Digital Production Buzz
June 4, 2015
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
Larry Jordan & Mike Horton
Eddie Robison, VFX Supervisor, Inhance Digital
James Cullen Bressack, Writer/Director, Pernicious
Louis Kravitz, Still Photographer
Announcer: Tonight’s Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Other World Computing at macsales.com.
Voiceover: Rolling. Action!
Larry Jordan: Since the dawn of digital film making …
Larry Jordan: …one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals …
Larry Jordan: …uniting industry experts …
Larry Jordan: …film makers …
Voiceover: Post production.
Larry Jordan: …and content creators around the planet.
Larry Jordan: 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. My name is Larry Jordan and joining us is the ever affable co-host, Mr. Mike Horton.
Mike Horton: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: It’s good to see you. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about, but not quite …
Mike Horton: Really?
Larry Jordan: Yes, yes, we’re going to come right back to you.
Mike Horton: Is it something fun?
Larry Jordan: Oh yes.
Mike Horton: Ok.
Larry Jordan: And humorous.
Mike Horton: Humorous? Oooh, I can’t wait.
Larry Jordan: We start our show with Eddie Robison. He’s the VFX supervisor at Inhance Digital. He’s done visual effects for ‘Star Trek Voyager,’ NBC’s Grimm and a wide variety of feature films, commercials and TV shows. He joins us tonight to talk about creating effects for ‘Grimm.’
Larry Jordan: Then, thinking of ‘Grimm,’ James Cullen Bressack creates horror films. As the writer and director of the ‘Pernicious’ film, which releases later this month, we talk with him tonight about what it takes to create a successful horror film besides buckets of blood.
Larry Jordan: And Louis Kravitz is a celebrated still photographer who travels the world taking pictures of people. He also is staging an exhibition of his work. He talks with us tonight about the creative challenges of taking world class images.
Larry Jordan: Mike, the thing I mentioned earlier …
Mike Horton: Yes?
Larry Jordan: …is we just did a webinar yesterday talking about audio and microphones and we had actors …
Mike Horton: Oh, is that what all those microphones were all about?
Larry Jordan: We had actors in the studio, we had 12 different microphones – these Electro-Voice RE20s, we had Audio-Technica headsets, Countryman headsets, Sennheisers and Tram microphones. We took actors outside and just listened to the difference in mic quality and how mic position changed, it was amazing, change the position of a mic just a little bit and audio quality changes totally.
Mike Horton: You had a lot of Lavs out there, so you had actors outside with Lavs?
Larry Jordan: We had actors. We rolled cameras out the back and did pictures and sound. We took a Shotgun and moved the Shotgun on and off axis. We had a Lavalier that you held down at your tummy and moved it up to see where the best position for the Lav is. I had one of our actors wearing five different microphones and we listened to the sound quality as he switched from one to the other.
Mike Horton: You know, back when I was an actor, the field audio guys would always send somebody over to put a Lav on you and it would always be somewhere around here, unless of course you were doing a T-shirt thing or a swimsuit thing, and then they’d have to do all sorts of weird things with the boom and everything else. You eventually looped everything because a lot of it didn’t work. Ed can tell you that.
Larry Jordan: What we discovered is that we can get really, really good audio with a boom mic if you get it within about one and a half, two feet of the talent.
Mike Horton: Well, there’s an art to the guy who’s actually holding the stick and the boom mic. But was there a winner?
Larry Jordan: Yes. We love the Rode NTG2 Shotgun mic.
Mike Horton: Really? That’s cheaper than the Sennheisers, right?
Larry Jordan: Yes. We loved the Tram TR50, we use those. In fact, we’re going to have Lavs for us soon and you are going to be on a Tram …
Mike Horton: So we can actually walk around and get out of camera? I could do it over there on a …
Larry Jordan: You dancing? Yes, it’s going to …
Mike Horton: I can lay down on a couch.
Larry Jordan: And we would notice the difference?
Mike Horton: Yes. I’m still here, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Visit with us on Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com; we’re on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Mike and I, the guy that’s not asleep on the couch, will be right back with Eddie Robison right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Eddie Robison is the VFX supervisor at Enhanced Digital. He started in visual effects in 1996 and he’s held staff positions at six different post facilities. His work has appeared in feature films, music videos and over 40 different TV shows, including ‘Star Trek Enterprise,’ ‘X Files’ and ‘CSI: Miami’ and NBC’s ‘Grimm.’ Eddie was also nominated for a VES award and an Emmy award. Hello, Eddie, welcome.
Eddie Robison: Hey guys, Larry, Mike, thanks for having me.
Mike Horton: Hi Eddie.
Larry Jordan: We are delighted to have you with us. Before we start talking about ‘Grimm,’ because I want to get into a lot of the details with that, what got you into visual effects?
Eddie Robison: Good question. I was doing graphics for a company that produced chachkies and I didn’t really have any exposure to 3D until a friend of mine who was a PA on the film ‘Truman Show’ introduced me to their in-house … guy, whose name is Matt Markowitz. He became my guru and showed me the ropes, basically.
Larry Jordan: Well, now that you’re creating effects, what software tools are you using?
Eddie Robison: I use a lot of different packages at work. For compositing, we use Fusion by Blackmagic and then for 3d kind of things we use the best tool for the job, meaning we could use 3D Studio Max we can use Maya, we can use Lightwave. We do some stopping in ZBrush, it just depends on what the …
Larry Jordan: Well, you’ve been using Fusion on programs like ‘Star Trek Voyager’ and ‘CSI: Miami,’ as well as NBC’s ‘Grimm.’ What is it about Fusion that you like?
