Jonathan Handel, Entertainment/Technology Attorney & Labor Reporter, TroyGould and The Hollywood Reporter
Terence Curren, Founder/President, Alpha Dogs Inc.
Oliver Peters, Editor, Oliver Peters Post Production Services, LLC
Christopher Ray, CSI Colorist, Picture Shop
Mark Raudonis, Senior VP Post Production, Bunim-Murray Production
James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, doddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are looking at the current state of post-production; from individual artists, to large companies. But first, Jonathan Handel has an update on the conflict between writers and talent agencies.
Larry Jordan: Then, we start our look at post-production with Terence Curren; Founder and President of Alpha Dogs. Terry looks at the business challenges faced by smaller operators. Today is a great time for telling stories; but, can you make money out of it?
Larry Jordan: Next, Oliver Peters is the Senior Editor at Oliver Peters Post Production Services. He’s an independent artist who works on a variety of projects. Tonight, he describes the challenges in workflow and media management; along with new technology that he’s watching for the future.
Larry Jordan: Next, Christopher Ray is a Colorist at Picture Shop. He’s a specialist in episodic television and he discusses the role of the Colorist in pre-production and on set; as well as new trends blurring the lines between episodic and features.
Larry Jordan: Next, Mark Raudonis is the Senior VP of Post Production at Bunim Murray. With a focus on reality TV and producing multiple shows at once, Mark looks at the challenges of post differently. His view of the future is that providing services is no longer enough and he has a radical solution for any sized posthouse.
Larry Jordan: All this plus James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking. Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to The Digital Production Buzz; the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry; covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hello, my name is Larry Jordan. I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of our industry since before NAB actually; so this month, we decided to devote a series of shows looking at what’s happening and what to expect going forward. This week, we look at post-production; next week, we’ll talk with Producers; the week after covers cameras and production.
Larry Jordan: What I’m struck by this week is the range in opinions; some are pessimistic, others are optimistic and each of our guests is watching something different in technology and trying to plan for the future. This will be a very interesting show.
Larry Jordan: By the way, if you enjoy The Buzz, please give us a positive rating and review in the iTunes store; we appreciate your support, to help us grow our audience. But first, let’s get an update on the news with our weekly doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Happy Thursday Larry.
Larry Jordan: A wonderful Thursday to you. What’s in the news?
James DeRuvo: Well, we have some sadness in the news today.
Larry Jordan: Oh dear.
James DeRuvo: Amazon has announced that they’re killing the online Storywriter and Storybuilder tools. These free online tools were for screenwriting and storyboarding and they will be shut down effected June 30th 2019. Amazon stopped accepting project pictures through the portal for their Amazon Studios about a year ago; so it really was only a matter of time. Users are advised to download their projects, or print out their storyboards before the deadline; because, after that, they will be deleted from Amazon servers.
Larry Jordan: It seems like online collaboration tools for writers are struggling; Adobe did the same thing a couple of years ago. What are your thoughts?
James DeRuvo: It really is a pity; especially with Amazon Story where I really liked their interface. Being able to go directly to Storybuilder to create your storyboards was a pretty seamless experience. The benefit being that an online interface means that you can work on your story from anywhere; be it on a computer, or a tablet, or even an iPhone; which is where I get the majority of my ideas when I’m just, like, out and about.
James DeRuvo: But since Amazon only greenlit one story idea through the Amazon Studios portal, in five years, it kind of makes sense that they would close it down and devote their resources to other tools. Meanwhile, I suggest users go over to celtx.com and use their online service. They have access to pretty much the same tools.
Larry Jordan: Amazon’s our lead story, what’s our second story this week?
James DeRuvo: A short film competition. Ifootagegear.com is launching their first ever short film competition with $40,000 in prizes. It’s a wide open competition with the rules being that it be an original short film of three to ten minutes in length, in order to qualify for the competition. Grand prizes include a RED Raven 4.5K cinema camera package that includes the camera, a Blackmagic Video Assist 4K monitor recorder; RØDE VideoMic Pro-Plus and an aperture 120 mark two LED video light; amongst other prizes. $40,000 in prizes in total.
Larry Jordan: Prizes are wonderful, but are we getting too many video contests?
James DeRuvo: I don’t think you can have too many video contests, quite honestly. The great thing about them is, is that this enables filmmakers and content creators to practice and the more you practice, the more you find your voice. Add to that exposure; experience with film
Competitions and a free entry fee for this particular competition. All you have to lose is time.
Larry Jordan: Alright, that’s a good point. We’ll check out iFootage. What’s our third story?
James DeRuvo: Vimeo is creating a free footage section for their Stock Footage Exchange. They created the Stock Footage Exchange at the beginning of the year and they have announced Vimeo Essentials; thousands of royalty free Stock Footage clips as an incentive to all Plus members and above, who are signed up for their Stock Footage service. The cost begins at $84 annually for the Plus level membership.
Larry Jordan: It seems like we’re awash in stock footage companies; why Vimeo?
