Digital Production Buzz
April 2, 2015
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
Greg Ciaccio, Vice President Creative Services, Managing Director of Location Services, Modern Video Film
Jen Grisanti, Story and Career Consultant, Jen Grisanti Consultancy
Lee Jessup, Career Coach, Lee Jessup Career Coaching
Robyn Haddow, Freelance Motion Graphics / Playback Artist, Scarab Digital
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by shutterstock.com, a global marketplace for royalty free images and videos. With over two million royalty free HD and 4K video clips, Shutterstock helps you take your creative projects to the next level; and by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988.
Voiceover: Rolling. Action!
Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital film making…
Voiceover: …one show served a worldwide network of media professionals…
Voiceover: …uniting industry experts…
Voiceover: …film makers…
Voiceover: Post production.
Voiceover: …and content creators around the planet.
Voiceover: From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan and joining us, as ever, our ever affable, whatever his name, Mike Horton. Hi Mike.
Mike Horton: I got my hair cut.
Larry Jordan: You did and it looks really, you haven’t looked that clean and dressed up in a long time.
Mike Horton: I’ve combed my hair, I got a hair cut because I saw the YouTube thing a couple of weeks ago and I said, “I need a haircut.”
Larry Jordan: You know, we have to put a…
Mike Horton: Thank you, Larry, for making me feel so old when I watched myself…
Larry Jordan: We had to chroma key a wig on you to make it look so small children would not be scared.
Mike Horton: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got a theme for today’s show. It’s called writing and special effects. We’re going to start with Greg Ciaccio – he’s going to tell me I screwed that up, but we’re going to practice.
Mike Horton: That’s all right, I do that really well.
Larry Jordan: He’s the Vice President of…
Mike Horton: Ciaccio.
Larry Jordan: Are you done?
Mike Horton: Greg?
Larry Jordan: He’s the Vice President of Creative Services and Managing Director of Location Services for Modern Video Film and he was recently involved in creating the new series, Dig, for the USA network. He joins us tonight to take us behind the scenes of the new workflow that they developed specifically for Dig.
Larry Jordan: Jen Grisanti is a President of Jen Grisanti Consultancy, a successful story and career consultant who worked with Aaron Spelling for 15 years. She was involved daily on the executive side of scripts for such shows as Charmed, Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 90210 and more. Jen will be at the upcoming WonderCon convention with a panel entitled Hollywood Consultant Secrets: Your Story to Success. I feel like there needs to be a ‘bom-bom-bom’. We’re going to discover what some of those secrets are later tonight.
Larry Jordan: And then Lee Jessup, who is also on the same panel, is the author of the bestselling guide Getting It Right: An Insider’s Guide to Screenwriting Careers. Lee knows the business of stories from the telling to the selling and joins us this week with some insider tips and career coaching for writers.
Larry Jordan: And then we wrap up with Robyn Haddow. She’s a freelance motion graphics and playback artist – I have no idea what that is – with Scarab Digital. She has a wide range of experience spanning the areas of screen graphics, fantasy, user interface design and animation, in-game cinematics and lots of innovative ideas for next generation technology. She shares an inside look at creating amazing motion graphics and how she does it.
Larry Jordan: Remember, you can read text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making it possible
Larry Jordan: Mike, The Buzz is going to NAB.
Mike Horton: I know.
Larry Jordan: 12 hours of live coverage, all at nabshowbuzz.com.
Mike Horton: 12 hours a day? Or 12 hours?
Larry Jordan: Two hours a day for four days.
Mike Horton: So that’s one interview after another, 15 minute interviews.
Larry Jordan: We give people a 15 minute break.
Mike Horton: Are you going to be live streaming?
Larry Jordan: We’re live streaming video, thanks to One Beyond, who’s providing us with the technology.
Mike Horton: I just saw the little…
Larry Jordan: The stream machine.
Mike Horton: It’s as big as a laptop.
Larry Jordan: Oh, it’s incredible, and what it allows us to do, we’ll be streaming three cameras and we’ll also have an audio stream going to Mixler, so you can listen, you can hear, you can watch. It’s all amazing and it’s all at nabshowbuzz.com. You can learn more at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Mike and I will be back with Greg Ciaccio right after this.
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Larry Jordan: I’ve been practicing during the break. It’s Greg Ciaccio. Greg Ciaccio.
Greg Ciaccio: Perfecto.
Larry Jordan: Greg…
Mike Horton: Perfecto.
Larry Jordan: …Ciaccio is Vice President of Creative Services and the Managing Director of Location Services for Modern Video Film. He was recently involved in helping create Dig for the USA network. Greg, welcome, good to have you with us.
Greg Ciaccio: Thank you, it’s great to be here. Thanks.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe motion video film?
Greg Ciaccio: Motion video film?
Larry Jordan: Or Modern Video Film.
Greg Ciaccio: Oh, we are a full…
Larry Jordan: I can’t even read my own script. I got Ciaccio right.
Greg Ciaccio: That was perfect, yes.
Larry Jordan: One out of two ain’t bad. So Modern Video Film, how would you describe that?
Greg Ciaccio: We are a full service post production facility. We do front end, which is dailies, all the way through to finishing and even beyond. The company has two main divisions – creative services and content services. The creative is all the front end stuff up until you deliver it to the theater or to the TV network and then the back side is all the repurposing. We do a lot of work for iTunes, for Apple, so all of the delivery to Amazon, Netflix etcetera, that’s all the content side.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Larry Jordan: Well, let’s talk about the fun stuff, the creative side. You’re VP of Creative Services. Now, creative services tend to be in other companies the guys that do the graphics. What’s creative services defined for you folks?
Greg Ciaccio: We call the creative services division that because it differentiates from the back end, the content. Basically, it’s the dailies, it’s getting involved with the filmmakers early on, making sure that the look that is envisioned from the very beginning is carried through all the way to delivery. We call that the creative side, versus repurposing of content, which would just be the content services side.