Eddie Robison: I got my first job doing 3D and I wasn’t really exposed to compositing, but after I moved over to a company called Digital … I was exposed to desktop compositing. Before that, it was all done in … and a lot of your listeners probably don’t even know what those are, they’re so old. But I was introduced to what was then called Digital Fusion, it was 3.0, and it was a way to break elements without the gels … and a new basic comp. It was very powerful and it was really thrilling as an artist to be able to comp my own stuff and so I stuck with it. Fusion has very … independent workflows before anyone else did …
Larry Jordan: Eddie, take a break. Your cell phone is breaking up.
Mike Horton: I was wondering, before Blackmagic bought Fusion, everybody thought Fusion was dead, with Nuke and Maya and everything else supplanting Fusion, and now that it’s free, which is quite amazing, has that changed anything? You were one of the few people actually using it.
Eddie Robison: Yes, it’s funny, you say I’m one of the few people using it but this industry is full of pockets of artists that came up together and I know a lot of people who use it, I know a lot of houses that still use it. I’m hoping that Blackmagic buying it and making it free for home users will create a larger user base for it and it will make a comeback.
Eddie Robison: The bottom line with packages like Nuke is – and we all know that Nuke is prevalent throughout the industry now – is that it’s insanely expensive and so hopefully Blackmagic will bring Fusion back, as it were. The product is not actually free for studios, there is a studio version that I believe is about one fifth the price of Nuke, but it’s still not free. It’s free for the home user and hopefully that will create a base.
Mike Horton: In terms of the user interface, is Fusion more intuitive than Nuke or the same or harder to use?
Eddie Robison: For me, it’s easy, it’s like second nature because I’ve been using it so long. It’s a node based compositor, so it’s a lot like Nuke in that respect. It’s way more different to After Effects than it is to, say, Nuke.
Mike Horton: It was just that Moviola put a bunch of tutorials on how to use Fusion, which are excellent by the way, and I want to plug this because they really are good. But for those of us who don’t understand node based compositing, which I don’t, I can’t get my head around that whole thing because we’re into non-linear editing and the node based compositing is just so weird, but it’s actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. You just have to have talent.
Eddie Robison: Well, not only that but you have to get the basics of it. They call it the flow and it really does flow from one side of the screen to the other, or however you want to do it. You can do it top down, right to left, left to right, but you essentially just line up nodes and you pipe them into one another. In my case, I start on the far left with my plate and I end on the far right with my saver. Everything happens in between, it’s pretty easy to follow. What makes it so powerful is that you can customize it to your own plate. You’re not just locked into one way of doing it.
Larry Jordan: I want to focus on using Fusion with ‘Grimm.’ Talk to us about your workflow. When do you get involved with each individual episode and how does the effects process work?
Eddie Robison: At the beginning, we get a script and a basic breakdown from the visual effects supervisor, who is called Ed Irastorza, and my producer, Jane Saks, and myself sit down and go through the whole thing and do a bid.
Larry Jordan: Now wait, wait, hang on one second. Let’s just put this in time. Is this before or after shooting of the show?
Eddie Robison: This is immediately before. After the show is shot and they got through editorial and they start doing a rough online edit, they give us a chance to re-bid the show. Then we can give a more accurate bid of how each shot is going to work. Sometimes they have these grand designs that can’t be done on a TV budget, so after it’s shot and we see exactly what it all entails, then we adjust the bid.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so you’ve got a bid and you’ve got all the shots not maybe planned, but you have a sense of how many shots you have to create.
Eddie Robison: Exactly. The shots are awarded and then we get our plates and we start production on it and we typically get somewhere around two weeks to work on an episode.
Mike Horton: Jeez, you’re kidding! Two weeks, that’s it?
Eddie Robison: Exactly.
Mike Horton: Oh my God.
Eddie Robison: Yes, it’s TV.
Larry Jordan: Well, let’s back up a step, because you used a term I want you to explain. You said you get your plates and you start working on the effects. What is a plate?
Eddie Robison: The plate is the image sequence that is basically the background photography that was shot in production on set.
Larry Jordan: So it’s not just the background, it’s the actors, it’s whatever they shot is what you’re getting.
Eddie Robison: Indeed, yes. It can be actors acting over a green screen or it could be an establishing shot of the city. Anything they give us that is principal photography, that’s the plate.
Mike Horton: What about the actors that turn into those monster characters and things like that? That’s not a plate, is it?
Eddie Robison: Yes it is.
Mike Horton: It is?
Eddie Robison: Yes. Some of the actors that come to us, the actors have green dots all over their face that we use for 3D tracking. We then have to remove those dots, which is time consuming but it’s very necessary to have them there for an accurate track. Then, depending on whatever creature it is that week, we take the track into 3D and we start match moving and doing the animation of the 3D character.
Larry Jordan: Well, how do you remove the tracking dots? I’ve often wondered that.
Eddie Robison: In Fusion, there are a couple of different ways we do it. You can actually paint every frame if you need to. Sometimes we have to do that if the dot is moving in and out of shadow, let’s say, or coming from one side of the face as they turn and disappearing around the other. There are a variety of methods.
Eddie Robison: There’s another method that we use that we’ve termed the slip, where we actually merge the plate over itself, offset it to the right or left and reveal that through an effects mask, so essentially we’re cloning without using a cloning tool. It really depends on the complexities of the shot when we see it.
Larry Jordan: That has got to be time consuming. It’s got to take forever.
Eddie Robison: Yes, it is. We have a couple of guys that are pretty ace at it. We all do it. It’s not the most fun job in the world, for sure. You really sometimes want to just get to the meat of it and start doing the fun stuff, but it’s got to be done.