James DeRuvo: Why Vimeo? Why any of them really? But I’m all for more stock footage sites. The more stock footage portals you have available to you, the less likely you’ll get repetition of stock footage clips and that keeps filmmaking fresh, while keeping costs low. For Vimeo, in particular, at $84 a year for the Plus level, that’s not a bad deal; even without the free incentives of thousands of free video clips. Think of it this way, that’s only 15 cups of coffee from Starbucks that you can leave in your shot, just like Game of Thrones.
Larry Jordan: That is, without a doubt, the most famous coffee cup ever; but, its time in the sun is done. The editorial team at Game of Thrones has already removed it for future screening. Thinking of the future. What other stories are you and your team following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following include DJI is working on a GoPro Killer Action camera. There are instructions on our site to make a DIY LED light out of a cake pan and can you tell the difference between footage shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and an iPhone XS?
Larry Jordan: That’s an interesting question.
James DeRuvo: Yes indeed.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Where can we go on the web to learn more?
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief of doddleNEWS and joins us every week. We’ll see you next Thursday.
James DeRuvo: See you then.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel is an Entertainment and Technology Attorney of Counsel at TroyGould in Los Angeles; but, more importantly, right now, he is the Contributing Editor on Entertainment Labor Issues for the Hollywood Reporter. Covering, in-depth, the ongoing struggle between the Writers Guild of America and talent agencies. Hello Jonathan, welcome back.
Jonathan Handel: Good to be back with you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Bring us up-to-date on this whole Writers Guild/talent agencies situation. When we last talked, two weeks ago, the writers had fired their agents; the WGA was using a website for writers to find work and everybody was heading to the courts. Where are we now?
Jonathan Handel: It’s pretty much the same place, honestly. The litigation is pending; the Writers Guild did sue the four major agencies, which are WME, CAA, UTA and ICM; the four largest agencies. They have not yet filed their response to the lawsuit; that response should come within a week or two.
Jonathan Handel: The Writers Guild said that over 7,000 writers had fired their agents, out of 8,800 who had agents. None of the large or medium-sized agencies have signed the Writers Guild Code of Conduct; that’s still the status that we’re at. We’re really in this period where things are grinding along; I guess is the best way to put it.
Jonathan Handel: Some writers are starting to descent; we’re hearing from the Guild’s tactics and tone.
Larry Jordan: What are the writers objecting to? Why the descent?
Jonathan Handel: The descent is sort of two-fold. One is that, writers who object to the tone that the Guild has taken, which has been very scorched earth in terms of the rhetoric around the agencies that the agencies are cartels and that packaging fees are criminal and illegal kickbacks and it’s a corrupt system.
Larry Jordan: Pretty strong language.
Jonathan Handel: Very strong and uncompromising language, that’s right and that does not sit well with all writers; although, you know, it has sat well with a large number of them. The other thing is that there are a number of writers who have expressed to me and/or to their agencies that, when they voted in favor of the Code of Conduct, which was a 95% yes vote and the turnout was high, they felt that they were giving the Guild leverage to negotiate.
Jonathan Handel: They were unhappy and uncomfortable when they discovered that the Guild was using this as a reason to take a very strong posture and not negotiate on the issue of packaging fees, or affiliate production and simply say, we want these practices to end.
Jonathan Handel: Again, to be clear, most members of the Guild probably are supporting what the Union is doing now.
Larry Jordan: How have the talent agencies responded? Have they returned the same tone, or are they being silent? How are they fighting back?
Jonathan Handel: Well, they have not returned the same tone at all, at any time, throughout this enterprise. They have not aggressively been fighting back; you know, I think that will come with the litigation response, perhaps. You know, they’re hanging tough. Some of the medium-sized and smaller agencies appear to be suffering, or anticipating greater pain than the large agencies. You know, the large four are very diversified; they have divisions that handle sports, they have divisions that handle branding and corporate representation and of course, within entertainment, they represent Directors and Actors; even if the writers have fired them.
Jonathan Handel: The large agencies are probably better positioned, ironically, to withstand the Guild’s battle here; even though they are largely the ones that are the target of the Guild.
Larry Jordan: As you look for the next two or three weeks, what do you see happening in the near future?
Jonathan Handel: Well, in the near future, I see more of the same, plus the litigation response from the agencies. What I do think may happen next year is that, we may see the Writers Guild and perhaps the Screen Actors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, either or both, threaten to strike and perhaps go on strike against the studios. We’re in a very mobilized membership at this point in the Writers Guild and, if they can maintain solidarity for another 12 months, the legacy studios are, it seems to me, uniquely vulnerable to a strike; because they’re desperate to catch up with and topple Netflix; especially Disney.
Jonathan Handel: These companies, in particular, Disney, Warner, Comcast and NBC Universal are spending billions of dollars to set up their own streaming services and that relies on an uninterrupted supply of fresh scripted content. That makes them more vulnerable than they have been in a long time to possible strikes.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like this is going to be a long process, not a quickly resolved one.
Jonathan Handel: I think that’s right and that’s true both on the macro level, in terms of the labor disputes and also, in particular, regarding the litigation; which I don’t think is going to get bounced out of the box at an early stage. I think it’s going to continue.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan, for people that want to track this issue going forward, where can they go on the web?