Larry Jordan: So it sounds like you get deeply involved in pre-production, you’re not just waiting for the lights to go on.
Greg Ciaccio: No, no, we get involved, depending on the project. For instance, let’s say on Grand Budapest or some of the features we worked on, there’s a vision that the director has and the director of photography, your cinematographer, get together and they discuss that with the colors, so if you think about the final colors, the last place where the look is actually created, we get involved in the beginning because, as we all know, people start looking at the movie in the first day of dailies.
Greg Ciaccio: If you actually start creating a daily that doesn’t look like the final, people will be very shocked when they actually see it at the end, so what we aim to do is make sure that our dailies colorist works with our final colorist and the DP and the director to make sure that that looks starts in the very beginning and is carried through editorial and all the way through to the end.
Mike Horton: Do you have DIT services on set?
Greg Ciaccio: We have a DIT that works for us, not as a DIT but has been a DIT. For instance, he was the DIT on Life of Pi, Duck Grossberg, who will be in the picture that you see. We work with filmmakers, we work with the whole camera crew, so we know exactly where our limits are. For instance, when we do a prep, we’ll take our daily system out to prep and we can actually take the files right out of the camera and we can load them into our system and show them what it’s supposed to look like.
Mike Horton: Yes, isn’t that cool?
Greg Ciaccio: Yes, that is really cool.
Mike Horton: Would you have even thought of that five years ago?
Greg Ciaccio: There’s no way, because the gear was way too big.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Greg Ciaccio: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Well, that requires a significant workflow, because if you’re going to color films at the very beginning on set, you want to make sure you can take all that color off and fix it the way you want it at the end in post. What kind of workflow are you putting in place to allow you to keep track of all these files and to make sure you know what lookup tables you’re applying to the film?
Greg Ciaccio: We use the ASC CDL for all of our color. I was part of the ASC…
Larry Jordan: Wait, wait, wait, slow that down again.
Greg Ciaccio: The ASC…
Mike Horton: You lost me. I’m gone.
Greg Ciaccio: The American Society of Cinematographers…
Mike Horton: Ok. I got that part.
Greg Ciaccio: …developed a color decision list, much like an EDL…
Larry Jordan: Color decision list?
Greg Ciaccio: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Ok.
Greg Ciaccio: So the CDL is a color equivalent of an EDL, which we all use to edit our programs. I was on the ASC CDL committee ten years ago. When I was at Technicolor and started their production services division, we started working on a language, a cross platform language for color.
Larry Jordan: So basically you’re applying metadata to a clip so you don’t change the basic clip, you’re just changing the color that’s applied to that clip.
Greg Ciaccio: Yes, it’s all non-destructive so everything we do keeps the original file in the log… of a log flavor is being shot, whether it’s Sony or ARRI etcetera, and all of that look information is simply non destructive layers of metadata on top of that.
Larry Jordan: What’s the difference between, then, a lookup table, which we’ve heard lots about, and the color decision list, which has just shocked the heck out of Mike?
Greg Ciaccio: Yes, a lot is use it or throw it away.
Mike Horton: Any time you use acronyms, I go to sleep.
Greg Ciaccio: A lot literally is imagine someone colored something and said, “Now that color that you’ve just colored, you have to use that on every single take and every scene.” Your hands would be tied, you can’t do that. You want to be able to change it, so a CDL is actually something that you can change, much like printer lights in the film days. I want my scene at 30, 28, 30 and then the timer can go 30, 28, 30 and go wait a minute, it’s a little green, I’m going to take it down one or two notches. That’s the equivalent of a CDL.
Greg Ciaccio: It’s something that you can manipulate, you can set it and then later on you can adjust it, rather than a lot which is you lose it or you throw it out and start over.
Mike Horton: I’ve got so much to learn. I know CDL but it’s just been a while since I’ve even heard the term.
Larry Jordan: What software uses a CDL?
Greg Ciaccio: Pretty much all of them.
Larry Jordan: Define that.
Greg Ciaccio: We use Colorfront OSD as our main color engine for our product. Nomad is basically our daily system. Nomad is basically a solution that uses at the core, at the heart, Colorfront OSD. Colorfront uses the CDL; Autodesk Luster uses it; Avid, pretty much everyone. This is back eight or nine years ago when we took the CDL, we ran it round at NAB to all the vendors and said, “Here’s a CDL thing. You have to integrate it into your color corrector,” and in the beginning we got some, “We have other things to do,” and then gradually, of course, as it started gaining momentum, more and more people realized, “This is really here to stay.”
Mike Horton: In terms of efficiency, does it save a lot of time?
Greg Ciaccio: Absolutely.
Mike Horton: Ok.
Greg Ciaccio: Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: Now, you have a split title. You’re the Vice President of Creative Services, but you’re merely the Managing Director of Location Services.
Greg Ciaccio: Right, right.
Larry Jordan: What does a Managing Director of Location Services do?
Greg Ciaccio: Basically, I own the location services business, which means all of the dailies that go out in the field, anything that happens outside of our four walls, and that can be in Santa Monica at our facility there, at our facility in Burbank or any of the other sister facilities we have. Basically, if it’s on location, for instance Dig was in Israel, Croatia, Albuquerque… yes, exactly, and that’s actually what I wanted to kind of highlight.
Greg Ciaccio: The system that we actually brought to Croatia is a picnic basket size daily system. It’s unique and it really worked for the show. There are really three main ways you can do dailies. One is you can take a drive and you can fly it the old fashioned way. Another way is you can get a big enough pipe where you can send all the dailies files back to home base and then do the dailies there. The third is send the equipment and the people out to the location and the reason why we do this is often the creators want to be involved in the forming of this look I talked about.
