Digital Production Buzz
October 29, 2015
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
Tech Talk with Larry Jordan
BuZZ Flashback: Cory Trepanier
Brad Malcolm, President, Athentech Imaging Inc.
André Gabriel and Jonathan Burcin, Students
Cirina Catania, Founder/Lead Creative, The Catania Group
Maxim Jago, Director, MaximJago.com
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, two nights before Halloween, Brad Malcolm explains how to create better images. Brad is the President of Athentech Imaging, whose top app provides intelligent image correction for still images.
Larry Jordan: Next, two student filmmakers from CUNY created Building The Future: A City Tech Tale. Tonight, we talk with André Gabriel and Jonathan Burcin about what happened when they entered their film into the SMPTE Student Film Festival.
Larry Jordan: Next, Cirina Catania, the Supervising Producer of The Buzz, shares what she learned watching the films at the SMPTE Student Film Festival.
Larry Jordan: Next, Maxim Jago is a filmmaker who spends a lot of time thinking about creativity and actors. He shares his thoughts on how he directs actors and his creative process tonight.
Larry Jordan: All this plus a Buzz Flashback and Tech Talk talks color correction. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer #1: Tonight’s Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Other World Computing at macsales.com; and by Xen Data, at xendata.com.
Announcer #2: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking… Authoritative…one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals… Current…uniting industry experts… Production…filmmakers… Post production…and content creators around the planet. Distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now. 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 covering content production, post production and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan; Mike Horton and Randi Altman have the night off, but we’ve got a substitute.
Larry Jordan: There are two big announcements that I want to share with you tonight. The first is the announcement last week from Western Digital that they have acquired the third largest manufacturer of flash memory in the world, Sandisk Corporation. This is a cash and stock deal worth $19 billion. Western Digital has acquired a lot of technology lately – Hitachi Global Storage in 2011, HGST made hard disks, a 15 year licensing deal for flash memory with Toshiba earlier this year and now Sandisk.
Larry Jordan: As Kinetics Communication wrote in their newsletter today, hard drive manufacturers such as Western Digital are faced with an evolution in the IT industry as well as flash storage becoming more and more desirable and the need to diversify their storage portfolio becomes vital as hard drive sales slowly decline. The acquisition of Sandisk instantly expands Western Digital’s foothold in the non-volatile and flash memory industry and gives them access to a segment of the consumer data storage market that they weren’t in before.
Larry Jordan: For everyone creating media, storage is far more critical to our projects than the computer we use. With this recent announcement, our storage options are likely to become more limited, but we should also see a greater integration of flash with spinning disks.
Larry Jordan: Another announcement that I found intriguing was a press release from Addo Technology highlighting their products that support the simultaneous demands of 8K or 4K editing, real time video processing, CGI and visual effects, as well as the needs that studios have for multiple simultaneous ultra high definition video streams. These new Addo devices support Thunderbolt, fiber channel or SAS and provide network speeds up to 40 gigabits per second.
Larry Jordan: Addo has a longstanding and well deserved reputation for high quality connectivity products. What struck me were the incredible data transfer speeds we now take almost for granted. As someone who began his computer career with a single sided eight inch floppy disk, it never hurts to admire just how far we’ve come.
Larry Jordan: I want to remind you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproduction.com, which comes out every Friday. I’ll be back with Brad Malcolm right after this.
Larry Jordan: When you’re working with media, one thing is essential – your computer needs peak performance. However, when it comes to upgrading your Mac, there are so many different options to choose from that the process can be confusing. That’s why Other World Computing carries the best upgrades that let your computer performance and storage grow as your needs grow.
Larry Jordan: Since 1988, OWC has become one of the most trusted names in quality hardware and comprehensive support to the worldwide computer industry. With an extensive online catalog of Mac, iPhone and iPad enhancement products, as well as a dedicated team of knowledgeable experts providing first rate tech support, OWC has everything you need to take your current system to the next level. Whether you need to maximize your system’s memory, add blazing speed or enhance reliability, look no further than the friendly experts at OWC. Learn more by visiting macsales.com today.
Larry Jordan: Brad Malcolm is the President and Co-founder of Athentech Imaging. They’re the makers of Perfectly Clear. This innovative technology provides intelligent image correction for still images. Hello, Brad, welcome.
Brad Malcolm: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Ah, it’s my pleasure. I was just thinking, it’s been a while since we’ve had you on the show and it’s time to take a look and see what the new news is. How would you describe the technology behind Perfectly Clear?
Brad Malcolm: Well, outstanding.
Larry Jordan: Yes, but what does it do? For people who don’t know what Perfectly Clear is, tell us what it does.
Brad Malcolm: Perfectly Clear is one touch magic for your photos and we’ve been licensing it for, gosh, 14 years to the largest printers around the world and we have advanced plug-ins for professional photographers, which is a one button click. The value proposition there is it’s all about saving you time. So the technology behind Perfectly Clear, we’ve got lots of patents and physics and the best math in how it works. It’s basically here to save you time. Cameras have physical limitations, images are dark, noisy, all that stuff and we automatically fix that with one click.
Larry Jordan: We’ve had image correction for a long time. iPhoto has it and Photo has it. What is it that separates you from the other applications that are doing image correction?