Larry Jordan: That’s true.
Mike Horton: Speaking of all this fun stuff, you do get wonderful results, especially in ‘Grimm,’ which I’m a big fan of. It seems to me that the visual effects in television are just as good as the visual effects in the movies, but yet you’ve got two weeks to do them.
Eddie Robison: Yes, it’s getting there, it really is. Some of the stuff that you see on TV, like I’m sure you guys are fans of ‘Game of Thrones,’ everyone is, last Sunday’s episode, my job was on the floor. The things that they’re putting on TV now and calling a TV show are bigger and more ambitious than a lot of film stuff used to be and it does become daunting at times, but we just kind of power through.
Eddie Robison: We’ve got really special guys who we call generalists because they generally can do all – we don’t have time for a film pipeline which consists of a separate modeler, a separate texture artist, a separate rigger, a separate animator, compositor, all that. The guys who are on my team generally can do it all.
Larry Jordan: How big a team do you have? How many people are involved in this two week project?
Mike Horton: 250.
Eddie Robison: Would you believe it if I told you we do it with about eight guys?
Mike Horton: Oh, no, I don’t believe it.
Larry Jordan: No, we don’t believe it.
Mike Horton: No, don’t believe it. You’re lying.
Eddie Robison: Ok, seven guys and one lady.
Mike Horton: Jeez, that’s just insane. Is that, like, 20 hour days?
Eddie Robison: No, believe it or not, it’s not. It can be and sometimes you work a little overtime or you work a weekend day, but this is season five, we were in at the ground floor of season one, so we’ve got a really good working relationship with Ed and Adam on the post side of production and we’ve really worked it out so we know what we’re doing. We kind of hit the ground running.
Eddie Robison: And when I say two weeks, we do two weeks on the shots. We generally turn an artist over a week before and start doing the sculpt of the characters so that when the plates arrive we’ve got a character that’s basically approved and ready to go. So I guess I lied a little bit.
Mike Horton: Aha!
Larry Jordan: Do you need to do much rotoscoping? And, if so, what for?
Eddie Robison: We do a ton of it. It is a necessary evil and no-one really loves doing it but it kind of is where the magic happens. It’s where it really marries up to the plate, so if I’ve got a woman in a turtleneck sweater and she turns into a lizard, I’ve got to somehow tuck that lizards behind the turtleneck, don’t I?
Eddie Robison: So I’ve got to roto the neck and any hand movement she does that might cross her face, anything that goes in front of her has to be roto’d and quite often in the case of ‘Grimm,’ they’ll have someone with a big hairdo and then the creature has to kind of shrink in because it doesn’t have hair, it’s like a lizard, let’s just say in the case of that.
Eddie Robison: So we use rotoscoping in combination with our dot removal techniques to do something called clean plating, which is removing their hair and creating pockets of clean background so that when we shrink their head into the character, you don’t see all the stuff poking out from behind.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like an immense amount of work to be able to make an effect which lasts for about a second and a half.
Eddie Robison: It is.
Mike Horton: You talked about that you have to bid on this stuff every episode. Did I hear that right?
Eddie Robison: Yes. There are 22 episodes in a season of ‘Grimm.’ We generally bid every episode. We will generally work on almost every episode, but we are one of three principal houses that work on it.
Mike Horton: Oh, so are there some times when other houses beat you out and you don’t get the gig?
Eddie Robison: It’s not that, it’s that the timeline is so tight and the turnover is so quick and the work so complicated, they just won’t give it all to one house.
Mike Horton: Oh, ok.
Eddie Robison: So we’ll be working on episode one while two and three are also being worked on and, by the time we turn over one and deliver, we might do a couple of shots for three and then we’re back on for four, so the bulk of the huge effects aren’t always on one place. It’s kind of a smart way that they do it.
Mike Horton: Is there a lot of outsourcing of visual effects in the TV industry or is it pretty much just the movies?
Eddie Robison: No, there’s tons of outsourcing in the industry. I think there’s probably more film production for TV going on in Georgia right now than there is here, not to mention Canada. I just read an email the other day that said 350 million in tax incentives approved for California and some of the work is coming back and hopefully they will keep that trend going.
Mike Horton: Yes, hopefully.
Larry Jordan: Eddie, who decides the look of the effects? Do you invent it and just surprise the producers or do you have a lot of discussions about how stuff is going to look?
Eddie Robison: They don’t like surprises. They have a concept artist for creatures and they send real cool drawings of what they think the creature should look like from a particular angle. Mind you, the creature needs to be sussed out from all angles because it’s 3D and the characters can be turning every which way in front of the camera, so we have to extrapolate what it looks like at the back and around the other side and all that stuff. Typically, we’ll take concept art and do a sculpt, we’ll do a … which is just a rotation of the 3D model, and send it out for approval.
Mike Horton: By the way, when Fusion comes to the Mac, are you going to be using Macs?
Eddie Robison: No. No, no. My iPhone that I’m talking to you on now is as far toward the Mac as I want to be.
Mike Horton: Ok. All right.
Larry Jordan: What programs are you doing besides ‘Grimm,’ in the few seconds we’ve got left?
Eddie Robison: We just finished our first full season of ‘Jane the Virgin.’ We also just finished our third season of ‘Nashville.’ We worked on a pilot called ‘Rush Hour,’ which will be a mid-season replacement, it was picked up, and we’ve not heard word yet that we’ve got it for series, but we did over 100 shots for that pilot.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Eddie Robison: We worked on ‘Episodes,’ which is on Showtime, I believe.
Larry Jordan: And Eddie, for people who want to keep track of what you guys are doing, where can they go on the web?