Greg Ciaccio: Gideon Raff, who created Homeland and Tyrant, which was another show we did on location in Morocco, knows us and we set up in a hotel in two different cities in Croatia – in Dubrovnik and Split – and what we do is we set up in a hotel room. We don’t need a lift gate, it’s not a 600 pound behemoth box like it used to be. When I started building these, they were two people boxes that weighed probably a couple of thousand pounds altogether. Now we’ve got down to one box that’s about 60 pounds that you can carry as baggage.
Larry Jordan: What’s in the box and what does the box do?
Greg Ciaccio: The box does everything from ingesting the dailies all the way through to creating the deliverables, including all the complex color correction in the middle.
Larry Jordan: So it’s basically a DIT box on wheels.
Greg Ciaccio: With the ability to do full deliverables in over 100 frames a second. The rendering speeds have gotten…
Larry Jordan: Oh!
Greg Ciaccio: Yes. What we did is we took the old Mac tower, which was this big.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Greg Ciaccio: We now have the little Mac trashcan, goes in on its side. It’s much faster than the old boxes and we can create everything that’s needed. In this case, editorial gets DNX36. We have PIX for viewing, people all over the world can log in; and then we have DNX175X, which is a very high quality low compression codec for promo.
Greg Ciaccio: That’s all created on location and we can do dual LTOs because even though that picnic basket has all the necessary smarts and everything we need for dailies, there are little add-ons that are all Thunderbolt, which is great because Thunderbolt, one little connector. So we want one LTO, we plug in one Thunderbolt. We want a second, we loop it through. We can create anything anywhere and send it back.
Larry Jordan: And the benefit is, because you’re using these color decision lists, that any change you make there can be changed later in post; but what you’re giving people is something which is much closer to the final look than if they were simply looking at the raw images coming off dailies.
Greg Ciaccio: That’s a good point, yes, and often final colors may not use a CDL because the CDL is, admittedly, a restricted set of color. There are no secondaries, there are no windows, but what it does give you is it gives your visual effects team the ability to know what the scene’s supposed to look like. Often, you give the visual effects team the raw files and all they see is log and they go, “Ok, what’s this supposed to look like?” Well, you know what? Take that and apply the CDL and now you know what it’s supposed to look like and now you can create the effects that match the dailies.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a look at Dig specifically. You’re on location around the world, you’ve got this magic box. What are you doing on a daily basis? What’s the workflow?
Greg Ciaccio: On most of the shows we do, including Dig, there are two drops – the lunch drop and the wrap drop, depending on how far away they are, but the nice thing is we’re portable, we can be anywhere. So if they’re going from Dubrovnik to Split, gone are the days where you have to send a driver and wait.
Greg Ciaccio: We can travel to the next location, so we get either the hard drive from the DMT or DIT or they can give us SxS cards, because again we’re close to set now so we don’t have to worry about the distance. We ingest the material. We apply the CDL that came from set, if there is one. If there isn’t one, we create the look alongside with the DP and…
Larry Jordan: Now wait, wait, wait, wait. They’re giving you the camera masters coming off set. That’s got to make you nervous. I mean, you’re holding a $10,000 shot in your hands.
Greg Ciaccio: Well, we prefer to get a copy of it, and most productions do too. You’ll have a DIT on a feature film where you’ve got ARRI RAW or a lot of material. You’ll often have a separate person establishing the look and a separate person just doing the data. On a TV show, because it’s ProRes and because the files are much more compressed, generally they’ll have one person doing that. What we prefer is they take the card, they copy it to their local RAID, make one shuttle drive and send us the shuttle drive.
Greg Ciaccio: Now if we bring it across and they say, “Hey, we didn’t get something,” they have a copy upstream. That’s the preferred workflow. We take that and we ingest it into the box. We’ll do color, we’ll either create color from scratch or we’ll apply a CDL. We will sync the sound and largely these days – gone are the days of key code and 30 frame audio and 24 – so basically everything’s all at 2398. It should all match up if everything went well on set.
Greg Ciaccio: But we QC it all, we make sure that everything’s in sync and if it’s off we’ll fix it. Then we can either wait for the DP/director and review everything with them, because now everything’s in the system, we’re all ready to go. Once they look at it and say, “Yes, great looking scene, I love it,” because we’re calibrated, we’re in an environment where we have basically the environment we have at our post facility, whereas when they’re on set we’re not sure exactly, they could be running and gunning, they could be in an area, something could have got bumped.
Greg Ciaccio: So if at all possible, it’s great for the DP and/or director to be there to say, “Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. That’s what we saw,” or “That’s not what we saw, but I trust your gear.”
Larry Jordan: So now the show’s airing, Dig is on the air, and you look at it. What are you most proud of?
Greg Ciaccio: The ability for us to jump to every location seamlessly without really impacting the production, without having them have any pain saying that things took too long, we had to wait a day. It’s the immediacy of it and how we can take something so portable, so powerful, and have it anywhere.
Mike Horton: Yes, speaking of all this portability and this efficiency, cost savings?
Greg Ciaccio: I would say cost savings in that, for instance, some of the bigger pieces of gear costs thousands to transport and you need a lot of lead time to transport it. A particular thing happened in one of the legs of Dig, because we went on location several times with them. They were going to go in one direction and it turned out that there wasn’t sufficient bandwidth to send the production files, so with three or four days’ notice, we basically took the gear on the plane with us, walked in with it, set it right up.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to learn more about the tools and toys you put together, where can they go on the web?
Greg Ciaccio: Www.mvf.com.
Larry Jordan: And the Vice President of Creative Services…
Mike Horton: Are we already done?
Larry Jordan: …for Modern Video Film and the Managing Director for Location Services is Greg Ciaccio. Greg, thanks for joining us today, it’s been a fun visit.