Larry Jordan: Those websites again are thrlabor.com and jhandel.com and Jonathan Handel is the Contributing Editor on Entertainment Labor Issues for the Hollywood Reporter. Jonathan, thanks for joining us today.
Jonathan Handel: Thanks very much Larry.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website; thalo.com. Thalo is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world, with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works.
Larry Jordan: Thalo is a part of the Thalo Arts; a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking; performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed.
Larry Jordan: Terence Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs; a Burbank based post-production facility that he started in 2002. Terry is also the host of the Editors’ Lounge; a regular gathering of post-production professionals interested in improving their craft. Hello Terry, welcome back.
Terence Curren: Good to be here Larry.
Larry Jordan: Terry, this week we’re looking at the current state of post-production and I can’t think of a better person to start with than yourself. To set the scene, how would you describe Alpha Dogs?
Terence Curren: Alpha Dog would be a mid-sized posthouse; we’re primarily a finishing house, meaning, we do the color correction, audio mixing, graphics etc. Basically, the guys who don’t let the coffee in the background get by.
Larry Jordan: Who are typical clients and projects?
Terence Curren: Well, a lot of different stuff; but our bread and butter is reality show finishing, lower budget Indy features, documentaries, etc. That’s our primary work. Then we have a lot of spurious little side stuff; I mean, you know, we’ll do anything. We’ve been doing, you know, fixing security camera footage for police trials; we’re doing localization for a lot of different shows and things like that.
Larry Jordan: Are your typical clients independent producers? Are they going to social media? What’s their distribution outlet?
Terence Curren: Again, that varies. Most of the reality shows are cable; some of them recently have been direct streaming shows and then the Indy features are, generally, wherever they can get distribution.
Larry Jordan: Terry, you’ve talked before that these are challenging times for post. What makes them challenging?
Terence Curren: The biggest thing that makes it challenging is that the equipment is basically free now; I mean, you can buy Resolve for free. That means that, everybody has access to the toolset. That would be okay if the end user, the consumer had a real understanding and appreciation for quality and then we would still work. We’re craftsmen and so, our ability to polish and turn out a very polished product would be worth people paying for it. Our biggest enemy is the “it’s good enough” sentiment. When the consumers say, oh that’s good enough, then our services aren’t as valued, or as important anymore.
Terence Curren: That’s the biggest challenge and that didn’t used to be the case. When the market was much more limited and the gear was much more expensive, this limited the amount of people that could get into the industry. You had to be really, really good to get in and you had to stay good to stay working.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that’s adding additional complexity is, not only is technology getting cheaper, it’s also getting more powerful. At NAB, for instance, AI and machine learning was everywhere. What do you see as their impact on post-production?
Terence Curren: I get accused of being the doomsayer, but long-term we’re really in deep trouble; because technology is eventually going to replace most, if not all jobs. It’s just a question of what’s the timeline.
Terence Curren: In post, the first area where it’s going to impact and it’s already starting to is, a lot of the repetitive or redundant type tasks; because that’s the low hanging fruit. Something as simple as synching dailies, which used to be a very manual process, now can be done by matching up the waveforms. The next level will be when they start being able to identify the faces and the type of shot it is and then, all of a sudden, you have AI logging the footage, instead of Loggers and Assistant Editors.
Terence Curren: If your job is doing something redundant and repetitive day after day, you should be looking for something else.
Larry Jordan: What signs for hope do you see?
Terence Curren: It depends on what you’re looking for. There’s always hope in any situation right? However, it’s changing. For those of us who’ve been in the industry for a while, it’s not good. If you were to say, what the big picture outlook of post-production is, at least in LA, I would say it’s kind of the elimination of the middle class of post.
Terence Curren: I think I’ve given you this analogy before, but if not, I’ll give it to you again; because it’s my favorite. Historically, throughout all of written history, if you wanted to entertain people, you were a starving artist; you travelled from town to town and you hoped to make enough doing a play, or whatever to get some meals and maybe get a night’s sleep.
Terence Curren: Then this weird thing happened where we came along with a film camera and you could record somebody’s performance once and then play it back a ton of times and charge for it and, suddenly, it became a way of making a lot of money as an artist. However, this was a limited world. It cost so much money to make the films and distribute them; which kept it a tight group. This created this artificial gigantic community of people making a lot of money as artists.
Terence Curren: What I see now is, we’ve taken away those strangleholds; so now, anybody can make content and get it out there and I just see us going back to kind of starving artists land again.
Larry Jordan: How are you positioning yourself for the future?
Terence Curren: We’re starting to rent out our edit bays, for those guys who do work at home, but then have to have clients come in to screen; or come in and listen to a mix. They can come in here, do their mix with the clients, do the final dealing and then we handle the deliverables. Because the deliverables now are just ever expanding layers of complexity, depending on who you’re delivering to.
Larry Jordan: You’re the first of four interviews that we’re doing to talk about post in tonight’s show. In Mark Raudonis from Bunim Murray’s interview, he makes the case that post companies need to start owning their own content. Is this something that you’ve considered?