Eddie Robison: Inhancevfx.com or just inhance.com.
Larry Jordan: And Eddie Robison is the VFX supervisor for Inhance Digital. Eddie, thanks for joining us today.
Eddie Robison: You bet. My pleasure.
Mike Horton: Thanks Eddie, that was a lot of fun.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Eddie Robison: Thank you.
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Larry Jordan: James Cullen Bressack is one of the most popular filmmakers creating modern day horror films. His credits include ‘Jennifer,’ ‘Hate Crime’ and ‘13/13/13’ and the brand new release, ‘Pernicious.’ Shot and set in Thailand, ‘Pernicious’ is a bloody, no-holds barred horror film that is James’ first theatrical release. Hello, James, welcome.
James Cullen Bressack: Hey, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Yes, well, I’m not so sure. Anyway, we’re delighted to have you as a guest …
Mike Horton: We should have some background music. Horror background music going on.
Larry Jordan: I need to confess up front that horror films are my least favorite film genre.
Mike Horton: Oh, really? I love them.
Larry Jordan: I got 45 seconds in the trailer, I said, “This is an amazing piece of work.” I mean, I get scared when the lights are on. That being said, what makes horror films so fascinating to you?
James Cullen Bressack: For me, working with an actor and talking with them about the darkest recesses of humanity and the human mind have always interested me because no evil person ever truly feels that they’re evil.
Larry Jordan: Well, that’s a true statement for sure. I was just thinking, wearing your filmmaker hat, it’s been said that the most profitable genre for independent filmmakers is horror films. Have you found that to be true for yourself?
James Cullen Bressack: I don’t necessarily know. I guess they would say that horror is the most profitable genre but I didn’t really dabble in other genres, so I can’t really compare.
Larry Jordan: Oh, horror’s all you’ve done?
James Cullen Bressack: Yes. I’m now in production on my first drama, but I’ve only done horror.
Mike Horton: Now, how do you define a horror movie?
James Cullen Bressack: I define a horror movie as ordinary people put in extraordinary situations.
Mike Horton: Well, that could be a suspense film, that could be a thriller, that could be a lot of things. Would ‘The Exorcist’ be a horror film? Would ‘The Omen’ be a horror film?
James Cullen Bressack: I believe ‘The Exorcist’ is a horror film. I believe ‘The Omen’ is a horror film. But that’s how mainstream society would classify it. I actually personally feel like I’ve never really made a horror film. I’ve just made stories about people that have crazy things that happen to them, but what makes it a horror film if a ghost shows up and kills people? Is it just the fact that it’s killing people?
James Cullen Bressack: Or if the ghost shows up and it’s friendly, is that still a horror film? Watching something like ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ that’s terrifying, but it’s not a horror film. I think that sometimes we try to clump things in genres but ultimately I think I haven’t quite really made horror films, I’ve made stories about people.
Mike Horton: Well, we’re forced to classify these films into genres now with the internet and keywords and Netflix, in order to search for something you have to have a keyword and one of those keywords is horror.
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, yes, definitely. I definitely think that the horror films that I’ve made are a little different than others, but I definitely agree with you.
Larry Jordan: James, can you tell us about your newest film, ‘Pernicious?’
James Cullen Bressack: My newest film ‘Pernicious’ is about three girls going to Thailand and awakening an ancient evil.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like a perfect …
Mike Horton: Horror film.
Larry Jordan: …a perfect horror film. Like I said, I watched the beginning of the trailer and some of the imagery is really, really nice. What was it like to shoot in Thailand?
James Cullen Bressack: Oh, it was amazing. It was such a beautiful place. I spent three months there and it’s just something that I will live with forever. I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life.
Larry Jordan: That is very cool.
Mike Horton: I heard it’s hot.
James Cullen Bressack: Oh, you have no idea. It’s hot, humid. You’re walking and it feels like you’re swimming.
Larry Jordan: Put your writer/director hat on, because you were both the writer and the director for ‘Pernicious.’ When you’re writing a film, we’ll call it a horror film, are you keeping certain ideas in mind as opposed to writing a drama? Are there genre tricks that you’re using to keep the audience enthralled?
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, I like to go by an eight act structure that horror films follow sometimes. Most follow a three act structure, but an eight act structure makes sure that something scary happens every couple of pages.
James Cullen Bressack: Probably why I say that I haven’t really made a horror movie is every single horror movie I write, I start off writing as a comedy or as a drama and then I get sick of the characters, so I start killing them. I never really set out to make a horror film, so when you’re watching ‘Pernicious,’ the first half of the movie isn’t really that scary, but then I’m like, “No, everybody has to die now.”
Larry Jordan: It sounds to me like, in order to make it really scary, the audience has to care at some level about the characters.
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, I definitely think there has to be that connection.
Larry Jordan: And if they don’t, if they’re just cartoons, then it’s not scary to put them in jeopardy because nobody particularly cares.
James Cullen Bressack: I definitely agree with that, although I would be shocked if they were literal cartoons in the roles of characters.
Larry Jordan: We have a live chat and Eric on our live chat wanted to know more specifically where you shot in Thailand.
James Cullen Bressack: I shot in Bangkok and Ayutthaya.
Larry Jordan: Ok, and when you are creating a horror film, how important are effects? Or is it more that the character’s in jeopardy?
James Cullen Bressack: I think characters in jeopardy are important, but myself being a huge fan of practical effects I think effects are everything really.
Larry Jordan: Are these all mechanical that you do on set or are you going back and doing them in post later?