Greg Ciaccio: Thanks for having me.
Mike Horton: We’ve got to have you back. There are so many more questions.
Greg Ciaccio: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Jen Grisanti is the President of Jen Grisanti Consulting, a successful story and career consultant who worked with Aaron Spelling for 15 years. She was involved on a daily basis on the executive side of scripts for such shows as Charmed, Medium, Numbers, 90210, NCIS and many more. Jen will be at the upcoming WonderCon convention with a panel entitled Hollywood Consultant’s Secrets: Your Story to Success. Hello, Jen, welcome.
Jen Grisanti: Hi, thank you for having me.
Mike Horton: Hi, Jen.
Larry Jordan: We are delighted to have you. How would you define a story and career consultant? Stories and careers don’t seem to be related at all.
Jen Grisanti: In this town, story and career are very intricately linked. When I work as a story consultant, I work with anybody who has a story and is interested in knowing how to tell and sell their story and it could be TV writers or film writers, it could also be novelists or entrepreneurs who want to understand how to better tell and sell their personal story.
Jen Grisanti: It goes in fiction and in life with writers – not only do they need to know how to tell their stories on the page, they need to understand how to communicate their personal stories that establish why they are the perfect writers for the project that they’re on. Then with career consultancy, it’s just looking at where people are and where they want to go and then designing proposals that will help them to reach their destination.
Mike Horton: You sound like a manager/agent.
Jen Grisanti: The difference is my service is fee based service where writers pay me on a per project basis, so I don’t take a percentage.
Mike Horton: No, you actually sound like a manager/agent who should be like you but who usually are not.
Jen Grisanti: I cannot tell you how many agents, managers and entertainment attorneys are like, “Jen, I want to take on your business model.”
Mike Horton: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: You worked with Aaron Spelling for 15 years. What were you doing with him?
Jen Grisanti: Well, I started as his assistant in 1992. My first day on the job, 90210 had been in its second year and Melrose Place was being cast the day that I started.
Larry Jordan: Are you serious? Wow.
Jen Grisanti: Yes. Yes.
Mike Horton: That dates you. Now we know your age.
Larry Jordan: She started when she was three, Michael, pay attention.
Mike Horton: Yes, exactly. You started when you were 17.
Larry Jordan: Working with Aaron, you could not have picked a better person to work with, somebody who’s so totally focused on story and developed such incredible shows, what’s the biggest thing you learned in working with him?
Jen Grisanti: I would say the biggest thing I learned about story was really recognizing how to shape the opening, how to build the act break so you’re ending on the right moment, and how to communicate with writers in a way that they hear and understand the note versus shutting you down by getting defensive because of the note.
Larry Jordan: So really it sounds more like timing than storytelling.
Jen Grisanti: With my experience of Aaron Spelling, it came at a perfect time for me when I graduated from USC and didn’t exactly what I wanted to do. By having him as a mentor for 12 years, I climbed the ladder of current programming and eventually ran current programming at his company and had the gift of being exposed to him on a daily basis with regards to story and then seeing my notes made on up to five shows a week, so you really got to see what works and what doesn’t work.
Mike Horton: I know that we don’t have a lot of time, but what does it mean by running current programming?
Jen Grisanti: Develop and create the shows, then once the pilots are sold upfront in New York and it becomes a series, then it comes into the current programming department and then it was my job to work with the show runners and creators on staffing their shows with writers and directors and then working from story concept to outline to script to screen.
Mike Horton: Oh my God, there must have been a lot of arguments.
Larry Jordan: Stories are legendary of network executives giving notes which make absolutely no sense and drive everybody up the wall. How do you make your notes actually make sense as opposed to simply showing what kind of influence you’ve got?
Jen Grisanti: When you’re working at a studio or a network, you do have to somewhat abide by the agenda of the studio or the network, so your notes could be different based on where you’re at and what the incentive is and getting the story where you want it to be to make the sponsors happy and so on and so forth, whereas as a story career consultant I don’t have a studio or a network agenda. My only agenda is to help the writer make their story the best that it can be.
Mike Horton: Would a wonderful job be the current programming for a cable company, where you didn’t have sponsors to speak to?
Jen Grisanti: Yes.
Mike Horton: Would you love that?
Jen Grisanti: I have to admit, I was in the studio executive world for 12 years, I’ve been on my own for seven years and I’ve written three books and I’ve traveled the world speaking, so I honestly have no desire to go back. I’m very happy where I am.
Mike Horton: As long as you’re happy where you are, that’s the important thing.
Jen Grisanti: Yes.
Larry Jordan: One of the things you mentioned earlier is that you provide fee based services as opposed to taking a percentage of a show, and I went on your website and I was looking up all the different things that you provide from reading it for the first time to going in-depth on a film script. What help do your typical writers need? What is a typical problem that they need help with and what is the most common request they make of you?
Jen Grisanti: I would say on average, what writers need is to elevate their story so that their story is in a strong enough place to either get them representation, sell their script or get on staff. I think the goal, in my experience, I work with writers at the baby level to the mid-level to the upper level. Every need is different.
Jen Grisanti: I could work with a mid-level writer who either just sold a pilot and wants to work with me on that pilot or a baby writer who just got out of college and has no idea how to become a working television writer and needs to build their writing portfolio or a co-executive producer who’s kind of hit a standstill in his or her career and needs to figure out how to redefine their path so that they are working in a strong direction.
Mike Horton: Could you actually give them a sheet of paper, how to redefine their path?
Jen Grisanti: Yes.
Mike Horton: Little steps and bullet points and Zen kind of things to do? I would love that. Make it easy for me.
Larry Jordan: Let her answer.
Jen Grisanti: It is an interesting thing. I have one person at a very high level come to me who wanted this exact outcome and it was really about listening to the story, understanding where wrong turns were taken and understanding how to rectify that to get the career back on path.