Terence Curren: Actually, from the beginning, when we started Alpha Dogs, we intended to do that. It gets a little tricky because, then, all of a sudden, we’re competitors with our clients. He’s right, I mean, basically, you’re either producing and owning content, or you’re working for somebody who is. Where we used to fit in, in general the middle class posthouses, we’re just not that much in demand anymore. I don’t know, it’s an interesting time from that standpoint.
Larry Jordan: It is indeed. It’s as dramatic a shift as when we went from analog to digital. There’s a lot of skills that we needed back in the analog days that are no longer needed.
Terence Curren: I hate to say that the skills aren’t needed. That’s probably the difference. Going from analog to digital, yes, you no longer needed the analog skills. I don’t know, it’s a challenging time. It’s hard to stay upbeat overall; but, if I was starting out right now, it would be great. The technology is cheap and available to absolutely everyone.
Terence Curren: The distribution method is available to everybody; you can, you know, throw it up on YouTube and everybody on the planet can see it. If I was starting out now, I’d be going crazy, because I’d be young; not needing to have a big income; not needing to sustain a household and a family and all that and I would just be out there making content like crazy; because I could.
Terence Curren: From the starting out standpoint it’s great; from the, you know, we’ve been in this and built up careers standpoint, it’s a little different.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like it’s a great time to create content and not a great time to create money.
Terence Curren: That’s really what it is. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to monetize now. There’s so much content out there right now that there’s not enough money to do the same level of quality overall that we used to do; if that makes sense.
Larry Jordan: It makes perfect sense. Terry, for people that want to hire you for their next project, where can they go on the web?
Larry Jordan: That website is all one word, alphadogs.tv and I encourage everybody to attend an Editors’ Lounge session; they are always interested. Terence Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs and, Terry, thanks for joining us today.
Terence Curren: Thank you so much for having me Larry.
Larry Jordan: Oliver Peters is based in Central Florida and is the award winning Editor and Colorist who has been running Oliver Peters Post Production Services for the last 35 years. He’s also a Contributing Editor to many popular technology magazines. Hello Oliver, welcome back.
Oliver Peters: Hello.
Larry Jordan: Tonight, we’re looking at the status of post-production from a variety of perspectives. Tell us about your work.
Oliver Peters: My work is a mixture of editorial and color correction. Unlike a lot of other Colorists, I also do some creative editing, all the way through to finishing; so it’s the whole gamete.
Larry Jordan: One of the things I was reading in something you sent me before we started the interview was that, not only do you do editorial and color grading, but you also consult in media management and workflow. What does that mean?
Oliver Peters: I do a lot of work at mainly one particular production company. I sort of function as the senior person around here. Since I’m the person who gets all the media at the end of the line, when it’s time to color correct and deliver, I kind of have a hand in making sure the workflow is correct on the front end. Proper file naming, proper folder locations, all of that stuff.
Larry Jordan: It is amazing to me how something that simple, when it gets screwed up, can take and just run a project off the rails.
Oliver Peters: Yes, I’m actually working on a current project, that’s a side project on the outside that I manually have to re-edit in all of the camera shots; because nothing relinks correctly.
Larry Jordan: That hurts just to hear you tell me about. One of the things that you’ve done, if I remember correctly is, you’ve got multiple computers all talking into a central server. How are you handling file management from a server and, more importantly, how are you handling collaboration and team projects?
Oliver Peters: Primarily, this is in an Adobe shop and we’re running two shared storage systems right now. One is QNAP, the other is LumaForge Jellyfish. All of our work stations talk to both systems. Premiere, everything lives on the storage; so that includes project files and it pretty much just works.
Oliver Peters: We’re pretty regimented in terms of keeping our folder structure clean; but it’s not any kind of a shared workflow in the same sense that Media Composer would be; so you’re not having five different Editors and Assistants inside the same project. Premiere works a little bit differently; so we can have multiple Editors open copies of the same projects, or one Editor can have write authority and the others can open it as a read only. That’s kind of how we work.
Oliver Peters: We only have a few projects where Editors are in the same project simultaneously; it’s more that we all tap into sort of a common pool of media.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been editing for a long time, essentially, through the transition from film and analog to standard def, to digital, to where we are today. As you look at the industry today, what trends are you seeing post?
Oliver Peters: Obviously, as computers have more horsepower, you need less and less bespoke hardware; so the days of a big beefy workstation are kind of optional. It’s not that you don’t need it, but you can get by with less. The facilities tend to be smaller edit rooms. Fewer of them are client oriented; because clients tend to be working remotely; you know, with a lot of review and approval through online sources. That affects what hardware you need in the room; how much of a computer you need and also simple things like, how many sofas, you know, and how big does the room need to be.
Oliver Peters: I would say, it’s more of a minimalist approach than it might have been five, ten, 20 years ago; so you don’t necessarily need as much peripheral hardware as you used to in the past.
Larry Jordan: What are your thoughts on the new trend of editing in the Cloud?
Oliver Peters: I’m not a big believer in editing in the Cloud. We use the Cloud for moving files around and review and approval; but to actually have high quality, high resolution files up in the Cloud, I’m just not a believer in that. Because, what tends to happen is, just about when the technology’s close enough, then we move the goalposts, in terms of resolution. At NAB, you had a lot of product that was already ready for the market, around 8K and there was discussion about 16K; but we’re barely making 4K workflows work for the most part.
