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EMMA THOMAS - Meet Christopher Nolan's producer - for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in Gotham or in Dunkirk

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Her situation is, admittedly, a little different than most of her producing peers. The “resting state” of many producers is to have a multitude of projects in various states of development or production, following the heat wherever and whenever it appears. As opposed to Emma Thomas, who at any given moment is working on one project, and that project alone. Most producers are constantly seeking and cultivating new connections and industry allies. Thomas’ career to date is the product of a single relationship that spans her personal and professional life—she’s the producer, wife and essential creative partner of visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan. A chance meeting during their first days at University College London blossomed into a decades-spanning collaboration, yielding not only contemporary classics like InceptionThe Prestige and The Dark Knight trilogy, but four children as well.

If Thomas’ role as a development producer is by its nature narrower than that of her peers, the challenges she faces in prep and production are almost certainly more expansive—service as Chris Nolan’s producer means that it’s on her to bring to life such elements as interstellar travel, dreams within dreams within dreams and a teetering-on-the-brink Gotham City. One of the few filmmaking teams who appear determined to push the envelope with every new outing, Thomas and Nolan most recently have raised the bar with their thrilling war film, Dunkirk. A compact epic, its elegant cross-cutting narrative, historical authenticity and exhilarating camera work have earned the duo some of the best reviews of their storied careers.

We were fortunate to catch up with Emma Thomas at the Dunkirk press junket at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar. For someone whose work has taken audiences to the outer and inner edges of the known universe, Thomas is reassuringly grounded and accessible. Nearly 30 years into her film career, she sounds as surprised as anyone to have wound up an essential contributor to some of the most successful and admired films of the current generation. Even amid the buzz of the junket, shes relaxed and friendly. She admits that it helps that everyone seems to really like the film, and anyway, with regard to the press, the stakes for her are lower: Nobody is that interested in producers,” she deadpans.

Not if we have anything to say about it.

I have to imagine that being in this position, as a blockbuster movie producer, was not your career target, growing up.

It never occurred to me that it was even a possibility.

So, what left turn brought you into producing?

I completely fell into it. My dad was a diplomat, a civil servant. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I assumed I was going to go into the Foreign Service like my dad.

And my first day at university, I met a guy called Chris Nolan. He had always wanted to be a director. I was really fascinated by that, because I didnt know anything about that world. It was right at the beginning of the school term time when everyone is joining lots of different clubs and societies. And he said, “I’m going to go make films in the Film Society.I thought, Well, thats kind of interesting.I mean, how do you even do that? I had no idea.

So it really started as a social thing. That was just the group of friends that I connected with. I had no idea what a producer did, but I started helping Chris make his films, and that was kind of the beginning of it.

So by the end of university, I decided I didnt want to go into the foreign office. Chris had some ideas for films, and I figured Id try and get a job in the film industry. But of course we were in England; there werent a huge number of film companies around. But there was one called Working Title. They ran an internship, where you could be a runner for two weeks for free. I did that, and afterwards got my first job with them as a receptionist. I remember my dad came down to meet me. He took me out to lunch and he had a pile of brochures from the civil service in England. I think he was pretty horrified that I had gone to university, the first one in my family to do so, and then I was taking a job as a receptionist.

But that was the beginning of it. I learned an enormous amount from watching Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner but also Jane Frazer, who was my immediate boss. I ended up working as an in-house physical production coordinator. In the meantime, on weekends, we were making our own films.

So talking about Tim and Eric and Jane, what sort of information and experience did they impart to you?

Tim and Eric, they were head and shoulders above everyone else in England at the time, making films in what I want to call an Americanway. They had very commercial sensibilities but at the same time really cared about script and the artistic integrity of their films. Jane taught me everything about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and what it takes to make a film, from how a production report works to insurance and budgeting. What was most amazing about her was that she was incredibly generous with her time and her expertise and never made me feel like I didnt have a right to ask questions. She was incredibly encouraging and Im enormously grateful to the three of them.

When the time came, Chris had finished making this film called Following, which we shot on weekends with no money whatsoever. We were looking at the way independent films were discovered in the U.S., and it seemed very much as though we needed to do the film festival thing. I was talking to Jane about what I wanted to do next and she said, Well, you could go and work on one of our productions, if you want. Or maybe you could go and work in our LA office.And of course I went straight for the LA office. That was where I needed to be if we were going to figure out how to put this film that we had made out there.

Producer Emma Thomas chats between takes with cast member Harry Styles
on the set of Warner Bros.' action thriller Dunkirk. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

Landing In LA for the first time, was there a major culture shock?

The system here is very different, with the agencies and the studios and so on.  Just learning who everyone was and how it all worked was an incredible eye-opener for me.  In the meantime, we were submitting Following to festivals. I look back now and I think, Gosh, you were so naïve.Because we really believed that if we just sent these tapes out cold, they would get discovered.  We were incredibly lucky that anyone ever watched the film or managed to pick it up from the pile.  We did manage to get Following into a couple festivals, including the San Francisco Film Festival. We had shot the film on 16mm but cut it on tape, and we had to have a print to show, which was going to cost us $6,000.  We had to raise the money. It was the most intense and insane experience of our lives because we got the print made in the UK, and our lead actor flew the print up to San Francisco. I mean, it had just been finished. He flew it out with hours to spare before our first screening at the festival.  The first time we saw this print was when it ran in the theater. I look back on it now and I think we were mad to do that.

After we had a successful screening in San Francisco we hooked up with an amazing guy named Peter Broderick who ran a company called Next Wave Films.  Peter gave us finishing funds so that we could blow the film up to 35 mm, and helped us get distribution.  We played a bunch of other festivals, while in the meantime, Chris had been writing Memento.  On the back of the small-scale success that Following had, we managed to get Memento going.

One of the great things about your and Chriscareers is that the earlier films each demonstrate a clear growth in terms of scale and production complexity.

Exactly. I would say that the leap from Following to Memento is by far the biggest leap we’ve made. When you look at Chris’ body of work on paper, you would probably think that Insomnia to Batman Begins would be the biggest leap.

I admit, that was my thought, at first.

To me, the biggest jump was actually Following to Memento, because although Memento was a miniscule budget by comparison with the films that we subsequently made, it was the first time that we were making a film with somebody else’s money. You’re no longer pleasing yourself. On Following, we could do whatever we wanted. We controlled every aspect of it. We didn’t have anyone giving us notes. I mean, it was incredible, looking back. On Memento, there were a lot of people with a great deal of money invested, and if they didn’t have money invested, they had their reputations invested. So you find yourself having to do a lot more explanation of what you’re doing.

Especially with a story like Memento.

Especially with Memento. Memento was a script that when I first read it, I remember very clearly a lot of going back and forth among the pages. It was definitely a challenging script, pushing boundaries in a very unique way, just a very different experience. All credit to Newmarket and [producers] Aaron Ryder and Jen and Suzanne Todd for taking a chance on it. It was an incredible act of faith in Chris and in the script and just ballsy beyond belief. I mean, it changed everything for us. I’m eternally grateful for that.

Producer Emma Thomas (right of center) on the set of Batman Begins, alongside director and writer
Christopher Nolan (center). Photo by David James

What about the leap from Memento to Insomnia, your first film in the studio system?