Larry Jordan: You’re going to be speaking at WonderCon. What’s the panel and when is it?
Jen Grisanti: I’m doing a pitch panel with ABC at 3.30, and then I am doing a story consultant panel at 4.30.
Larry Jordan: Can people still attend and would you like them to come visit you?
Jen Grisanti: I would love for them to come, yes. Yes, absolutely, we are looking forward to it. I know we have a lot of sign-ups already, so we’re very excited about it.
Mike Horton: Yes, quickly, all my post production friends are so into WonderCon.
Larry Jordan: So what’s the website for WonderCon? Where can people go to learn where your session is?
Jen Grisanti: They can go to the WonderCon website. Also, I will be posting it on Facebook and Twitter – I already have many times – so they can go to my Facebook page, Jen Grisanti Consultancy is my business page.
Mike Horton: Actually, I’m liking her right now.
Larry Jordan: What’s your website? We are running out of time, where do people go to learn more about you?
Jen Grisanti: Jengrisanti.com.
Larry Jordan: For those of you taking notes, that’s jengrisanti.com. Jen, thanks for joining us, it’s wonderful to have you with us.
Jen Grisanti: Thank you. All right, thank you so much.
Mike Horton: Bye.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Lee Jessup is a career coach for screenwriters, specializing in guiding emerging professional… who wrote this? Lee Jessup is a career coach for screenwriters, specializing in guiding emerging and professional scribes toward successful screenwriting careers and, Michael, the answer is I wrote this and I can’t even read what I wrote. Her coaching clients include Golden Globe and Emmy nominees, bestselling authors, Writers Guild members and writers just starting out, and obviously people not like me. She is the author of the bestselling guide Getting It Right: An Insider’s Guide to a Screenwriting Career. Hello, Lee, welcome.
Lee Jessup: Thank you, thank you.
Mike Horton: Hi.
Larry Jordan: We are glad to have you with us, even if I can’t read my own script.
Mike Horton: At least we pronounce your name right.
Lee Jessup: You gave my married name. My pre-married name was Zahavi, and that was always a tongue twister.
Larry Jordan: Yes.
Mike Horton: Oh, that is a tongue twister.
Larry Jordan: We would call you Miss Lee on this show, is what we would call you. Lee, how would you describe a career coach?
Lee Jessup: The easiest way to describe it is really a guidance counselor for screenwriters.
Larry Jordan: A guidance counselor to screenwriters.
Lee Jessup: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Guidance in what way?
Lee Jessup: Guidance for anything that’s related to building, sustaining and managing their careers, so it’s ongoing input, advice, support, channel for venting, complaining…
Mike Horton: Oh, I bet you get a lot of venting and complaining.
Lee Jessup: I do. Everybody needs a safe place to vent.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Larry Jordan: We were just talking with Jen Grisanti, who does screenwriting and consulting and she’s joining you, I think, on one of the WonderCon panels tomorrow, but how would you differentiate what she does, which is script analysis, with what you’re doing?
Lee Jessup: Well, Jen focuses on story. I adore Jen, she’s such a formidable voice in TV development, but Jen’s sweet spot is story. She works on the writer’s story, how to get the writer to that best script. I pick it up once the script is written, how to take that script and translate it for ammo for a career, for a building block in a career, how to get it out there, how to get the writer out there etcetera. Oftentimes, a story consultant looks at one piece of work. I look at the long term career and everything that’s required within it.
Mike Horton: What if the script is not very good to you? What do you do?
Lee Jessup: They usually go back to Jen. I’m very direct about it.
Mike Horton: Oh good.
Lee Jessup: If I feel that a writer’s work is just not there, I’m going to tell them as much. It’s their decision to say, “I disagree and I’m going to take it out anyway, how do I best do that?” and I’m more than happy to advise on that but my point of view is should a writer take a piece out and get nothing, no meetings, no interest, clearly not a sale, if they come back to me and they say, “Well, how did this happen and how come nobody liked my script?” I can’t sit there and go, “Mmm, I kind of hated your script too but I didn’t say anything.” It’s my job to say, “Hold on, I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s up to you whether you want to go forth with it, but this is just my humble opinion.”
Larry Jordan: That gets me to, I think, a core point. What makes your opinion worth listening to as a career coach? In other words, what have you done prior to our conversation to make people listen to you?
Lee Jessup: I think first of all the important thing to discuss here is the fact that it’s a business of opinion. It’s not a business of fact.
Mike Horton: It is very subjective, isn’t it?
Lee Jessup: Entirely subjective, and I can be wrong and I’m happy to be wrong. Many times I’d prefer to be wrong. All I have is my knowledge and my opinions. I’ve been lucky enough to have a well received taste level, so usually if I give something the green light or if, on the rare occasion that one of my writers will turn something in that I think is amazing and I’ll get it out there, nine times out of ten I’m going to get the material an agent or a manager, I’m going to get the material moving forward. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years now, I’ve devoured material since I was a kid – I grew up with a producer at home, so I was reading scripts from early on – but it’s a taste level and clearly there are people whose taste level doesn’t agree with mine, and that’s perfectly fine. My opinion is just my opinion and is derived from all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this industry, because I’ve never worked in another one.
Larry Jordan: So, as long as we’re picking on Lee for a moment, how would you describe your perspective that makes you unique? In other words, what guidance or help would somebody get from you that they wouldn’t get from somebody else?