James Cullen Bressack: These are all practical, we did these on set. I think having real practical gore is important. It’s just so much more visceral and disgusting and I’m heavily inspired by the films of the 1980s. The gore back then was so much better than the CGI stuff that they do today.
Mike Horton: Yes, that was going to be my next question – who are your influencers here? The 1980s, you just said?
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, yes, I was heavily influenced by a lot of Asian cinema. I’ve always been a huge fan of Korean and Japanese films, the works of Takashi Miike and Park Chan-wook, but I guess I was heavily inspired by Ely Roth.
Mike Horton: Yes, you get a lot of gore there.
James Cullen Bressack: Yes.
Larry Jordan: When you’re casting, are you looking for a particular type of actor?
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, I usually look for who’s best for the role and that movie I had auditions for, but typically I hate having auditions, I usually just think, “Hmm, I’ve seen this person do this in this movie. I bet you they could do that in my movie,” so I just cast them off of that.
Mike Horton: That’s really the only way, especially if you’re going to bring your actors to a hot and humid place where the conditions are not exactly wonderful. You’d better have really, really good food and a really, really good time and really, really good personalities.
James Cullen Bressack: Definitely, and I was blessed with these three heroes. They were so amazing to work with and super sweet.
Mike Horton: That’s great.
Larry Jordan: Do you enjoy writing the film, directing the film or marketing the film the most?
James Cullen Bressack: I enjoy all three. I think that it’s part of the film for me. I prefer doing all three. I think it’s all rolled into my job as the director.
Larry Jordan: Now, my understanding is ‘Pernicious’ has been picked up by a company, it’s their first time feature and it’s also your first theatrical release. How did that happen?
James Cullen Bressack: It is my first theatrical but it’s not my first feature.
Larry Jordan: I mis-spoke. I didn’t mean to imply that. I should have said first theatrical feature release. How did you land that?
James Cullen Bressack: The producers … the film just really believe in it and they wanted to give it a theatrical release, so they made sure that it happened.
Mike Horton: Did you have to run the gamut of the film festival circuit and all that kind of stuff before you got the sale?
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, yes. We played festivals in Spain and I did a Q&A for a festival in Australia and we played festivals in Thailand. We played all around the world, so we definitely did the festival circuit.
Larry Jordan: Back to our live chat. Caesar writes that, “I’m a horror movie fan. I just saw the trailer for ‘Pernicious’ and it looks interesting. My favorite horror film,” Caesar continues, “is probably Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween.’ He took horror to a new level.” James, did you see that?
Mike Horton: Rob Zombie did ‘Halloween?’ I didn’t think so.
James Cullen Bressack: I did see Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween.’
Mike Horton: Oh, he did?
James Cullen Bressack: And though I did think it was good, I do challenge you to see John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween.’
Mike Horton: Oh, that one, ok. I was thinking of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween,’ not Rob Zombie’s.
Larry Jordan: Well, we’ll see if Caesar has a comment, but he specifically asked about Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween.’ Everybody’s got favorites.
James Cullen Bressack: Yes, I definitely think Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a visceral film and it’s definitely a darker look into the character of Michael Myers. I did enjoy it, I just will always forever be a fan of the original.
Mike Horton: Yes, how can you not?
Larry Jordan: Thinking of fans of films, where can people go on the web to learn more about ‘Pernicious?’
James Cullen Bressack: You can check out ‘Pernicious’ on perniciousthemovie.com or you can check out my website, jamescullenbressack.com or follow me on Twitter, @jamescullenb, or follow perniciousthemovie on Twitter.
Larry Jordan: That’s perniciousthemovie.com or jamescullenbressack.com. James, thanks for joining us today.
James Cullen Bressack: Thank you so much for having me.
Mike Horton: Thanks James.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
James Cullen Bressack: Bye.
Larry Jordan: Prior to becoming a still photographer, Louis Kravitz worked for 45 years as an actuary, founding the still successful Kravitz Inc., which is headquartered in LA. We caught up with him at the Coffee Fix in Studio City, where he is exhibiting a fascinating series entitled Kolkata Morning. The back story of these images from India is very compelling. Hello, Louis, welcome.
Louis Kravitz: Hi, how you doing, Larry?
Larry Jordan: We are doing great. How about yourself?
Louis Kravitz: I have a lot of background noise, for some reason. Maybe when I set up this Skype. Maybe I need to shut your program off, hold on.
Mike Horton: Yes, you need to shut our program down.
Larry Jordan: Definitely shut the program down.
Louis Kravitz: Yes, I’m sorry. I had it on Safari. I shut Safari off, that’s better.
Mike Horton: Yes, there you go.
Larry Jordan: Now you look great.
Mike Horton: And you sound great.
Larry Jordan: Yes, and the picture’s looking great as well.
Mike Horton: Is it? I can’t see the picture.
Larry Jordan: We don’t show you the picture.
Mike Horton: Why don’t I get to see the picture? I’m looking into a blank screen. I have no idea what he looks like …
Larry Jordan: Because you’re not a visual guy.
Mike Horton: …I have no idea where he lives. Ok.
Larry Jordan: Louis, photography is quite a switch from the dry numbers of being an actuary. What got you interested in photography?
Louis Kravitz: I always loved to travel. I started travelling, I had my first anxiety attack in 1990 going to Irian Jaya, and I used to carry a camera with me. About 2002, I decided to take it a little bit more seriously and as I got older I realized I had someone in my older son who could take over my business and really succeed and probably do better than I could, and photography was my way out of my business. So my son now runs our business, it’s an actuarial consulting firm in Encino, and I get to travel the world and take pictures.
Mike Horton: Wow. What a great life.
Louis Kravitz: You’re absolutely right. I’m a very fortunate man.