Yes, that was the first film that we worked on with Warner Bros, with Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove of Alcon financing and producing it along with Ed McDonnell and Paul Witt. I went into the project with no credit or position guaranteed, but after seeing the way I worked with Chris, Andrew and Broderick generously gave me the credit in addition to allowing us to develop our own relationship with the studio.  It was really interesting to cut our teeth on a studio film, which is a very different kettle of fish then an independent film. It was really interesting to cut our teeth on a studio film, which is a very different kettle of fish than an independent film. I mean, Memento, for example, we didn’t have distribution when we were making that film. That was a process that came later. So when we shot Memento, it was a very pure sort of production process. Whereas on Insomnia, we were already in the studio system …

You have a slot and maybe a release date

You have a slot. And in casting of the film, there are names that you have to attach. Its just a massive education.

Many producers say thats their favorite part of the gig, the way the job is a constant learning process.

Exactly. Somebody asked me a question earlier, to the effect of, How do you keep excited about your job?And I felt like, its so obvious to me! Because every two years, its like were living in a different universe. Every film has a new set of challenges and a new set of people and personalities and I think thats massively exciting.

What about the education in blockbusting franchise filmmaking, with Batman Begins?

That was definitely a kind of baptism by fire. It was a whole different level. For a long time on Batman Begins, right up until we started shooting, it was just Chris and I. There was no other producer on it. In fact, Chris wasnt a producer on Batman Begins.

Chuck Roven produced it, right?

Yes, Chuck came on to produce it with me, and we formed a great working partnership which lasted for four films, including Man of Steel, where he took the lead. But we approached it very much as we approach all of our films, which is that we keep it to as small a group as we possibly can. Particularly on set, I think that our films, whatever the size, all feel fairly similar, as stripped back as possible and really focused on the work at hand. In many ways there are a lot of benefits to making a film like a Batman film within a studio system because it’s so important to the studio that you’re never going to fall between the cracks when it comes to marketing or whatever. As long as you’re all on the same page about the film that you’re making and there’s a level of trust between you and the studio, it’s a pretty fantastic way to make a film.

I think its much harder to make a non-branded film. I mean, they dont even make films like Insomnia these days. But if you were in the $50 million cop thriller category, fighting for their attention against these huge branded properties I think would be really, really tough. So Batman Begins was eye-opening all around, but I definitely feel like we benefited from the high-profile nature of the character. Of course, that makes the pressure harder in some ways, but we felt very confident about the film we were making. As long as the core of the project is solid, then you can deal with that stuff.

I really cant reiterate it enough: Chris does produce on all of his films I think Batman Begins was the last one that he didn’t. But as a director, he is a producer’s dream. I remember Chuck saying that once—and it’s because he’s incredibly responsible and articulate in terms of what he wants. People, I think, have the notion that everything is very secret and closed-in with Chris. He does ask that we keep the circle small. But he never holds the studio at arm’s length. He brings them in, because ultimately he understands that it’s a partnership and if you fight them, they’re going to come down on you harder. It’s so much better to have an open dialogue, show them what you’re doing and bring them into the process, so that they can be invested in what it is you’re trying to achieve as much as you are.

Emma Thomas on location for Dunkirk with a multitude of colleagues,
including cast member James D'Arcy (left). Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

At this point I imagine Chris has built the trust that a studio is going to let him do what he wants to do. But earlier in your guyscareer, before you built that trust, how did you work with the studio to convince them to take the risks you felt you needed to take?

I think you just have to work harder. Were very lucky in that Chris has achieved that level of trust with the studio that has enabled him to make a film like Dunkirk, that I think another filmmaker, who wasnt in his position, might not be able to make. For that film, the process of explaining to Warner Bros. what it was about the story that we felt was the reason we should make it was a fairly easy process, because they know that when Chris says hes going to deliver something, he will deliver it.

Obviously that wasnt always the case. At the beginning of Batman Begins, for example, where we were taking the studio’s crown jewel and doing something different with it, I would say the biggest difference was in the pitching process, whether it be pitching what the story was or illustrating for them what the design was going to look like, on the car, for instance. We had to devote a bit more attention to that. To me, it speaks to Chris’ openness, which I generally don’t think people realize is a characteristic of his because they tend to think it’s all secrecy. But on that film when he was developing the script with David Goyer, we had Nathan Crowley simultaneously working in our garage in a sort of early form prep, designing an early version of the Batmobile. So when the studio read the script they also were able to look at the very early designs for the car, which was a very good illustration of how different the world was going to be.

It makes a big difference to be able to give them something concrete like that.


So, in terms of your personal and professional relationship with Chris, how does the partnership work at the various stages of production? that collaboration must operate at different levels at different stages of the project.

Definitely. I would say Im usually the first person that gets to see the script. From the moment he has an idea, hell tell me, generally speaking, what the idea is. And then hell go away, and hell write something or hell think about it. Then hell come back and tell me about it. And then Ill read the script. Ill tell him what I think. But I very much view my role as being a facilitator, someone whos there to help him achieve his vision.

Thats the producers job, after all.

That is ultimately what were here for. Being married to each other, he can be very confident that I only have one agenda, which is to make the best film that we possibly can make. I dont work with other directors. I dont work on other projects. I dont have anything else going on other than making the best film that we possibly can, and I have utter faith that the best film that we can make is going to be the one that he wants to make.

Okay. well, lets just take Dunkirk for example. From the moment he says, I think Dunkirk is where my heart is taking me,where are you? Is there a moment where you start thinking, Oh no. That means were going to have to shoot a movie on the water…?”


At what point do you start having independent ideas that you may or may not share? At what point do your producer wheelsstart turning?

From the beginning, from the moment I read the script, Im thinking about those logistical aspects. Oh my God. How on earth are we going to do this?Particularly as it related to this film. Were at the point now where I have such a good sense of how Chris is going to want to make a film that when I read the script for Dunkirk, I knew he was never going to be satisfied making this on a green screen stage in LA. I knew immediately that this was going to be the location versionwith real planes and real boats and real everything to the degree that we could get them.

Including—significantly, I have to believe—a real ocean.

Thats something we hadnt really done before. The first thing that enabled us to pull it off was finding a really fantastic marine coordinator, Neil Andrea. Because the logistical issues with shooting on water are just bananas, even assuming that the weather is goodand thats a big assumption to make when youre also shooting in Northern Europe. We were shooting on a small boat that fit maybe three actors on there at any given time and a bare minimum crew: Chris, [DP] Hoyte [Van Hoyteme], first AD, sound. I would be on there if I could be.

As well as one of the biggest cameras in existence.

Oh yeah, plus an IMAX camera! It was just so fascinating. I mean, I have this amazing visual in my head: Theres the Moonstone [a small family boat that plays a significant role in the story] and then behind it you have the safety boat, the camera boat, hair and makeup boat, stunts. I mean, just a trail of boats, one after the other. It was absolutely incredible.

It sounds like you needed your own little Dunkirk flotilla for every shot.

Exactly. And then of course the shot is all fine, but then as soon as it turns in the other direction, then all of those people and boats have to get out of the way. And then theres the question of where everyone goes to the bathroom. How does everyone eat? It took us at least 45 minutes to get out to where we were shooting every day. So we would go out there, shoot, then we had a PA just bringing lunch boxes out to everybody. Wed eat on the boat and then come in at the end of the day.

It was insane on every level. Things like boat-to-boat transfers are incredibly dangerous. So you have to be really careful about making sure that when you go out in the morning, as far as possible everyone is on the boat that theyre going to stay on. Obviously people do have to go from one boat to another. But youve got to be really careful about it. The making of the film is very important, but the most important thing is safety. Because its going to be a great film, but ultimately we want everyone to get home in one piece.