Lee Jessup: My advice and guidance is career specific, which not a lot of people do for a very specific reason – there’s no formula. There’s no three steps, which is not to say that story guidance is easy in any way, shape or form, it’s very complex, but there is a structure there, there’s an expectation that if you follow certain steps, if you put in certain principles to the work, the work should be serviceable in some way. Career is not the same thing. Every writer that I work with that broke in broke in differently. Frankly, when I started doing this full time, I showed up at a big event where the organizer was a friend who said, “Ok, you’re doing this now, come to the event.” I said, “Great,” so I showed up and I saw the script consultant that I’d known for years and I said, “Ok, where are the rest of me? Where are the other people who do what I do?” and she looked at me and she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, where are my people? There have to be other people here. I want to start getting to know them.” She looked at me like I was crazy. People seldom do this because I’m not selling a dream, I don’t believe in selling dreams, I don’t believe in making promises, I don’t believe in come work with me and you’ll have the career of your dreams. This is very hard work, a very laborious process that you don’t have a formula for. You have knowledge, opinion, ongoing interjection of current events, what’s happening in the industry. It just so happens to fit with what I’m passionate about.
Larry Jordan: In your bio, and I’m going to look at my notes so I can try not to screw this up twice, you wrote: ‘The years of easy spec sales were over. The new millennium was all about creating, cultivating and sustaining a screenwriting career.’ What does that mean?
Lee Jessup: In the ‘90s, we really had the explosion of the spec market, writers showed up and sold a script and material would sell very, very quickly. I was talking to a manager earlier today who told me a story about how he was put on a desk, he was an assistant at an agency, he read a script, his boss walked by and said, “What are you reading?” and he said, “I’m reading a specific script and this is the next thing you’re going to sell,” and within six weeks it was sold. We’re not in that environment any more. Yes, material sells very fast. One of my clients, her script was taken out in the beginning of March and it was sold on 9th March, but that is the outlier, that is not the case. We’re selling barely 100 specs a year.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Lee Jessup: Right now, 2015 is looking to be behind 2014, which was a bad year. Granted, March picked up, but things are changing so it is about getting in business with a writer rather than picking up a script, a writer who creates content on an ongoing basis rather than just the one that they want to sell.
Mike Horton: How is it possible? You talk about the 1990s versus 2015 – 2015 has networks, it has cable, it has YouTube, it has Netflix, it has Amazon, it has all these things. We want so much content, why can’t every single writer, despite the fact that they’re writing crap, still sell their scripts because we need so much content?
Lee Jessup: Film numbers are actually going down. In 2014, 32 percent of Americans didn’t go to the movies. That’s a huge figure. We are absolutely growing content on the TV side, but suddenly TV scribes, TV used to be the place where writers went to die, right? Up until…
Mike Horton: No, not any more. Yes.
Lee Jessup: It wasn’t something that you wanted to do. Back in the day when I was a writer, I’d sold a script and my agent came to me and said, “Do you want to work in TV?” and I went home and I called my best girlfriend and I said, “I can’t believe what she said to me! If that’s what she thinks of me, I’m switching.” It’s a different story now, so there are certainly a lot more doors opening on the TV and content side, but the challenge that filmmakers and TV scribes specifically are facing is that suddenly they’re facing off with Steven Soderbergh, who comes out of retirement to make The Nick, or with David Fincher, who is doing House of Cards. So the competition level really rose in television that up until a few years ago was a really closed world, but now we’re seeing pitch seasons where a lot more new material and new blood is coming in. What’s not selling is the feature specs. They’re still having a really tough time. It was hit in 2008 and really hasn’t fully recovered.
Larry Jordan: Also on your blog, I’m going to quote another thing I want your thoughts on, you write: ‘All writers are not created equal. Each has their unique strengths and those who went the farthest were those who knew where they are weak.’ What does that mean?
Lee Jessup: There’s this idea that a writer is a writer is a writer and that’s not true, because every writer is different, every writer has different passions, different interests. The writers who go the furthest are the ones who understand where they’re weak and therefore know where they are strong. If they know where they’re strong, they’re going to lean into that and have us looking away from their weaknesses, so they’re going to write into their brand because they know they’re not good at anything else. They’re going to really work on any challenges they have in interpersonal relationships, they’re going to hone in on their pitches if they’re not good with that. The writers who understand that they have to do everything, that they really have to master the totality of the craft in breaking in are the ones that are going to get there; and the way that I see it, it’s a very long job interview. Everybody preps for a job interview, it’s just there isn’t that immediate gratification of whether you’ve got the job or not. It usually takes about five to ten years.
Mike Horton: I don’t know any writer who could do the totality. Creative people are usually very shy, they’re bad pitchers. I guess that’s why they need people like you and Jen. Writers just want to write, that’s it.
Lee Jessup: Yes, but I do think that in today’s environment a lot of them learn to, for lack of better words and I don’t mean this as horribly as it sounds, function in all spaces. My writers have put together this bi-monthly meet up where a group of 75 to 100 writers get together. I had a new writer just move into town and come to one of these events. It’s poolside, everybody has drinks and he pulled me aside at the end of the night and he said, “Oh my God, everybody’s so normal. They’re just standing around. There’s no neuroses, nobody’s freaking out, there’s no back stabbing. They’re just normal people who also happen to be writers,” and I think that you’re finding more and more of those people who understand what it takes and are willing to bring their personality, who they are, into the game and find success in that.
Mike Horton: I want to go to one of those. Are you in Los Angeles?
Lee Jessup: I am in Los Angeles. Drop me an email and I’ll invite you.
Mike Horton: All right. I want to go to one and just hang out with all you normal people.
Larry Jordan: Lee, I know you’re giving a talk at WonderCon. When is it tomorrow, so people can attend if they want to?
Lee Jessup: It’s tomorrow at 5.30.
Larry Jordan: And what website can people go to to learn more about the wonderful services you provide?
Lee Jessup: I’m at leejessup.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s leejessup.com. She’s a career coach at Lee Jessup Career Coaching. Lee, it’s been wonderful talking to you.
Mike Horton: And I will see you poolside.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Lee Jessup: Bye.