Oliver Peters: To start trying to put that up in the Cloud, for anything other than proxy editorial, I just don’t see that happening any time soon. Then you’ve got the obvious issues of security, privacy and so on, that start getting you past the garden variety Internet connection, that most people, in a smaller shop, would have available to them.
Larry Jordan: What are clients looking for today? Is there a common thread, aside from the obvious ones, which is shorter deadlines and smaller budgets?
Oliver Peters: A lot of our projects these days tend to have a social media component; so if you’re doing broadcast, there is a social media aspect to every show. Sometimes that involves additional shooting on location; just to get, you know, the host saying different things that they can later put on Instagram, or YouTube, or whatever. Also, projects that tended to be broadcast before, now have many different outlets; so some sort of a sponsored program, or maybe an infomercial or something in broadcast TV, those are now being restricted as shorter form sponsored programs that run on various streaming channels.
Oliver Peters: Clients are coming to you not just with the traditional, you know, make me a commercial, make me a broadcast show, but rather, I’ve got this media strategy that includes entertainment, but it also includes marketing and sales and so on and they expect you to know what the options are and how to get there.
Larry Jordan: As you look at the landscape, how are you positioning yourself for the future?
Oliver Peters: Obviously, you always want to keep up with the technology; it’s a matter of knowing what’s around the corner, staying up on the technology; as far as me as an individual that’s trying to stay as current with the various software choices that are out there. I tend to wear different hats as an Editor, so I have to know several different software packages for editing and color correction as well.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of keeping up with the technology, what technology’s caught your attention?
Oliver Peters: NAB was a little bit different, I thought, this year, because it was more about the B in NAB; by that I mean broadcasters. There were less of the kind of fad things we’ve seen in the past, like 360 and stereo 3D and there was certainly not a ton of drones, like we’ve seen in years past.
Oliver Peters: It was more about the nuts and bolts and, although it’s not really something we particularly deal with, I did notice that IP infrastructure was very definitely all over the show. What used to be SDI wiring and audio cables and so on, if you were building a TV station, that’s now starting to become IP technology. I think that’s something that’s going to affect the industry pretty greatly over the coming years.
Oliver Peters: Obviously, shared storage was of interest, but we had already made our decision prior to NAB; but you always want to make sure that you made the right decision. Resolve 16 was of interest; I thought the keyboard was a funny quirk; I guess I want to say. Just because I used to run a Sony 9100 Linear Controller and that keyboard was very reminiscent. It’s almost like you kind of go, well, haven’t we moved past that?
Larry Jordan: Oliver, for people that want to hire you for their next project, where can they go on the web?
Oliver Peters: Simplest place is at my website, oliverpeters.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, oliverpeters.com and Oliver is the Owner and President of Oliver Peters Post Production Services. Thanks for joining us today.
Oliver Peters: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Christopher Ray is an experienced Colorist, with credits on a number of award winning productions. His working compass is Alpha; Tomorrowland; Warcraft; The Great Wall; The Crossing; Orange is the New Black and many more. Hello Christopher, welcome.
Christopher Ray: Hello.
Larry Jordan: Tonight, we’re looking at the status of post-production from a variety of perspectives. Tell us about your work.
Christopher Ray: I work as a Colorist here at Picture Shop Post. We do primarily episodic but, as you can see from my credits in the past, I’ve worked on feature films and we still do some of that work; just this posthouse is predominantly episodic. Some commercial work, music videos; anything that needs a nice aesthetic grade.
Larry Jordan: Well I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting your site, which is christophermray.com and I love the before and after examples of what an image looks like when it’s shot and what it looks like after you’re done working with it. How do you determine where to start, when you’re given a new project?
Christopher Ray: That is always an interesting thing that kind of changes project to project. I always try, right from the start, read the script; be able to get scripts and be able to be involved as early as possible. In post-production, typically, you know, especially with final color, we’re one of the very last pieces in the chain. The more we can get involved at the start of the show, with reading the script; kind of getting the narrative, as we start to build palettes, color wise, that those have some affect and are enhancing the narratives and are not just color tweaks for the sake of kind of looking cool.
Christopher Ray: Usually, they’ll have some kind of look book that they have begun to create ahead of time; to kind of sell how some of the locations are going to look and how some of the costumes are going to look. That always ends up deviating to some degree; but, once we’re able to kind of start talking about those things, as things unfold with the shooting, it kind of helps steer that process of what the pre-production looked like, how things are looking in post-production and then, how we might want to manipulate and augment that in post-production.
Larry Jordan: I can understand your interest in wanting to get involved with the story, but what’s the advantage of bringing the Colorist in before we even shoot frame one?
Christopher Ray: That’s something that, even ten years ago, I would say, was not very common; but now, almost every project that I work on, we try to do at least some set visits. There’s a lot of interesting things where the Colorist can become involved earlier on. When you’re talking with the DP and, you know, especially these days when production schedules get faster and faster, there’s a dialog that can be had about, okay, well we can’t quite do the blocking that we want to do here, but we can kind of talk and brainstorm about how we might be able to augment that in post; to be able to get a better look in the end.