Nothing wrecks a shoot like somebody getting hurt, or worse.

Exactly. As I said, hes a producer on the film, and hes a very responsible director. Safety is paramount. Likewise, hes not a director who has any interest in making a film that doesnt have the chance to succeed. Yes, Dunkirk wouldve been a lot easier to make if wed have doubled the budget. I think there is a world in which we couldve fought to try and get more money than we ultimately asked for. But Chris never wants to make a film that is asking to fail. If we had made this film for too much money, then it wouldve made it that much harder to make a film that would be financially profitable for the studio.

Ultimately, we want to keep making films. So we were in lock step from the beginning about how much we felt was the correct amount to ask for to tell this story. We knew it was going to be extremely challenging,shoehor because we have significantly less than we had on the last few [films], given the fact that we knew we were going to be casting unknowns in a lot of key roles. And its a very English story. It doesnt feature anyone in tights and a cape.

Are you sure you couldnt have shoehorned someone in there? “Dunkirk Man” couldve really put you over the top.

Oh, I know! [laughs] But we agreed on what the budget was going to be. Then we started talking. Okay. Well, within that number, how exactly are we going to do it?Thats when we begin to get slightly more into the territory of him saying, Well, this is the way I wanted it.And I dont say, No, you cant do it that way,but what I say is, Are we really sure that thats where we want to devote our resources? Is it really going to be worth it? Are we going to, at the end of the day, feel like, Damn, we should never have spent that money there because we couldve put it somewhere else?’”

Can you recall a conversation like that that you guys had on this movie?

Theres a shot in the film where all of the little ships are approaching. Theyre on their way to Dunkirk and the Moonstone goes past a big destroyer. And theres this seemingly endless row of soldiers on the deck, all lined up on the side. That destroyer was a real French ship called the Maillé-Brézé. It cost us a lot to bring that. It was in a berth in Nice or somewhere near there, and it didnt have an engine. We had to tow it up. It was a very big deal to get it, but it was the only destroyer that we were able to get. We were getting fairly close to the shoot, but we hadnt quite pulled the trigger on it coming yet. I was asking, Are you sure? Couldnt we just do this with visual effects?We had all these other ships that kind of looked enough like destroyers that we could have made it work.

Shooting the bow from
this one, the stern from that one

Exactly. I was thinking, “Can’t we just do something like that?I really made quite a half-racket to get rid of the Maillé-Brézé. And Chris said, No, I think that this is going to be an important shot. I think its going to be a defining moment in the film. I really want to be able to see the little boats next to the destroyer.

So I gave in. Okay, fine.And when I watch the film now, for me it is a defining moment. I don’t think there’s any way that we could’ve replicated it with a visual effects solution. So I think that a big part of a producer’s job is knowing when to trust your creative partner, and I am extremely lucky in that my creative partner is somebody who is very clear about what he needs and what he doesn’t need. The fact that he is very responsible about getting rid of stuff and making compromises in other areas means that I totally trust him when he says, “No, this is something I really need.”

Another massively important part of our job as producers is working with the marketing department of the studio. At every step of the process of making our films, were bringing the studio in to see the early concept work or to see designs or just to talk about what it is that we see as being the reason for making this film. One of our jobs as producers is explaining to people whats special about this film, why they should bother to come out to the cinema and spend two hours in a darkened room looking at lights dancing off a screen. And over the course of making the film, we gradually develop that from those earlier conversations about design and concepts.

The people at the studiotheyre your first audience, basically.

Theyre our first audience. Exactly. I think that completely crystallizes what it is that Im saying. We want the studio to be as invested in this, in our film, as we are. The thing about producing, which I always think is so fantastic and fun, is that there are so many different elements to it. Other than the director, theres really no one else whos on the film from conception to beyond release. And I love that. 




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HIGHER GROUND - A Producer's Guide To High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Posted By Debra Kaufman, Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When PGA member producer Declan Baldwin signed on as line producer for the pilot of Amazon’s Z: The Beginning of Everything, he learned he would have to deliver an HDR master. “I didn’t really understand what it was,” he says. “Our initial reaction was, ‘That sounds complicated.’” Because currently only Amazon and Netflix routinely ask for an HDR master, most producers have no experience providing one and likely have a tenuous grasp on what it actually is.

Baldwin quickly got an education in the basics from Amazon post-production head Aaron Lovell, who walked him through the pipeline. Next, he made a stop at post-production house LightIron, where executive director of business development Megan Marquis, spelled out what Baldwin and the crew needed to do. “She took the fear out of it,” he says.

HDR, the abbreviation for High Dynamic Range, provides more contrast in the image, producing whiter whites and blacker blacks and resulting in more detail in highlights and low lights. Wider color gamut, which is paired with HDR, offers many more and more saturated colors. Together, the look has been described as three-dimensional and very real.

Is anyone watching HDR? Producer Erin Smith, when faced with delivering an HDR master for Man in the High Castle, recalls the team was skeptical if anyone would actually see it that way. Roundabout Entertainment senior color scientist, Jerome Dewhurst, says we already do. “We’re now seeing consumer displays, whether they are computers, phones or tablets, that are significantly brighter and show a wider color gamut than the professional reference monitors used for Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) video mastering,” he says. “Arguably we have HDR displays already in circulation, but we’ve been watching SDR-mastered content on them.”

Produced By spoke to producers, cinematographers, a colorist and two color scientists who have shepherded HDR projects to completion. This is what we’ve learned.


Start in Pre-Production

Dewhurst points out that, “From a producer’s perspective, it is possible to start thinking about HDR before post-production. For example, if you’re shooting with an ARRI Alexa, using an HDR monitor on set, it allows you to better visualize the dynamic range the camera inherently captures more clearly than can be done with conventional SDR displays.” When Smith’s team first talked about HDR, she says, “We were in a bit of a conundrum as to how it would work, how much it would cost and how people would see the benefits.” First stop for her was the post houses where she saw HDR images which “blew us all away”—and started planning ahead.

Cinematographer Tobias Datum, who shoots Mozart in the Jungle, learned he would deliver an HDR master and asked to shoot with the ARRI Alexa. “The color science is superior,” he says. “The emphasis was on having 4K resolution, but I found the resolution isn’t as key to the look of the image as color and dynamic range.” He also spent time in pre-production with Technicolor senior color timer Timothy Vincent, who had already had a lot of experience finishing HDR masters.

Vincent says that it’s not uncommon for producers or cinematographers to ask about HDR during pre-production. “They are trying to get their bearings on a new delivery and what they’ll need,” he says. His advice: First, because HDR shows more details, the cinematographer has to pay close attention on set to what’s outside the windows. “In SDR, the windows are usually blown out, but not in HDR,” says Vincent. “The results can be terrible if, for example, you see out the window and it’s a different location or time period.”

Cinematographer Tim Orr, who shot the pilot for Z: The Beginning of Everything, agrees. “I had to be more aware of the highlight detail,” he says. “Since it’s a period show, if there were elements outside the window that we didn’t want to see, I couldn’t depend on blowing the window out. I just had to assume that if I could see it with my eyes, I’d see it later.” (The pilot of Z: The Beginning of Everything was colored by Sean Dunckley of Light Iron New York; all subsequent episodes were graded in HDR by Company 3 colorist Cody Baker.)  Orr’s observation speaks to Vincent’s second piece of advice. “Look at the RAW footage more often, especially if you have things you don’t want to see outside the window,” says Vincent, who adds that he doesn’t think there’s a need for an HDR monitor on set. “If you see it in the RAW, you’re going to see it.” [Editor’s note: Many producers use RAW as a shorthand description even when the format is not technically RAW footage.  e.g., Amazon’s series store their data as LogC format (see sidebar) in ProRes 444 at 12 bits.]