Larry Jordan: On your website, you describe your photos as being about people and their reaction to you. What do you mean by reaction?
Louis Kravitz: When I travel, I like to meet people and I’m not a street photographer that likes to just take a picture without them knowing about it. I like people to know I’m taking their picture and spend some time, enter into a conversation, so they’re reacting to me and that’s very different to what a lot of other street photographers might do. They want to catch them unaware. I want them to be aware of me and it’s kind of fun to interact and eventually maybe take a picture of them doing something interesting.
Mike Horton: Yes, a number of the pictures I’m looking at right now are somewhat posed, but others are not. How do you gain their trust, especially when you’re dealing with different cultures and different languages?
Louis Kravitz: I’m a short old guy who’s not very intimidating.
Mike Horton: So if people look like you and talk like you, you can take good photographs or gain their trust.
Louis Kravitz: Yes, I’m also from New York and I got a lot of chutzpah.
Mike Horton: Ok, there you go.
Louis Kravitz: I think it’s that I like people. I enjoy the interaction with people and I think for the most part people sense that. I’ve been very fortunate as I’ve travelled to meet a lot of people. Calcutta was a very great experience for me.
Larry Jordan: I want to get there, but I want to ask one more question before we do, which is which photographer had the most influence on your creative style?
Louis Kravitz: Probably Steve McCurry, because if it wasn’t for him I probably never would have gone to India. I saw the pictures he took, I was really impressed with them and I wanted to take pictures just like him, so in 2008 is when I went to India, sort of following in his footsteps.
Larry Jordan: So tell me about the India trip. What did you do?
Louis Kravitz: 2008 was my first trip to India. I didn’t want to stay in the cities, I found the cities, well, they’re big, they’re dirty. I went to rural areas, I went to Jadasca and I went to … and I shot at farming communities, tribal areas and that was my beginning in photographing in India. I later went to Gujarat and Rajasthan, I made some friends as I travelled.
Louis Kravitz: I was in southern India in January of 2012 and my guide and friend, Sheba Bunyan decided I needed to go to Calcutta. I was going to go to Asia, as it turns out, in October of 2012. I spent seven days in Calcutta and that’s how the project started.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Mike Horton: Do you find people of lesser means in the rural areas more interesting subjects than, say, the people who have better means in the cities, in terms of just that interesting subject, that face, that story that they might be able to tell?
Louis Kravitz: You know what? I’ve never thought about that, but yes, and the reason I think is that they’re very curious about us, they’re very curious about me. On my website, I have a lot of pictures of Hindu and Muslim women who are revealing their faces to me, but I’m not their husband and they’re not supposed to do that.
Louis Kravitz: But they’re revealing their face to me because they’re very curious and they want to know what I’m going to do with that camera, so there are pictures of them just pulling the veil away from their face and I’m shooting that face. I just came back from Japan. When you’re in a Western civilization, they know what I’m doing. It’s not as interesting for them they’re not that curious about me, I’m just another photographer.
Larry Jordan: Well, one of the things that your website said that I was intrigued by – let me just get this quote correct – you write about showing the themes people share as they move through your life. What are those themes that you’re finding that are common between different cultures?
Louis Kravitz: What travelling has done has give me maybe a worldwide perspective on people. We all want to be healthy. We want our children to grow and prosper. We want love in our life. The thing that amazed me as I started travelling, whether I was in Irian Jaya with Stone Age people or in Africa with the Maasai or in India with the … people, we’re the same. We’ll bleed, we want the same and the fact is I think we’re all brothers.
Louis Kravitz: That we war against each other and we do harm to each other really amazes me. I don’t understand it at all because it’s like hurting someone in your own family. I think when you travel, you get a whole different perspective and I think one of the problems in our country is a lot of people don’t travel. They have an image of what the people are like in another country, they have no idea.
Mike Horton: Yes. I love the quote from Mark Twain, ‘the greatest threat to bigotry is travel.’
Louis Kravitz: Yes.
Mike Horton: You want to see the truth? Travel.
Louis Kravitz: I once had an idiot say to me – I’m Jewish – “How does it feel to have one and a half billion people hate you?” and I’ve been to Turkey, I’ve been through India with 250 million Muslims. That’s just bullshit.
Larry Jordan: What’s your style of shooting? It sounds like you ask their permission. Do you pay your subjects and are you shooting a lot of shots, or are you just grabbing a couple? How do you work?
Louis Kravitz: I typically walk down a street – in Calcutta I was getting up at daybreak. If I see an interesting scene, I’ll take it. If I see an interesting face, I might shoot first and then my style is, if you were standing in the street, I might shoot you from a distance. You, actually, modern man, I might pick up my camera and nudge to you and ask you basically if it’s ok, and if you nodded yes I would shoot and I would keep getting closer and closer to you and I keep taking pictures as I get closer.
Louis Kravitz: I then eventually get into a conversation. If we don’t speak the same language, it’s very hard to do that, so it’s more like smiles, it’s more like body language. You’re sort of just connecting and as we’re connecting, I’m shooting. You’re sort of connecting with your eyes. Does that make sense?
Larry Jordan: It does, but how do you handle things like releases? If you’re going to sell or publish a photograph, how do you get release for your subjects?
Louis Kravitz: Well, when you’re in India, I just don’t. I don’t expect to be using it commercially. My understanding of release is if it’s not being used for commercial purposes, you don’t need a release. So if I’m showing it on the wall as a work of art, you don’t need a release. That’s been litigated, I understand.
Mike Horton: Yes, and there’s so much disagreement there. It’s just ridiculous.