Christopher Ray: Collaboration is always a great thing, you know, and the DP knows sometimes when they don’t have time to do this, or the color is not looking quite right, given some of the atmospheric elements of the environment; so having that back and forth discussion in post of where we can go with it, really helps. Not in a fix it in post kind of way where we’re taking, you know, oh don’t worry about that, we can just kind of totally do this; but being aware of what we can do on the backend, to help inform the decisions that can be done in production.
Larry Jordan: You’re essentially a hired gun working on whatever projects roll through the door. What trends are you seeing in post these days?
Christopher Ray: Like I said earlier, I’m predominantly working in episodic television right now and the really interesting thing that has come with episodic television is, kind of the blurring of this line between what’s considered to be episodic type looks and more feature film type looks. With the advent of streaming and the streaming platforms and there being some further creativity being put into some of the looks and less steadfast rules that have to be applied, it’s been really interesting to see the lines being blurred of what, before, would typically be more of an episodic look, or more of a feature look.
Christopher Ray: This is really great for a Colorist and, I think, all the creatives involved; to be able to have some more of that leeway of playing things a little bit more saturated with colors and scenes and really pushing the emotions with the grade. Sometimes it means softer blocks, which is a bit more of a feature aesthetic.
Christopher Ray: It’s not to say that there is a set episodic look, or a set feature look; but typically with features, there’s a little bit more freedom, which we’re starting to see some of that in the episodic area, which has been really nice as an artist and as a Colorist.
Larry Jordan: One of the subjects I was hearing at NAB last April was, the automation of color grading. Clearly that’s a potential threat for Colorists like yourself; but is this something that you’re overly concerned about?
Christopher Ray: It’s not, it’s something that I’ve seen, experienced and played with over the years; just to kind of understand what it’s doing. It’s basically analyzing the waveforms and it’s saying, balance all these black levels; balance these white levels; this is kind of the rough density that it needs to be.
Christopher Ray: You know, it may be in a very simple dailies grade kind of way that that could be useful; but in the end, the main thing that you’re paying for, with a good Colorist, is the aesthetic; is the eye. It’s an artist that you’re collaborating with, to be able to enhance that picture. Until we get into some kind of Terminator type situation, where the machines are becoming smarter than we are, we’re still going to have the ability, with our brains, to do things aesthetically that machines just can’t compute.
Larry Jordan: One of the trends in post, overall, are shorter deadlines and smaller budgets. What trends are you seeing?
Christopher Ray: I would definitely say that is true, overall. Quicker turnarounds is definitely across the board. With the streaming, I would say, with different projects, where you see them maybe putting in some more money and time in really enhancing the look of the show; which kind of goes hand-in-hand with a bit more of that feature type approach. But timeline wise, it’s definitely getting quicker and quicker.
Christopher Ray: The only thing that really helps offset that is the tools have been developing and all the software has really been coming leaps and bounds in the last ten years. How much you can get it to work for you, so that you can do the technical side of things as efficiently as possible, to allow yourself the proper and ample time to do the creative and subjective things.
Larry Jordan: Given the pressures that are seemingly ongoing of shorter deadlines, raised client expectations and smaller budgets, how are you positioning yourself for the future?
Christopher Ray: I’m a Baselight Colorist, I use the software Baselight made by FilmLight and they have something called a BLG workflow that has really, in my eyes, been a game-changer. In the past, with dailies and onset type creating, you’ve had what’s called CDLs; which are, you know, very easy and simple three-way color corrections that definitely have done the job in the past. But that information can’t really get past forward; because it’s not really somewhere a final Colorist can expand upon; technology wise, the grades are so limited.
Christopher Ray: With the BLG, what FilmLight has done is, they’ve created a pre-light software for DITs to use on set. There’s a daily soft, for dailies and then the Baselight finishing software. Through this BLG workflow, you can actually include any operator that the final software has; so Windows, Keys, Mattes, anything that you want to put in there can be passed down the line.
Christopher Ray: Now it’s not to say that we go for the final grade right off the very start, it’s something that we build up to. But having those tools and those operators that translate right into the final software, firstly, it helps that collaboration of people on set to see something that is a little bit more refined and then, in dailies, it can be refined a little bit more and the other thing is just that, if we have a good pipeline there, that work that is being brought to the table through the BLG files can be a starting point. Not having to kind of grade from scratch, but just using it as a reference.
Christopher Ray: I think, utilizing something like that really helps creatively with, like I said before, just the collaboration throughout the process and efficiency wise, of being able to actually tangibly use that work that the DIT is doing on set and the Dailies Colorist is doing in the dailies.
Larry Jordan: Some very, very cool stuff. For people who want to hire you to work on their next project, where can we go on the web?
Christopher Ray: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to; doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource; presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform, specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in-depth organization tools for business production professionals.
Larry Jordan: DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts community; a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals, or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: As Senior Vice President of Post Production, Mark Raudonis oversees the editing and final finishing of all Bunim Murray. Mark focuses on developing a post-production workflow, which is unique to reality TV; where Bunim Murray routinely finishes hours of programming each week. It is always fun to say, hello Mark, welcome back.