At Technicolor PostWorks NY, CTO Joe Beirne advises a production to account for HDR in the aesthetic planning for the show, involving the director, cinematographer and scenic designer. “Ideally, you would do hair and makeup and camera tests through both the SDR and HDR pipeline,” he says. “I would try—in a modest way—to find a way to allow cinematographer and DIT to review HDR on set or at the color facility during the shoot. Where possible, take versions of the cut as it evolves and “flip” it into HDR space, just to put eyes on it. At a minimum, as early as possible in post finishing, start looking at HDR, even if there is no HDR master (yet) on your delivery schedule.”


Shooting an HDR Master

The main requirement for an HDR master is a camera that can shoot RAW or LOG footage. Such cameras include the Sony F65 and the RED ONE, though the most frequently used is the ARRI Alexa, which was utilized on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, Z: The Beginning of Everything and Man in the High Castle among others. ARRI CEO/President Glenn Kennel notes that the ARRI Alexa cameras have always captured HDR, with 14.5 stops, slightly more than film captures. “Every Alexa camera is HDR ready,” he says. “HDR is about getting more out of the camera and allowing creatives more range to work with.”

“ARRI believes that HDR is a game-changer in terms of delivering higher quality TV programming,” he adds. “It’s much more impactful than going from HD to 4K. It allows the creative people to take the dynamic range they were already capturing and move that from the set to the screen.” Cinematographers, for example, enjoy the extra creative possibilities of being able to capture HDR and its wide color gamut. Datum reports that the third season of Mozart in the Jungle starts in Venice, Italy on an overcast day. “In the HDR version, there is so much more definition and gradation in the clouds that the image feels almost three-dimensional,” he says. “It brings out so much more texture, especially in the highlights. There’s a lot of dynamic range, which looks spectacular.”

Dailies during production become especially important. “I always advise producers to do a test, taking first-day dailies and timing selects in SDR and HDR,” says Vincent. “Then they can know right away what they’re dealing with.” Producer Baldwin notes that, “Most cinematographers, at least the ones I worked with, are excited about shooting in RAW.” As a producer, he says, he always wants to know the value for the storytelling. “I’m a fan of the format that best serves the film, although we defer to filmmakers,” he says. His caveat is that shooting data-rich RAW footage resulted in higher costs for storage cards, as well as somewhat greater effort to back it up. But Baldwin understands the rationale behind HDR; Amazon, he says, is “thinking about the future.” As people see HDR images, they become converts. Producer Smith reports that her post producer liked it so much that he now has an HDR monitor at homeand “absolutely loves it.”


HDR in Post

Although most of the post-production focus for HDR is in the color correction suite, Technicolor PostWorks’ Beirne has seen how HDR impacts the way edits read. “Your attention doesn’t always carry through the cut in the same way in the HDR grade,” he says. “In a traditional Hollywood style of filmmaking, the edits are meant to be invisible. An HDR finish ideally doesn’t change that, but your eye may be drawn to an unexpected part of the frame as the scene dynamics change.” The solution, says Beirne, is always to be “sensitive to the cut.” “Higher dynamic range, both within the frame and within the sequence, gives increased power to the filmmakers and adds additional scope to post,” he says. “It’s both a challenge and opportunity to do more perceptually. Account for HDR throughout the process and everyone will benefit.”

Whether the HDR or SDR master is created first depends on the flavor of the HDR master being created. For Dolby Vision, the colorist starts with HDR, says Vincent, and if the end result is HDR10, he starts with the SDR version. Vincent says he prefers to start with SDR “because most people are watching the SDR version. You can do two independent grades with independent color decisions,” he says. Beirne believes there is merit in both approaches. “But when you have a chance to do the HDR grade first, we found that we learned a lot and were able to carry that through into the SDR version,” he observes. “If you do the HDR grade first and it’s carefully accounted for by everyone in the process, the creative vision of the project is established there.”

Occasionally, a project gets an HDR master after the fact. That’s what happened to Manchester by the Sea, acquired by Amazon, which then ordered an HDR master. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes had shot in RAW, thus “banking” a potential HDR version later. Neither Technicolor’s Vincent nor Declan Baldwin (a producer on Manchester as well as Z) wanted to create a version that felt dramatically different from the SDR version; this movie was a case when HDR’s eye-popping colors were not appropriate. “My philosophy is that whether you watch in SDR or HDR, you should get the same emotional response,” says Vincent. “HDR is a heightened version, but it doesn’t have to feel heightened. I will dial it back and keep coming back until it feels the same.” [Editor's note: Manchester by the Sea was colored at Technicolor-Postworks NY by colorist Jack Lewars.]


In Conclusion

Despite first-time concerns over the creation of an HDR master, Smith says her experience was “pretty smooth sailing.” The only major change, she says, was “doing the two frame-by-frame color timings,” adding “that requirement might change in the future.” Although Baldwin still has misgivings about the necessity of an HDR master, if it’s a requirement, “embrace it fully and turn your attention to the experts.” After all, he notes, “There are many post houses already doing it. It’s quite manageable and really not that scary.”

Beirne provides an analogy. When archaeologists discovered that the classic Greek marble statues had been painted, artists such as Rodin thought it was impossible. “They thought of the white marble as the beautiful thing,” he says. “But those great marble sculptors painted the statues to make them look like people. People have felt that HDR was like painting the marble—that it isn’t really necessary. But what we’ve discovered is the opposite. In many if not all cases, it’s the highest quality you can get. To have this really rich original has turned out to be very important.”

HDR Glossary 

High Dynamic Range has been captured for years by film and by an increasing fraction of digital cameras. With HDR, images can be displayed brighter and show more detail in both shadows and highlights at the same time, resulting in an image much closer to what human beings actually see.

Wide Color Gamut, although distinct from HDR, comes paired with it. As the term suggests, it offers a greater range of colors, covering a wider spectrum with greater saturation. SMPTE Rec. 2020 covers a wider color gamut than either Rec. 709 (Standard SDR TV) or P3 (current Digital Cinema.)  

Dolby Vision is a proprietary version of HDR that differs by using dynamic metadata to “talk” to a Dolby Vision TV set and automatically adjust the content to the appropriate light levels for that display. This HDR version also specifies 12-bit color depth and allows for a peak brightness of as much as 10,000 nits. (A standard SDR TV is calibrated to 100 nits.)

RAW footage is unprocessed data directly from a camera’s image sensor, with no video processing.

LOGC fORMAT is a format similar to RAW, which appears without a display LUT (Look-Up Table) applied to it. It’s a very robust format, with uncompromised dynamic range, often favored by producers for TV workflows, due to its file size being considerably smaller than that of pure RAW footage. 

HDR 10 is an open standard, created by a consortium of device manufacturers (including Sony and Samsung) to work around Dolby’s proprietary system. It supports 10-bit color and is generally mastered with a peak brightness of 1000 nits. HDR+ is an initiative of Amazon and Samsung, incorporating dynamic metadata into the HDR10 open standard. 

HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) is another HDR flavor, this one created by the BBC and NHK and intended to support HDR in live broadcast. It uses the traditional gamma response of television for the lower end of the tonal scale and switches to logarithmic encoding for the brighter part, and so has some compatibility with existing production and consumer equipment.