Louis Kravitz: Anybody can sue you for anything.
Mike Horton: Yes, that’s true, and they do.
Louis Kravitz: I’m doing a new project I’m excited about for an organization called Justice In Aging, so I’ll be shooting senior citizens in various environments. There … going to get a release because they’ll be using them on their website and it gives them some security. I shot at a veterans’ center, disabled veterans getting haircuts. Everybody signed a release. But walking in India, that’s impossible.
Larry Jordan: Let’s talk about this exhibit you’re putting together. What’s involved in staging an exhibit of photographs?
Louis Kravitz: You’re taking thousands of pictures. It’s editing it down to, in this case, 20 pictures. It’s trying to learn to sequence them. Maybe if you’re lucky like me, have friends help me to sequence and pick them. I may pick 40 and they’ll help me narrow them down to 20. When you’re so involved and you’re so close, it’s hard to be objective.
Louis Kravitz: Then printing, in this case a really good printer at Sammy’s Camera in Los Angeles mainly the owner printed them for me and taught me a lot about printing black and white; and then getting them framed, and there are different ways of framing them, deciding how you want them framed. In this case, my projects was first shown in Lens Work magazine in September 2013. It was then displayed at Sammy’s Camera and eventually the people at Coffee Fix decided to show it as well.
Larry Jordan: Is it the same collection of images in all three locations?
Louis Kravitz: No, actually. The publisher of Lens Work, he picked the 20 that he liked out of about 40. Sammy’s, I only could show 12 and in this exhibit I went back to Calcutta in January of 2014. I’ve added about six to eight new pictures to the exhibit. I plan on going back again in November if I can of this year and ultimately get enough to produce a book. I also look to have an exhibit in India.
Mike Horton: Oh, that’d be fun.
Louis Kravitz: Yes it would.
Mike Horton: I’ve been looking through your website, looking at all the pictures, which are just lovely, and a lot of them are black and white and a lot of them are in color. When do you decide black and white versus color? Is it just a gut feeling?
Louis Kravitz: Yes and no. The first black and white pictures I ever did were Kolkata Morning. I shot the first morning by myself, my friend had not showed up to show me the city. I went back to the hotel, I downloaded the pictures and, looking at them, I felt that the color was interfering with what it felt like in the morning in Calcutta.
Louis Kravitz: Calcutta is one of the densest cities in the whole world. If you travel in Calcutta after ten o’clock in the morning, you can hardly breathe, and by the afternoon it’s impossible. But at 6am, 7am, 8am, it’s beautiful. The air is cleaner, it’s quiet and there’s a feeling to it and black and white showed that feeling while with color, the picture was almost as much about color as it was Calcutta. Does that make sense?
Mike Horton: Sure.
Louis Kravitz: So my first black and white was that project.
Mike Horton: Do you process your pictures much? Or is it pretty much what comes out of the camera?
Louis Kravitz: Pretty much what comes out of the camera. I use Lightroom from Adobe. I’ve given myself permission not to learn Photoshop, so I don’t own it.
Mike Horton: Well, Lightroom’s a pretty powerful program.
Louis Kravitz: Right, it’s powerful, it allows me to lighten pictures; if it’s in color, to adjust the color. I’ll be honest about this – I’m very bad at judging color. Black and white is a savior to me. You wouldn’t want me to pick paint for your house.
Larry Jordan: Do you sign your photographs?
Louis Kravitz: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Where?
Louis Kravitz: I was signing them on the photographs, just like an artist would on a painting, and I recently went to an exhibit and I saw how they framed it where the photographer printed it with about a one inch border around the print and he signed in the border and then the frame and the matting came to the paper, so you were able to see the paper, and I really liked that look.
Louis Kravitz: So now all my pictures in the future will have about a one inch border, I’ll sign in the border. If the picture has a title, I’ll put it in the border. I’ll date it in the border, number it in the border and then frame it. I think it’s a lot prettier.
Larry Jordan: We have four photographers on our crew and they are all dying to know what camera you shoot with.
Mike Horton: Yes, what’s the most important lens to have?
Louis Kravitz: I shoot with a Leica and the reason I picked a Leica is that, before I went to digital, I shot with a rangefinder and it’s smaller. When I’m walking in the street and you have a small camera, it’s much less intimidating than walking with a Nikon or a Canon and a lens this big. So mine looks like an old camera, it looks like a film camera – it’s not, it’s digital. It’s probably one of the most expensive cameras made but it doesn’t look it, so I’m not as intimidating. I typically shoot with a 35 to 50 millimeter lens, mostly the 50.
Mike Horton: Wow, so you’ve got to get up close to your subjects.
Louis Kravitz: Yes, and that’s what I enjoy about it. I’m basically standing next to you.
Larry Jordan: Now, wait a minute, I want to make sure I heard this. You’re shooting with a 50 millimeter lens, not a zoom, but a fixed length?
Louis Kravitz: Right, but Leica doesn’t make a zoom lens for this. It’s a digital rangefinder. My longest lens is at 90 millimeter and I might use that for a portrait session, but going into the street, a 35 and a 50 serves me really well.
Larry Jordan: And what format are you shooting?
Louis Kravitz: It’s a 35 millimeter two by three format.
Mike Horton: How fast is the 50 lens?
Louis Kravitz: The 50’s at F2 and the 35’s at 1.4.
Mike Horton: When you were going out to the rice fields in Cambodia, do you want to be out there in early morning and late afternoon during magic hour, or can you get those great shots during noon?
Louis Kravitz: I think you really would like to be out there in the magic hour, in the morning or late afternoon, but often you don’t have that choice, you’re travelling, so you have to learn how to make adjustments and slowly, as I learn, I’m learning how to shoot at noon as well. They’re just different.