Mark Raudonis: Hello Larry, good to talk to you again.
Larry Jordan: Mark, earlier on the show, we’ve heard from smaller posthouses and individual artists; but Bunim Murray represents the other side of the scale. You guys are huge. How would you describe Bunim Murray?
Mark Raudonis: Bunim Murray is a television production company that specializes in reality TV. We basically started in the early 90s with MTV’s The Real World; which really pioneered the whole reality genre. We do have, oh, depending on what time you ask me, anywhere from three to ten shows currently on the air, or in distribution; so, yes, we do have a pretty high volume of shows that go out the door.
Mark Raudonis: If you’re looking at the future of production companies, just being a production entity is not going to be enough anymore; you need to own your content; you need to be able to go into different areas. Just being a gun for hire I don’t think is a recipe for future success. We are trying to branch into different areas, we are trying to own some of our content. It’s a recognition that the world in which we live and, specifically, how shows are created and distributed is changing.
Larry Jordan: But I think you’re making an assumption; not everybody is the size of your company. Individual contributors can’t own their own content, in most cases; or are you saying they have to?
Mark Raudonis: Oh Larry, Larry, Larry, I disagree. I mean, I think the means of production have come down to the point where, a YouTube influencer owns the means of their production and they are essentially their own channel and, yes, it is a possibility. Whether you’re looking at a multimillion dollar production, or something that comes out of your bedroom, economies are sort of the same. That’s my take on it.
Larry Jordan: No, it’s an interesting take and you’re absolutely right. For instance, I have my own YouTube channel and I own the content and I am somewhat smaller than Bunim Murray.
Mark Raudonis: Yes, so there you go. That’s where I think things are headed. It’s a big pie and there’s room for a lot of people to have a slice of it.
Larry Jordan: Mark, I was just thinking, distribution has exploded. How has distribution changed for Bunim Murray?
Mark Raudonis: Let me tell you a story Larry. Bunim Murray made it to the public’s attention via MTV’s The Real World, back in the early 90s. That was the beginning of reality TV as we know it. That show lasted for 30 some seasons on MTV and then MTV decided to give it the brand a rest. A couple of years ago, we had a lot of success on Facebook with a show called Ball in the Family ;so we went back to MTV and we said, hey Facebook, what would you think about bringing back MTV’s The Real World on Facebook and they said, great idea. Not only do we want it in English, but we want it in Spanish and Thai.
Mark Raudonis: We’re now currently doing MTV’s The Real World in three separate productions, three separate languages, for Facebook Watch. That’s how distribution is changing; I mean, we really don’t care where you watch it, we only care that you watch it. That is one example of how distribution channels have changed sort of our approach to how we’re actually even doing production.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you’re seeing the future more as a content opportunity than it is a technology opportunity.
Mark Raudonis: Absolutely. I mean, the technology is changing that. What it’s doing is, it’s dropping the barrier of entry for everybody, all players; therefore, you’re competing against a lot more content. Really, it comes down to a democracy of ideas; the best ideas prevail; the best ideas catch eyeballs and, therefore, they win.
Larry Jordan: Well let me push back against you on that. I’ve heard the phrase ‘Content is King’ many, many, many times; but it seems to me, it’s a combination of both content and marketing. You can have great content but, if you can’t tell the world, you’re still stuck.
Mark Raudonis: That is true; but they do sort of go hand-in-hand and that’s why, when you partner with a distribution platform, you have their built-in marketing machine; so , yes, that helps get you eyeballs. But again, if you have a really great, it’s not impossible to get attention and to go viral; we’ve all see, you know, somebody starts a little thing in their garage and something goes viral and suddenly they make a major deal with Netflix for a version of their show.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of Netflix, there’s a lot of discussion about non-network distribution; which is called OTT for Over the Top. This includes Netflix and Amazon. From your perspective, is there a difference in the shows that you’re creating for traditional network use, versus the shows you create for OTT services?
Mark Raudonis: Well, aside from being able to cuss? You know, networking standards and by network I mean typical classical broadcast standards, you know, are very restrictive; both in language and content; nudity, sexual situations, things like that. You don’t have some of those same restrictions in OTT; but, let’s face it, commonsense prevails. If your goal is to get as many viewers as possible, you don’t want to necessarily annoy people; so some of the same least common denominator rules still apply to these more specialized distribution platforms.
Larry Jordan: Are you seeing a difference in technical specifications; or are you still having to meet roughly the same standards in both cases?
Mark Raudonis: Yes and yes. You know the joke about technical specifications, you’ve never met a standard you don’t like, because there’s so many of them. The same thing applies here, which is, everyone seems to have a slightly different requirement; but they are all in the ballpark of what we’re used to for traditional broadcast.
Larry Jordan: What are you seeing happening in terms of deadlines and budgets?
Mark Raudonis: Deadlines getting shorter, budgets shrinking.
Larry Jordan: That was an easy question.
Mark Raudonis: Yes. I mean, that’s the given. I think the way to address that is to stretch out the deadlines and, therefore, you can do more with less. But, when networks come to you at the last minute and say, can you get it done tomorrow, then you have to move heaven and earth and that gets expensive. If they come to you and say, hey, we want something six months from now, then you have the opportunity to plan; but this business has never been known for over-thinking.