PQ Curve—The Perceptual Quantization curve draws on research into human contrast sensitivity and attempts to make most efficient use of available bit precision to avoid noticeable quantization artifacts in an encoded HDR image. Both HDR10 and DolbyVision encode HDR images in PQ values (SMPTE ST 2084.)

Tags:  feature  hdr  high dynamic range 

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GOOD SPORT - Mike Tollin Extends His Winning Streak With "Chuck"

Posted By Spike Friedman, Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mike Tollin’s office at the Mandalay Sports Media headquarters in the hills of the San Fernando Valley is less a workspace and more a shrine to sports history.

Tollin works below a display case of signed baseballs from an array of Hall of Famers and American presidents. On another wall, he has the game on, even at noon on a Wednesday. 

Buried in bookshelves next to his desk are bits of memorabilia connected to his beloved Philadelphia Phillies and the team’s lightning-rod, 1960s star, Richie Allen, whose story he says he wants to tell more than any other. This is a project he’s been dreaming on for decades and working on for years, one about which he says, only half jokingly, “Once I’ve told this one, I’ll be done.” He has Sixers memorabilia from the only sports championship he got to celebrate as a child. He has pictures of his family with the families of his childhood heroes.

He has custom memorabilia from the sets of Summer Catch and Radio, which he directed, posters of most of his feature films including both Chuck and The Zookeepers Wife, his most recent releases, which mark a return to scripted film for Tollin. The contents in the room are personal and meaningful. The memorabilia he surrounds himself with wasn’t acquired on eBay and it isn’t for show. Tollin lives his connection to his work, and his work has a profound connection to sports.

Tollin’s earlier work was more varied, his focus split between what he referred to as the twin pillars of stories about sports and youth culture. Working with his former producing partner, Brian Robbins, Tollin brought shows such as All That, Smallville and Arli$$, and movies like Wild Hogs, Varsity Blues and Hardball to the screen. But after the two parted ways amicably a decade ago, Tollin’s work came to focus on narratives based on sports. 

In an effort to stay ahead of the market forces that were changing the models that Tollin had been operating under, he partnered with kindred spirit and powerful ally, Peter Guber, to form Mandalay Sports Media, five years ago. That meant scripted films, television series, documentaries and branded content all with an eye toward sports. “Brian and I had always been crossover artists,” Tollin observes, “But now with the diversification of media, there were only more worlds to cross between.”

Tollin’s work has made him a powerful enemy as well. His office has only one piece of memorabilia turned backwards, away from where he works. “It’s out of protest,” Tollin explains, then shows me the piece. It’s a letter that he sent first to Donald Trump, in the wake of his ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL? The answer to the titular question was Trump, and he was none too pleased. In Trump’s words it was, “a third rate documentary—and extremely dishonest (as you know).”

But Tollin wasn’t just taking uninformed potshots at the now-president. He had worked with the USFL when he was just coming up as a producer, and that meant working with Trump. “Back then, Trump was desperate for any publicity,” he recalls, “and we were making a weekly show about the league, and he was great fodder. We’d go up to the box and there was Ivana, and he’d play to the camera and be colorful. We spent a lot of time together. And it was a little creepy but it was both business and a little seductive.” Despite this connection, when he set out to make the documentary, Trump initially stonewalled Tollin. After Tollin told 30 for 30 producers Bill Simmons and Connor Schell that they may not have Trump, they were undeterred and told him to keep pursuing it.

Though Tollin’s instinct was to pull a Roger and Me and track down Trump at one of his golf courses, he got lucky. A story by John Genzale in the Sports Business Journal about the upcoming 30 for 30 slate caught Trump’s eye. The next day the phone rang; Trump was ready to go on camera. Tollin rolled every moment they had of Trump—including his inevitable storm-out, in which Trump refers to the whole endeavor as “small potatoes,” giving the film its title. The producer got what he needed to tell his story and pissed off the future president of the United States all in one fell swoop.

The anecdote is a testament to the twin hallmarks of Tollin’s work, his authenticity and his tenacity. Both are on display in his most recent feature, Chuck.

Chuck tells the true story of Chuck Wepner, a former mid-Atlantic heavyweight contender who went 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali. If that story sounds familiar, it’s because it served as the loose basis for Rocky, and Wepner’s having to live with being the basis for a more popular, fictionalized version of himself is the crux of the film. “Chuck’s interesting because at its core it’s the myth of narcissus,” Tollin muses. “He is the rare man who gets to see his own reflection as a fictional character.” Heightening this is the film itself, in which Chuck is played by Liev Schreiber, a reflection of a reflection. “I mean, the character Rocky Balboa has been inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. And now Chuck’s seeing Liev play him too.”

The journey for Chuck’s story to reach the big screen was an arduous one. Tollin acquired the rights over a decade ago, after reading an article about Wepner. “The great thing about Chuck, here’s a guy who was nicknamed the Bayonne Bleeder, a punching bag on the way up for big-name fighters. But today he’s 77. He works out every day. He’s still telling the same stories with the same sharpness. There’s real joy to share this with him and not do it in his memory.” 

The film also lines up with Tollin’s notions about how and when to fictionalize a true story. There are of course the obvious practical questions about whether the needed footage exists. But there’s also the question of how iconic his main character is. Do people have an image in their head of the subject of the film? If that character is Coach Carter, you can cast Samuel L. Jackson. But if that character is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? There’s no actor who can play that role without being distracting.

In some cases this has led to a hybridized approach within his projects. The ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning mixed archival footage with performances from Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner and John Turturro as Billy Martin to tell the story of the Yankees 1977 World Series run and the turmoil that surrounded it. Chuck was envisioned the same way, a blend of real footage and new material.

However, when the opportunity to assemble a straight documentary on Wepner presented itself under the 30 for 30 banner, Tollin took it. This meant reenvisioning Chuck (then being developed under the working title The Bleeder) as a fully scripted film. They next got Schreiber attached to what wound up being a 12-year journey, while in partnering with Avi Lerner and Millennium, they found an unlikely but receptive match. Ironically, the documentary hews closer to the structure of a more conventional feature. But in the final cut of Chuck, the last real boxing scene sits at the end of the first act. With less reliance on archival footage, there’s more room for authentic human storytelling.

Chuck, like its subject, is scrappy but with considerable and unexpected staying power. In many ways it’s a small film that reveals its true intentions gradually, behind a set of great performances. While it works on the big screen, it also fits in the living room and seems a good bet to recoup its budget on the strength of cable and streaming deals. Within a shifting media landscape, this can be a model for bringing a hungry audience the type of stories that Tollin is most interested in telling.

To this end, Mandalay Sports Media, in partnership with IMG, has announced a 10-feature slate of scripted and documentary films about sports. “The middle ground where we used to make movies like Varsity Blues or Coach Carter has been shrinking,” Tollin recognizes. In spite of those structural changes on the business side, his belief is that there is still a clear audience appetite for these narratives, even if the audience is more localized. The first film under the IMG deal is an adaptation of Chad Harbach’s best-selling novel The Art of Fielding, to be directed by Craig Johnson.

“It’s fun though,” Tollin is quick to share. “I have a partner, Pete Guber, and even though he’s a decade older than me, he’s so tech savvy. He plays this role with his teams. Peter goes to the games and looks at the experience, the entertainment value, how the team is positioned in the community. So he’s a great strategic partner for me when we talk about how to do a project.” Guber’s passion for these stories helped shape the slate of films Mandalay is going to produce.