Larry Jordan: It was a bit different. I tell you, we’ve got this internal chat going and Mike is out of control. It’s amazing to watch.
Mike Horton: I’m having a ball. We’re talking to some really creative people.
Larry Jordan: And we’ve got one more incredibly creative person. Her name is Robyn Haddow. Robyn Haddow is a freelance motion graphics and playback artist with Scarab Digital. She has a wide ranging experience, spanning screen graphics, FUI design and animation – which stands for fantasy user interfaces – and innovative in-game cinematics and she helps developers look at next generation technology and, Michael, the stuff that she has created is…
Mike Horton: I know.
Larry Jordan: …just stunning. Hello, Robyn, welcome. We are connecting with Robyn. She is a Vancouver-based freelance artist working with…
Mike Horton: They’re all in Vancouver. Vancouver, Montreal, New Zealand.
Larry Jordan: Well, yes, and by the way, for those of you who want to take a look at what we’re going to be talking about, go to her website, which is robynhaddow.com because some of the images that she’s got in her portfolio reel and some of the stuff we’ll be talking about today is just worth seeing while she’s describing how she creates it. Hello Robyn, are you with us?
Robyn Haddow: Hi, how are you?
Mike Horton: There you are.
Larry Jordan: We knew you would show up, it’s just a question of we couldn’t get our little…
Mike Horton: We just couldn’t get you on the speaker here in the stage.
Larry Jordan: Our Skype connection was not working fast enough, that’s all there is to it. Robyn, it’d be great if we could have you turn your camera on, so we could not only hear you but see you, if that’s doable.
Robyn Haddow: Oh, lovely. Thank you.
Mike Horton: Ah, there you are. Oh my God, you’re outside.
Larry Jordan: Oh, look at this. In Vancouver and it’s not raining, this is wonderful.
Mike Horton: Oh, you’re outside, you’re…
Robyn Haddow: I know. We’re so lucky.
Mike Horton: And you’re doing vertical video.
Larry Jordan: Robyn, I understand what motion graphics is all about, but what is a playback artist?
Robyn Haddow: Well, we do screen graphics for a production and what that means is we create all of our animations ready for set, so it appears as if the actors are actually interacting with the screens in real time.
Mike Horton: I didn’t even know they did that. I thought the actors never ever did that. Now they’re starting to actually interact with your animations?
Robyn Haddow: Yes. I work at a company called Scarab Digital which has been doing playback for about 16 years and it differs from post in, I think what you’re referring to is the post side of things where in production things are shot green and then added in visual effects. Playback is, once you create the graphics, you then program them in another piece of software and you build everything in loops so it appears as if things are happening in real time, but really there are operators sitting behind the camera cuing everything so when the actors touch a screen, it’s as if the interface on the screen is actually responding.
Larry Jordan: That is so cool.
Mike Horton: It is. Normally as an actor in a special effects movie, you are acting with a dot or a puppet or something like that.
Robyn Haddow: That’s right.
Mike Horton: So you are doing amazing stuff that helps performance.
Robyn Haddow: I think so. I’d like to think so.
Larry Jordan: Well, you don’t have to think so, all you have to do is go to your website. It is amazing.
Mike Horton: No, you are doing it. No, you don’t have to think so, you are doing it.
Larry Jordan: Oh my. In fact, one of the things that you did recently was this exoskeleton and we went to your website and we pulled down a couple of images of this exoskeleton, which looks like something I want to buy, it’s just incredible. How did you create that? What process did you go through?
Robyn Haddow: I work in Cinema 4D and I use the… link with Adobe After Effects and what happens is, depending on what the asset is, sometimes we are provided with some assets from the art department – for the exo suit we were, so there’s a really talented modeler or group of modelers who created the suit. I don’t know if you guys have seen any episodes of season three of Arrow. The exo suit belongs to a character named Ray Palmer and they actually have created that suit in real life, so that suit exists.
Larry Jordan: From your design, they created the suit?
Robyn Haddow: That’s right, yes.
Larry Jordan: Oh, that’s too cool.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Robyn Haddow: So I was given a 3D asset of the suit, which we then shaded and created a wire frame and teched it all up to look like 3D schematics so that when the character’s actually in his suit, we can generate screens to make it look like diagnostics or the workings and analytics of the suit.
Mike Horton: I’ve said this before, almost every week when we talk to people like you, but could you have even conceived of this three, five years ago, of what you’re doing?
Robyn Haddow: I have to say I’m pretty blown away by the whole playback side of things and the interactivity that it provides. I was introduced to that whole world at Scarab Digital because before I had come from a background in videogames, where it is very much the post.
Mike Horton: Yes, because obviously videogames are translating big time to television and film. What you guys are doing is pretty amazing.
Robyn Haddow: Yes, and I’m pretty excited because at NAB I have selected a couple of shots from Arrow and The Flash and I’m wanting to showcase some of the simple C4D tools that enable you to create complex looking animations that appear really futuristic and look really tech when really there are just a couple of things happening in the background to create these sorts of high-tech looking smoking mirrors, if you will.
Larry Jordan: How far in advance of production do you need to work? And when you’re done, are you ever on set integrating your images with what’s going on during filming?
Robyn Haddow: Unfortunately not. I’d love to go on set and do so, but there really is no time, especially in episodic TV. The turnaround time is basically a day. You arrive at your desk and you read the scene that you’re going to be creating your pieces of playback for and by the end of the day, sometimes you need to output two or three, so it’s go time, it really is go time.
Larry Jordan: So you’ve got to turn these things around in 12 hours?