Larry Jordan: I was just wondering, when was the last time you had a client give you six months to plan?
Mark Raudonis: They usually do, but then they debate it until the last week; so it’s maybe, maybe, maybe, hurry up we need it yesterday.
Larry Jordan: How many people work at Bunim Murray these days?
Mark Raudonis: It depends on when you ask? If we’re at full tilt in the summer at, you know, high tide, full production; including people on crews on production, you know, near 1,000. But that varies a lot during the year, when a show is finished and we’re just in post or so. I would say anywhere from 300 to 1,000; depending on when you ask.
Larry Jordan: You focus more on post than production, what skills are you looking for, for the people you want to hire?
Mark Raudonis: Intelligence, number one; curiosity, number two and a healthy lack of ego. By that I mean, sometimes ego gets people in trouble, because they think they’re bigger than they are; especially if you’re starting out. Your ego has to match your skill set.
Larry Jordan: I notice you didn’t mention any particular software or hardware skills.
Mark Raudonis: A couple of things. Number one, we like to promote from within; but certainly in an entry level position, you know, we have our summer interns coming in soon, we don’t have any expectations of them knowing any one platform or another. We do use Adobe Premiere Pro, we do use Avid Media Composer, and we do have Blackmagic Resolve; so those are three separate programs that have a niche need within our organization. It’s hard for me to say, hey, we only use one or the other, because we use them all.
Larry Jordan: You’ve mentioned that client expectations remain high, deadlines get increasingly short, budgets get smaller, what are you seeing as the future of post? It sounds like this is an area of diminishing returns.
Mark Raudonis: Well, we’re also being asked to do more with less; by that I mean, less time, more media that’s laid through and that’s a challenge. I don’t know, necessarily, how AI is going to work into that problem, but you’re going to have technology supporting human effort. It’s going to be a combination of both of those things, to sort of get us through the day.
Mark Raudonis: Some things are going to become easier, things like color correction, or checking quality control, things like that; that’s going to be more automated. But storytelling, that’s a tough one; that’s tough to automate and that’s tough to figure out, considering how we do production.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn how you are meeting that compelling challenge today, where can they go on the web?
Mark Raudonis: It’s www.bunim-murray.com.
Larry Jordan: The Senior Vice President of Post Production is Mark Raudonis and, Mark, thanks for joining us today. It is always fun talking with you.
Mark Raudonis: Always a pleasure Larry. Thanks for calling.
Larry Jordan: You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about technology recently. One of Mark Raudonis’ comments struck a chord, as he was describing dealing with ever larger shooting ratios and ever decreasing deadlines. The solution for Mark is automating clip review and, perhaps, automating color grading.
Larry Jordan: These tools make sense when you’re trying to find a one hour story out of 4,000 hours of footage; but the technology won’t stop there. As Terry Curren said, the more technology improves, the more likely the middle class of post will get squeezed out. While I’m not as pessimistic about the future as Terry, I’m still concerned.
Larry Jordan: This morning, a group of Computer Science Faculty and I were interviewing a potential teaching candidate. After her presentation was over, we began discussing the impact of technology. The first rule of any business is to remain in business; specifically, to continue to make money and, ideally, grow. This means that technology companies are always looking for new ways to develop technology.
Larry Jordan: Back in the early days of personal computers, back when we compared mainframes to minicomputers, to microcomputers, the goal of technology was to empower people. The impact of word processing and spreadsheets was truly revolutionary. Now, however, I think the focus has changed. To me, it seems the goal of technology today is about empowering computers; the Cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data are all technologies used to make computers smarter.
Larry Jordan: In the US, we tend to launch new technology, then figure out the societal impact later. For those whose neighborhoods are awash in electric scooters, you know what I mean. However, the situation is different in Europe. The European Commission recognizes AI as one of the 21st Century’s most strategic technologies and is increasing its annual investment in AI by 70%, as part of the research and innovation program called Horizon 2020.
Larry Jordan: A Horizon 2020 press release stated that the EU has a strong regulatory framework for technology ethics that will set the global standard for human centric and trustworthy AI. To this end, the EU Commission has set up a high level expert group and tasked it with drafting AI ethics guidelines, as well as preparing a set of recommendations for broader AI policy.
Larry Jordan: According to the guidelines, three components are necessary, in order to achieve trustworthy AI. First, it should comply with the law; second, it should fulfil ethical principles; and third, it should be safe and technically robust, since, even with good intentions, AI systems can cause unintentional harm.
Larry Jordan: We can’t stop the rush of technology, but we can take the time to think about the results of what we’re creating. Personally, I think the ethics of technology will become a major issue during the next decade. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week. Jonathan Handel with the Hollywood Reporter; Terence Curren with Alpha Dogs; Oliver Peters with Oliver Peters Post Production Services; Christopher Ray with Picture Shop; Mark Raudonis with Bunim Murray and James DeRuvo with doddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday morning.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Transcripts are provided by Take1.tv. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Paulina Borowski, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2019 by Thalo LLC.