The inherent tension that lives at the heart of any sports movie is that unlike sports, which are never-ending unscripted dramas, a film (whether scripted or not) has to have a prescribed ending. When I ask Tollin about this, he admits to being increasingly detached from games themselves. “For me, sports? It’s a commonality. It’s a universal language. I love using sports as a backdrop, not so much because of the inherent drama, but because of the universality. The intergenerational qualities. It’s the fabric of our society.” 

He pauses, then adds, “Clichés happen for a reason. I used to sit with my grandfather in his retirement home. And at 7 o’clock he’d ask me to wheel him in his wheelchair over to the radio. And he’d turn it on. And he’d sit there and fall asleep listening to the Phillies game. This is before Harry Callas, even. It didn’t matter that they were usually 20 games out of first place. But there is that quality to sports that washes over you. You know the stakes. You know the good guys. You know who you’re rooting for. There are real connections.”

For Tollin, sports are a conduit to the type of stories he wants to tell. When I ask him if he thinks of himself as a historian, given his tendency to shed a light on under-remembered stories like Chuck, Radio or his potential Richie Allen film, he demurs. “Storyteller is an overused term now,” Tollin reflects, “but I do like to expose a certain kind of story. And many of them have a historical component to them. I like to think these stories are illuminating, inspiring … thought-provoking, if we’re lucky. But sometimes they’re just clean fun.” 

-Photographed by Michael Neveux
- This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Produced By magazine.

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21st CENTURY WOMAN - The Times May Change, But For Anne Carey, The Great Stories And Characters Remains The Same

Posted By Justine Neubarth, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When I asked Anne Carey, independent film producer and president of production at Archer Gray, how her job had changed over the course of her multi-decade career, I suppose I was expecting a sweeping response studded with words like “the internet” and “Amazon” and also “Netflix.” But given the question, she considers for several moments—she is nothing if not thoughtful—and then responds that no, at its heart, her job hasn’t transformed much at all. “Where the money comes from has maybe changed, the number of distributors, and the ways it’s distributed has waxed and waned,” she explains. “But I think to some degree, to me, it’s remained pretty much the same: You find a great piece of material or what you believe is a great piece of material. And you begin the process of creating centripetal force.”

For Carey, who is behind beloved features like Adventureland and The Savages, and more recently Diary of a Teenage Girl and 20th Century Women, creating that force—and crafting a narrative—is at the core of what she does. The daughter of a schoolteacher (her mother) and an army doctor (her father), it was a requirement to always be reading a good book (her mom’s rule) and to always be able to tell a good dinner table story (her dad’s). “Out of that,” she says, “came a love of storytelling.”

And sure, she concedes that where the storytelling happens has morphed a bit, or as she puts it: “Television has become where people sit and talk, and movies have become where people in tights blow stuff up.” She points to shows like Transparent, which “15 years ago would have been a movie.” Still, her process has remained consistent. She parses it out: “You work with a filmmaker who’s got their idea, and you help them figure out the version of it that the world is interested in, and you have to do that at the right price point. And you have to have great roles. That part hasn’t changed at all.”

A product of the Midwest and “rust belt cities of grit and good food,” Carey initially studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art. There she began making shorts of her own, working with a friend on “Stan Brakhage-type movies.” In order to study film as a major, she applied to transfer to USC, UCLA and NYU. She got into all three, and then in addition, she got into a car accident. “It was like a sign from God that I shouldn’t have a car,” she deadpans. And so, New York it was.

Upon graduation from NYU as a film/writing major, she took a string of “completely unremarkable jobs,” including waitressing and writing “horrible” alliterative marketing packages for MCA TV. (The one perk of that gig: calling Lew Wasserman and giving him the Nielsen ratings every morning.) On the side, Carey wrote screenplays, but they were, in her own words, terrible. “I was undisciplined,” she admits.

The big break came when she landed a position as the assistant to Phyllis Levy, the in-house book scout at William Morris. Levy, a Radcliffe grad and “a classic kind of New York woman”, hunted down manuscripts from New York publishers and literary agents and sent them out to William Morris’ A-list clients. “We probably covered about 400 books a month,” Carey recalls. “We had a reader for comedies, a reader for thrillers, a reader for women’s fiction.

From Levy (who herself had championed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest back when she was just a publishing assistant at Viking Press), Carey learned how to look for movies within books. “It was really, I felt in some ways, my graduate school experience. It was very hands-on, and you could see what was going on in theater and TV and packaging. It was all at your fingertips.”

Carey still considers whittling a movie from a book to be one of her great strengths. She looks for decisive endings because, “If the book doesn’t have a movie ending, your movie will never have an ending.” Period. She also reads for castable parts, highly specific worlds and simply for “stories that I am interested in.” Admittedly, that “seems very basic, but it’s very true. You live with these things for a long time.” Recently, she lived alongside 2015’s Mr. Holmes for quite awhile, having optioned the 2005 novel upon which it was based, A Slight Trick of the Mind, before publication.

While Carey self-deprecatingly describes her early attempts at writing as “lazy,” even she will admit that she is a “pretty good” reader. So good in fact, that when Levy departed William Morris, they placed Carey in charge of the literary development department at just 27 years old. After a year, she felt that she had gotten the most that she could out of the experience. She wanted to be closer to film production. She didn’t want to be an agent. And so she left.

Carey notes a somewhat prophetic letter that her father had recently dug up in his house. She had sent it home during her very first month at NYU. It read: “New York’s going okay. I think I’m figuring out this film school thing. I met a kid named Ted Hope. He’s likely to be a friend.”

She had met Hope, now the head of production for Amazon Original Movies, during her first class on her first day at NYU. Right around the time that she left William Morris, Hope, along with fellow producer James Schamus, was starting up the production company Good Machine. Once they had gotten a first-look deal at Fox Searchlight and they could pay Carey (“I wasn’t someone who could be in the film business and not earn money.”), she joined them as their head of development. Eventually she produced her first film, an adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO.

From the time it opened its doors in 1990 until its acquisition by Universal Pictures in 2002, Good Machine was a force in independent filmmaking, championing features like The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. “It was a great, great, great group of people,” Carey says. “One of the things I always say to students now when I teach is this idea of ‘the independent producer’—it doesn’t mean that you’re alone. You can’t really produce alone. I think I’ve had great partners, whether it was Phyllis Levy or the people at Good Machine, who were just great collaborators.”

In the midst of Good Machine’s rise, Carey also had children. Now that her sons are grown—one is out of the house, and one is a teenager—she’s eager to speak to the delicate balance of being a mother and handling a producing career. “I would tell anybody who asks that it’s hard. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not hard,” she warns. “Find the balance that works for your family. Like, I didn’t ever want to come home and have my kids be asleep, so I’d have my kids take a nap and then we’d all have dinner at 8 o’clock. Whatever works for your family still works for your family, and don’t worry about what other people tell you should work for your family.”

She remembers calling up the offices of Good Machine even on her way to the hospital to give birth to her first son and telling them offhandedly to read a script that she thought was good. When she came back to the office a few months later, she discovered that they hadn’t just read the script but had optioned it, for no other reason except “They felt like ‘if she’s calling on the way to the hospital, she must be really serious.’” Carey sighs. “It was never made.”

Carey arrived at Archer Gray, a production company founded by venture capitalist Amy Nauiokas, in 2013, with a “sort of Willy Loman suitcase full of movies.” In the four years since, the company has produced seven films, and Carey is now working on the upcoming Can You Ever Forgive Me, starring Melissa McCarthy, directed by Marielle Heller and with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener.