Robyn Haddow: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Robyn Haddow: Two days if you’re lucky. You get two days and then you don’t want to waste any time. We have been getting some VFX shots recently for both The Flash and Arrow and it’s been allowing me a couple of days to go over, like the exo suit that you’re talking about, there are some POV shots of what inside the helmet cam and inside Adam’s head looks like, so it’s been granting me a little bit extra time to spend on animation and fleshing out the graphics and all the extra little detail that you want to be able to put into all of it. I don’t know, I think you just get faster, you just work faster.
Larry Jordan: We’re looking at some of the images of the exoskeleton. When you’re designing this stuff, how much creative freedom do you have and what do the producers tell you you just do?
Robyn Haddow: I’m pretty lucky. There’s a lot of creative freedom when building. The story points are the important notes that the producers always have, like if somebody’s hacking into a system and they’re denied entry or there’s a specific piece on the suit that’s broken or the connection’s down, then those sort of tags are highlighted notes. But overall, in terms of the look of the interface and the graphics, it’s pretty much a clean slate, which is awesome.
Larry Jordan: We’re looking at some of the images on the screen and the amount of detail and the shading and texture just is stunning.
Robyn Haddow: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: How do you approach something like this? Do you lay down the background first? Do you lay the foreground in? How do you think it through?
Robyn Haddow: Yes, I do definitely layout. I feel that just in the grand scheme of things and looking at the process, layout is so overlooked. In many pipelines, there’s no time allocated for it and I believe it’s the most important part. You have to have your composition or the rough layout first and then that is when you can begin to fill out your build with the key components. What I generally do is, because I’ve been with the show for the whole season, I’ve been developing the look of the interfaces for the different sets. It’s an established brand in and of itself, so we have our colors and our fonts and our backgrounds and our line work already set up and I just rip elements as I go along from previous builds and decide is this going to be a three up? Are we wanting to do a close-up of the suit and a couple of components, for example, and do a wide? Are we going to want to fly in other panels to showcase elements that are not always present? Definitely the blocking comes first and then it’s integrating your UI or your frame and then bringing in your 3D elements, and I’ll often just take a screen grab of the raw asset and then plonk that in Illustrator and sort of design around it and the quicker it’s in there, it’s sort of like a light board, if you will.
Larry Jordan: Ah. I dream of being able to create graphics that look as good as this. This is just amazing work.
Mike Horton: Yes, I wonder, as a little girl is this what you wanted always to do?
Robyn Haddow: Oh, definitely not, no.
Mike Horton: I didn’t think so.
Robyn Haddow: No. I remember seeing some of the work of Mark Collaren that came out in the early 2000s and all of those sci-fi films and being super intrigued and really noticing the beauty of all these technical looking screens. They were interfaces that were beautiful and I sort of stumbled upon it when I was in film school and just kind of kept prodding and poking down that path.
Larry Jordan: Now, one of the interesting things is you’re going to be showcasing your work at NAB. Tell me what you’re doing there.
Robyn Haddow: Yes, I have quite a number of shots, actually, that we’ve been working on at Scarab Digital for The Flash and Arrow and I’m going to be breaking them down and showing simple C4D tools that make complex looking graphics. For example, kerning dynamic rigs with the low graph module, so as you’re building, if a note comes back saying, “Oh, instead of six things here we’re going to need 12,” or, “The speed is too slow, we need to crank this up times four,” or often in The Flash Barry gets in fights with the meta humans and he’s in Star Labs and they’ll be analyzing his body and looking at…
Larry Jordan: Take a breath, take a breath because I’m out of time, but let me just clarify, you’re going to be…
Mike Horton: I’ll see you at NAB. We’ll see you at NAB.
Larry Jordan: …you’re going to be in the Maxon booth demoing Cinema 4D and what’s your website for people who want to learn more about your work?
Robyn Haddow: My website is robynhaddow.com, just my name.
Larry Jordan: And the Robyn herself is who you’re seeing on screen, robynhaddow.com. Robyn, thanks for joining us today.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Robyn.
Robyn Haddow: Thank you very much for having me.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Mike Horton: God, I love technology. Was that a selfie stick or a hand?
Larry Jordan: I don’t know, but she kept better framing than I could have done. That was amazing.
Mike Horton: No, that was amazing. It was amazing.
Larry Jordan: And did you see the images she created?
Mike Horton: I just loved it, and plus it was in sync. It’s incredible. She was in Vancouver, we’re here in LA and she’s doing this.
Larry Jordan: And it was well lit and we could see her face and thanks to the…
Mike Horton: And it was, yes. And it wasn’t raining in Vancouver.
Larry Jordan: No, for the first time in about 700 days, I think.
Mike Horton: Well, probably.
Larry Jordan: This has been a great creative session, some amazing people helping the creativity happen.
Mike Horton: Like I said, my post production friends all have one thing in common.
Larry Jordan: And that is?
Mike Horton: They’re WonderCon freaks. They’re all science fiction freaks, they’re Star Wars freaks. I don’t understand that. I’ve done a couple of Star Trek movies, I couldn’t have cared less. It was a pay check.
Larry Jordan: They kneel at your feet when you walk in.
Mike Horton: It was huge for my friends, but they’re all these WonderCon freaks.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of huge, I want to thank our guests: Greg Ciaccio is Vice President of Creative Services and Managing Director of Location Services for Modern Video Film; Jen Grisanti is the President of Jen Grisanti Consultancy; Lee Jessup, the owner of Lee Jessup Career Coaching; and Robyn Haddow, motion graphics artist with Scarab Digital.
Larry Jordan: There’s lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. You can talk with us on Twitter, @dpbuzz, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Doogie Turner; additional music on The Buzz is provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription.
Larry Jordan: Our producer, the ever beautiful Cirina Catania. Our engineering team is led by Meagan Paulos, including Ed Goyler, Lindsey Luebbert, Brianna Murphy and James Stevens. On behalf of Mike Horton, that’s the guy looking at his cup, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Buzz.
Mike Horton: Goodbye, everybody.
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