Mike Horton: Yes. There’s good stuff there.
Larry Jordan: How about lens filters? Are you using anything special on the camera lens itself?
Louis Kravitz: No, I don’t use any filters other than a protective filter so that the lens doesn’t get damaged, a neutral UV lens filter.
Mike Horton: You don’t want to drop a Leica into a rice paddy.
Larry Jordan: No, bad idea.
Mike Horton: That’s a really bad, bad thing to do.
Louis Kravitz: You don’t want to drop it at all. It’s a good camera.
Larry Jordan: Well, back to our four photographers in the back, they all want to carry your suitcases on your next trip to India or …
Mike Horton: Yes, so do I.
Larry Jordan: …Israel or anywhere else, so if you need volunteers you’ve got a place to look.
Louis Kravitz: Thank you.
Mike Horton: Do you have any inkling to get one of those Canons or Nikons with the giant zoom lenses?
Louis Kravitz: My wife owns the Nikon D800 with a 28 to 300, I think it is, but she has just decided, she just shoots with a 50 or an 85 and that’s all she carries now.
Mike Horton: Well, that 800 is …
Louis Kravitz: It’s too heavy.
Mike Horton: Yes, that 800 is heavy.
Louis Kravitz: Yes. I leave it to her, I don’t use it, I like my camera.
Mike Horton: Ok, good for you.
Louis Kravitz: I find it very heavy.
Larry Jordan: What projects are you working on next?
Louis Kravitz: The next project is for Justice in Aging. They are a not for profit organization that helps senior citizens with legal matters, involved with health and economic issues. They basically train other organizations and they’ll sue on behalf – they did a class action suit recently with Social Security and won hundreds of millions of dollars for seniors. I’m going to start shooting to help build a library for them they can use on their website and their blog. Going charitable work is really great. I teach photography in LA and I’m very fortunate, I don’t need to sell my photographs. I have a chance to do work for free.
Larry Jordan: That’s very cool.
Mike Horton: Well, I want to be you when I grow up.
Larry Jordan: Louis, what website can people go to to learn more about your work?
Louis Kravitz: That website is www.louiskravitz.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s louiskravitz.com. Louis, thanks for joining us today.
Mike Horton: Thanks a lot, Louis.
Louis Kravitz: Thank you very much for having me. It was really enjoyable. Appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Louis Kravitz: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: So, Mike, you want to go help him with his photography?
Mike Horton: Yes. Just like those guys. Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: I think the entire control room has signed up to go be a volunteer.
Mike Horton: Yes, wouldn’t that be great? To just spend the rest of my life running around the world taking photographs and meeting people and coming up with some of these wonderful images that he does.
Larry Jordan: The thing I like is that, for a guy who says he doesn’t understand color that well, the color images are stunning. They’re rich and they’re deep. They’re fun to look at.
Mike Horton: Yes, well, it’s not the tool. It’s the guy who’s snapping the thing at the right time.
Larry Jordan: But having a good tool helps.
Mike Horton: Yes, it helps.
Larry Jordan: And the Leica’s an amazing piece of work.
Mike Horton: It’s a very expensive camera. Those lenses and the camera, very expensive.
Larry Jordan: Are you going to buy one for me?
Mike Horton: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Oh, all right, scratch that idea.
Mike Horton: If you sell all these cameras that are here, you can buy one Leica.
Larry Jordan: Well, the other thing I was interested in is he works with a prime lens, he works with a fixed link lens and, rather than zoom the lens, he moves his feet.
Mike Horton: You would have thought there would have been a zoom, because you look at his pictures there and you would have thought that, but no, he’s got to get right up to, he’s got to be here.
Larry Jordan: Mhmm.
Mike Horton: Just between you and me, right there, and that does take chutzpah. “Can I take your picture? I’m from New York. I’ve got chutzpah.”
Larry Jordan: My, my, my. You know, the other interesting thing is the visceral reaction that I have, and others, to horror. Some people really like it and some people don’t. I don’t like seeing people in jeopardy like that and I am very uncomfortable with it.
Mike Horton: Really? Well, there are a lot of people that don’t, but obviously there are a lot of people who do, because it is very profitable.
Larry Jordan: It is and then his photography, James’ photography is great.
Mike Horton: I’m actually looking forward to his movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
Larry Jordan: Give me a report.
Mike Horton: I like horror, but I like good horror. I like good movies, just like he does. He’s not going to define himself as a horror director, he’s going to define himself as a director/writer, but there is a definition of horror. I don’t know what that is. Honestly don’t.
Larry Jordan: No, but you can see it.
Mike Horton: Yes. Buckets of blood.
Larry Jordan: That’s the truth. I want to thank our guest for today: Eddie Robison, the VFX supervisor at Inhance Digital.
Mike Horton: He was great. Oh, man.
Larry Jordan: It was a good show today.
Mike Horton: It was really good. Bring them all back.
Larry Jordan: We will bring them back. James Cullen Bressack, the writer/director of Pernicious; and Louis Kravitz, photographer. There’s lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find hundreds of past shows and thousands of interviews all searchable, all online and all available.
Larry Jordan: By the way, visit our website and take our survey. We’re planning the next version of The Buzz and we’d love your opinion. 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 provided by Smartsound and text transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription at take1.tv.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania; engineering team led by Megan Paulos, including Ed Golya, Keegan Guy, Alex Hackworth, Eileen Kim and Brianna Murphy. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name’s Larry Jordan; thanks for watching and listening to The Buzz.
Mike Horton: Goodbye everybody.
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