Anne Carey hosts sons Nico and Jack on the set of The American
Right: video assist Mickey Bergstrom

I asked Carey about the importance of buoying women in the industry throughout their careers. “I don’t know that I’ve actually set out to help women filmmakers more than I’ve set out to help any other filmmakers,” she responds after another thoughtful pause. When she produced The Diary of a Teenage Girl at Archer Gray (in conjunction with Caviar and Cold Iron Pictures), she greatly enjoyed the singular atmosphere that arose from the sheer abundance of women on the set, including the line producer, the first AD and the second AD. “There’s something about that that I think is lovely, because I think it’s a different environment.” But Carey observes, she felt like she could also help men be better artistic partners as well. “I think the men need to evolve,” she suggests. “I think the women are fine. We have the skills, we have the talent, we’re equal. I actually think we should start concentrating on fixing the men.”

I want to be clear: Many men get it,” Carey continues, pointing to filmmaker Mike Mills and her experience producing last year’s acclaimed 20th Century Women. For Carey, who believes it is her “responsibility as a mother of two boys to raise evolved sons,” the mother-and-son story resonated with her, as did the late-‘70s period. “My mom knew many of those same kind of women, in the same kind of era. I felt like I had two possible contributions to make in this, in that I had been both this side of the story and I had been that side of the story.” She had worked with Mills on the script development for his first feature, Thumbsucker, and she spent a lot of time— a few hours every other Sunday for a couple of years—developing the 20th Century Women script with him. “A lot of it is just listening to him and helping him talk,” she said. “Mike talks to a lot of people and has a lot of influences, but I was excited to be invited into that process. It was super rare and intimate.”

And when it’s all said and done, Carey views her job in straightforward fashion: “It’s fun making movies. It’s not coal mining.” Her husband is an editor at the Wall Street Journal, and he provides a nice foil to her film life (or as she puts it, “He laughs at my fake world.”) And his line of work gives her additional insight into just how dramatic the news is in this particular moment in time. “It’s very hard to get people away from the news right now, right?” she tells others. “For something to be more interesting than the news, it has to be pretty interesting … We have to make things that resonate.”

And while so much has changed, much remains the same. The current discourse reminds Carey of when she was in art school and film school in the 1980s. “I remember thinking about Reagan and Koch and New York and thinking, ‘I just need to make stuff that chips away at that.’ And I think now is a really exciting time to make movies that, without being overly heavy-handed, improve the conversation and improve the dialogue.”

-Photographed by Ricky Rhodes

- This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Produced By magazine.

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STANDING UP TO CYBER THREATS - Time To Update The Production Workflow For Our Cloud-Connected World

Posted By Lulu Zezza , Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What’s the big deal?

Every day in the news we hear about new cyber-crimes. Many of these crimes affect us personally and directly. The Anthem Blue Cross breach of millions of customers’ identity data included those of us insured through the MPIPHP. These breaches are rarely explained, but the vast majority trace back to an employee within the organization who is used (wittingly or unwittingly) to access or infect the company information.


What’s so secret and why is it important to me?

Our productions are targets of many types of threats, from random ransomware blackmailers to leaky insiders to content pirates. The damage however is not necessarily limited to the commercial value of the production. The damage can include the identity theft from employees, the creative reputations of our artists and the personal reputations of our cast.


What production elements have been (or should be) considered confidential?

We have always considered scripts, contracts, designs, callsheets, dailies, continuity stills, raw publicity stills, employee payroll and health records as confidential.  Personal contact information on the crew list, including emergency contacts and medical information (e.g., allergies), is protected confidential information. Even so, this information is frequently shared amongst crew members—some who need it, some who may not.

Works in progress, particularly early stages of the writing and design process, are extremely confidential, even more so if they are rejected concepts that could misrepresent the goals and aspirations of the artists and the production.


How have current workflows put that information at risk?

Today we have a plethora of tools to make us more productive. Smartphones, tablets and laptops allow us to take our work anywhere, while cloud applications allow us to share with anyone. And yet, most of our systems for securing our productions work only within the confines of our physical (or as we call them, “practical”) work spaces. We tend to apply the same logic to protecting our digitally created and stored information. Unfortunately, there are many unknown and misunderstood weaknesses to our defenses.

More obvious: Someone takes pictures with their smartphone and posts them on social media. Less obvious: Someone turns their smartphone into a mobile hotspot and uses it to transfer media from the AVID.

More obvious: Someone forwards an email containing their callsheet to paparazzi. Less obvious: Someone opens a personal email with ransomware embedded, infecting the office server and everyone connected to it with data-locking malware.

More obvious: Someone’s personal and not-backed-up computer becomes corrupted and loses all their work in progress. Less obvious: The employee’s work product leaves along with them at wrap instead of that work product remaining in the company’s possession.

We are inventing smarter systems to share information, such as Filetrack, Scenechronize, 5th Kind, Pix and Aspera. These do help limit the promulgation of documents and videos to unauthorized recipients but only when we, or our crew, actively move those documents or videos into or via those systems. None of these protect our information outside of their applications.


How can we update the workflows to be more secure for our casts, crews and collaborators?

It starts with providing education and a new standard of excellence for our crew.

Systems for information management and security have met with remarkable resistance in the production community. There are numerous root causes of this resistance that can be turned into solutions.

Filmmakers are by nature, miracle workers. They are creative, independent, self-reliant and generally self-taught. They pride themselves in learning new and better solutions every day.  But they resist learning new systems which they have not discovered for themselves. Planning and setting up systems to protect data is not on their agenda—they need to be reviewing sets and props and camera setups. But if they can be included in finding the solutions and in planning the implementation, they will be vested in the plan.

Filmmakers are team players; they understand they are an essential part of a group effort. The information created on a production—creative, mundane and personal—is under constant threat. The cast and crew are the only combatants to protect that information. As a team working together with a plan of defense, they can protect that information—the same way they work together to execute the shooting schedule and the creative vision.

Filmmakers are hoarders of their work product.  Producers rely on experienced crew members to bring their accrued knowledge, which may include accumulated intellectual property from prior productions.  We engage crew with pertinent past production experience to create new and surprising methods and results.  This industry-wide reliance has resulted in generally lax enforcement of work product (IP) collection and storage by production companies.  It has also created, amongst crew members, a false notion of ownership of the IP that is in direct contradiction of every production employment agreement.  Crew resist storing their work on the company systems because they often believe (incorrectly) that it belongs to them.  Contractually, none of this work product should be repurposed on another company’s production except that the industry relies on their accumulated experience.  Currently, the general practice is for crew members to determine what work product they ‘share’ with their producers, typically only the ‘finished’ versions they want to be evaluated or used.  Thus, the crew curates what the producer gets to use—despite not necessarily knowing what the production needs. All too often, months after wrap, producers will search in vain for information they need for reshoots or marketing or chain of title backup.  We need to address this paradigm, and acknowledge that while the crew should take with them what they have learned, it should be the production company that determines what materials are appropriate for a crew member to keep, rather than the crew member determining what copies to provide to the production company.

Filmmakers are soldiers with an inherent respect for the chain of command. The role of information management typically has been handed to the youngest and most computer-savvy PA in the production office or occasionally to a local “IT guy.” These are crew at the bottom of the chain of command and often have little training in information security beyond setting a password on the wifi network.  Producers and UPMs need to recognize the complexity of this responsibility, engage someone with appropriate training and give that person “department head” status.

