and Daley pointed out (and they both come from film backgrounds) you can see texture better with film and also, film, light and shadow love one another when done right. As the clips played, there were constant mentions of how they used certain shots with particular lighting to achieve an L.A. look while shooting in New York. They pointed out certain lighting to suggest the type of light source (i.e. a street lamp or sunny afternoon when it's actually raining out), or bumping up the contrast in Kate Winslet's face to make her appear more harsh and distressed at the climatic moment in the film. It was remarkable.
It was also a delightful session listening to two people that really know their craft and obviously love talking about it. Being able to watch a recent work of theirs with so many examples of what makes cinematography and color as important as it is was inspiring. Whether you're working on modestly budgeted documentaries like I do, or full budget features, I believe the message I received from both of these panels/sessions was to plan everything possible in advance, know your formats, communicate well with the crew and don't skimp in areas you'll regret later. And again, as Michel Suissa said at The Experts Panel, "If there's quality at the beginning, there is quality at the end".