Beyond education, there are a few basic means which can begin to create a safer information environment. These alone do not provide a total solution, but they make strides in the right direction.

A first, simple and inexpensive action is to create a production-specific email domain and issue production email accounts to any crew member who will be creating information or accessing production information and media.

This provides several basic layers of security:

The likelihood of a phishing email scam (which tricks the recipient into opening links or attachments which contain malware) reaching the new single-purpose emails is very low.

The emails can be managed and backed up easily. In fact, if a crew member returns for a pickup shoot, their email can be reactivated and all their correspondence from principal immediately available to them.

Crew member access to the production systems such as those mentioned above can be limited to their production email account and easily disabled (along with the email account) when they wrap.

Production emails provide an audit trail to track attachments sent and to whom.

If there is the unfortunate case of a lawsuit and email correspondence is subpoenaed, it may be limited to only the production email versus pulling in the personal emails of the subpoenaed crew.

A second simple action is to provide a production-managed, enterprise-quality file sharing system. These services function just like the consumer versions of Box or Dropbox that most of our crew are accustomed to using, but provide a means to limit access and sharing permissions.

A third action, slightly more involved, is to set new policies regarding personal phones and computers, providing an alternative to relying on crew bringing their own devices (“BYOD” for short). BYODs are probably the greatest threat to information security in film production. Remember, the phenomenon of using personal phones and computers is relatively new and we managed to provide them, when necessary, before they became so cheap that every crew member had their own. Unfortunately, we came to rely on our crew BYODs before they became the powerful data broadcasters they are now. Fifteen years ago, if a producer was asked to provide a crew member with a device that could stream live HD video from the set to their social media page, the likely response would have been, “Are you crazy!?” But today, every crew member with a new smartphone has that ability.

Logically, no personal smartphones should be allowed in sensitive work areas, e.g., the set. By providing company-managed devices (computers, tablets and smartphones) to crew who are using them to create material for the production, share information with other crew and record information such as continuity on set, the company can control the services and applications the devices access.Company-managed devices can be kept up to date for anti-virus, firewall, drive encryption, backups and remote tracking or data wipe, if lost. They can be connected to the company-shared file system so photos and other data can be stored directly and instantly to the system.

A fourth step—another simple one—is to set up separate wifi service with limited access to office networks such as the office server and printers. Wifi network passwords should be known by very few people and never posted on the wall. A separate guest wifi with no access to the production network can allow visitors to check email and browse the web. Ideally, a production will limit access to the office network (server and printer) to hardwired ethernet connections. The wifi should access the internet only.

SPECIAL WARNING: Watch out for securing the office network printer-copier. Printers can now scan and email documents to anyone, anywhere. Printers are also access points for hackers to enter the network—an innocuous security weakness in the middle of the office.

More solutions are important and necessary but become more complicated and require information management and security training. So bring on the appropriate personnel to set it up and manage it! This means a new department with a new department head, but in this era of constant evolution the producer and the crew cannot be expected to be current with information threats and solutions. Some responsibilities under the purview of the “Information Management” department may be delegated out to crew who are already handling them, even unbeknownst to themselves.  Data assets (documents and media saved in digital format) might be managed by a production secretary and/or an art department coordinator and assistant editor. Fixing the printer jams and resetting the wifi router might be handled by the office PA. But the overall setup, equipment management and policy oversight should go to a person trained for the task.

These further solutions include (but as our contracts are wont to say, are not limited to):

Providing a single-sign-on secured network. Practically, this means just one username and password for crew to access all the production applications. For the information manager, it enables a single place to manage crew access to the various applications such as their production email, file sharing account or other company-provisioned software.

Providing device registration for network access. For the crew, this provides faster access to systems like the office network. More importantly, unregistered, i.e., unknown devices cannot access sensitive information.

Providing endpoint management control to computers, tablets and smartphones. For the crew, this means that their devices’ access to applications and external ports is limited to company-approved services. It also means that the device is monitored and can be remotely locked or wiped if it is lost.

Providing endpoint controls rather than air-gapping to sensitive networks such as editorial. (Air-gapping: to isolate a computer or network from the internet.) Unfortunately, air-gapping makes the activities on that system invisible. In an air-gapped editing room, a person might use their smartphone as a mobile hotspot without leaving a record of data exported.


How much should we be spending? And how much are we spending already?

There are added production costs related to securing our information, but they are less than one might imagine. Productions are already budgeting for computer and phone allowances and office networking. New costs might include:

The Information Manager—a new department head, commensurately compensated.

The domain name (nominal) and email accounts for those who are creators/contributors/users of information. Note: crew who are recipients only of production notifications, such as callsheets and even scripts, do not need email accounts. Secure methods of sharing can be used to send them these docs without granting them access to the production’s network. Email accounts run $8 to $40 per month, per person, depending on the added services such as office applications and endpoint management controls.

Data backup services to provide continuous backup of production devices and servers. There are many providers and prices range depending on amounts stored and numbers of devices backed up.

Enterprise-level file sharing services. There are numerous providers, and a production may wish to use more than one based on the different types of storage and sharing. 5th Kind, Pix, Dax and MediaSilo offer secured media sharing. Scenechronize, Egnyte, Box Platform, Citrix Sharefile, Dropbox Advanced and Enterprise offer secured document sharing. Some of these services are already part of common production practice.


What are the downsides of doing nothing?

We used to resist upgrading our operating systems because the upgrades would be buggy and incompatible with our software; they might slow us down for days, weeks and even months. Today, not upgrading your operating system is the equivalent of leaving your home’s front door wide open while you’re away on vacation. There is a battle taking place, day in and day out, between the cyber-crime world and the rest of us. It is invisible until it affects us personally and directly. It is extremely likely that our computers and phones are infected right now, until the next update to our anti-virus or operating system.

We need to accept as a community that the same threat applies to our own productions. Graeme Wood’s quote from 2009 has only become more true since: Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.”

Not taking on this challenge subjects our work to piracy, blackmail and fraud, and our personal identity to reputation and credit destruction. If that isn’t scary enough, consider the potential regulatory sanctions. As storytellers, we sometimes consider ourselves outside the normal rules and norms applied to less creative industries. But in fact, all those rules and norms apply to us as well. There are regulations that protect the information we collect about our employees. These regulations are strict in California and they are draconian in Europe. In fact, the new EU regulations, which will go into effect in May 2018, assess fines of 4% of gross worldwide revenue or 20 million euros, whichever is greater, for the misuse of EU resident personal identifying information. While our infringements may be small, a regulatory action against one of our productions can have far-reaching consequences.


What are some side benefits of adopting safer methods during production?

Adopting a designed and managed information system can provide more than just information security. It can provide many production efficiencies. The most obvious is that wrap can be a continuous process during the course of production. If all documents and media are already stored within the production shared file system, then they are already ‘wrapped.’ Eliminating all the personal storage of information and consolidating it into shared secure systems enables rapid dissemination of information to those who need it. Finding information is made easier, and restoring it to crew for pick-up shoots can be instantaneous.


If nothing else, let your approach to security be guided by the following wise words:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.

—Leon C. Megginson


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

—Albert Einstein


Join the battle to protect yourself and your productions.

-Illustrated by Christine Georgiades

Essential allies:

The Content Delivery and Security Association ( provides free guidelines.

Media & Entertainment Services Alliance ( hosts industry informational conferences.

- This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Produced By magazine.

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