Brad Malcolm: I guess the difference is we’re robust and it’s a real color correction. You can run through millions of images every day – and in fact, our licensees run through 30 million prints every day – and it’s automatically better. It’s not worse and it’s realistic, so we’re never going to damage an image and we’re always going to make it better. That’s what makes it robust. There are 20 different corrections that we can do automatically and we do it at an advanced level so it doesn’t look fake, it doesn’t look artificial.
Brad Malcolm: There have been a lot of filters – that’s a hot topic – but we’re not a filter. Filters are for creative and artistic effects and there are enhancements to make things look pretty, but then they look fake and that’s not us. Have you ever had that moment, you go on that special vacation, for example, snap the picture of your family and what you see with your eyes is full of vibrant color but you take that picture and it’s just black, lacking color vibrancy, it’s noisy, it’s dark and that’s the challenge. Reality doesn’t match; the reality as we remember it, that we actually saw, is different than the camera captured, so we bring it back to how your eyes actually saw it.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk more about that, but let’s take a look at some specific images and see how your technology corrects them. For instance, we’ve got this image here, it’s a picture of a penguin. Tell us what’s happening with that image.
Brad Malcolm: That’s a great example and we took it especially for you guys, but other than that it’s just a typical example where you’re shooting and take a picture with your high quality camera and it’s dark because you have a light dynamic range that the eye sees but the camera only has a single aperture and therefore the exposure doesn’t match what you saw. We analyze that, we see that it’s dark and we correct ever pixel independently, so that image that you see now is 20 million independent apertures all properly optimized so that it’s full of life, just as you saw it.
Larry Jordan: Now, I should mention that this image is inside your desktop application. You’ve also got a mobile app that we’ll talk about in just a second. Let’s take a look at a second image and here we’ve got a young boy, the before on the left and after on the right. What’s happening here?
Brad Malcolm: In that case, it’s another example – a special memory, it looks great, you take a picture, the camera didn’t capture it as reality was and what happens a lot with digital cameras is images are lacking in color vibrancy. It’s due to the linear response of the sensor versus film, which is non-linear. It’s like it’s been washed out, like a newspaper sitting in the sun, and that happens a lot even with good, expensive gear.
Brad Malcolm: So we analyze that, we detect that and we automatically bring back the color vibrancy. Note we don’t oversaturate it, that would make it worse. We just make it look like you saw with your eyes, full of natural, rich, vibrant color, and we bring back a lot of pop because we’ve got technology in there from the medical realm where we work on X-rays to make sure your image has lots of depth, just like you saw with your eyes.
Larry Jordan: So it’s more than just correcting levels or adding chroma. You’re actually doing much more subtle adjustments than that?
Brad Malcolm: Absolutely. We’re analyzing every pixel independently and if it’s noisy we’ll remove it; if it needs an exposure correction, we correct exposure, but we never clip and we always maintain the real color. What that means is right now you’re wearing a red sweater, we’re not going to wash that out, we’re not going to cause that to become washed out and faded, which is a common problem. We just maintain that real color.
Brad Malcolm: You’ve got purple behind you, which is really difficult for cameras to capture. A FedEx box has purple – most cameras will capture that as two blue. If you’re shooting a wedding or bridesmaids’ dresses or lavender flowers, where color is very important, you want that accurate reproduction. We’ll bring it back to the proper color vibrancy. You’ve got normal tints which happen a lot in candescent lighting. Skiing, the snow turns out blue. We detect that and we fix that, but this all happens automatically behind the scenes.
Larry Jordan: Ok, let’s take a look at another image. This looks almost like skin softening, that we’re making blemishes disappear. Is that a true statement?
Brad Malcolm: It is a true statement because we have our Beautify technology. With one click, we actually do ten different corrections. We smooth the skin, but it’s very natural looking, as you can see. We’ll lighten teeth, we’ll enhance eyes, we can remove blemishes and we just make it easy to look your best. It’s not fake, it’s not artificial. There’s a lot of technology out there where you can smooth images and people complain a lot, “That looks fake, that’s not me, I don’t recognize me.” Well, that’s not the case. With us, it’s totally natural because what happens a lot, even with lenses, they’ll do the wide angle and they’ll distort skins a bit, so our face contourance brings your face back to the natural proportion.
Brad Malcolm: Again, what’s different with us is we’re automatic and that’s the key value proposition. You click the button, we do the rest. We detect faces, we detect age, we detect a gender and automatically make you look your best. You don’t have to go there and manually choose a face, manually choose removal of red eye or any of that complicated stuff. We do it all behind the scenes.
Larry Jordan: You’ve also recently released a new Android and IOS application. If I’m correct, it’s called Lucid? Or is that the desktop app.
Brad Malcolm: That’s the desktop app. We’ve had plug-ins for people in the Adobe workflow, Photoshop plug-ins, Lightroom plug-ins and those work very well and we’ve got a lot of people loving that. What we launched recently is our Photo Enthusiast line. It’s a standalone and Lucid makes your images perfectly clear. It’s a standalone app for Windows and Mac, so for those people who are not in Adobe, it’s very easy to just run images through and you can batch process.
Larry Jordan: Well, we’ve got an image of a young girl on screen. It’s split screen – we’ve got before on the left, after on the right. What’s Lucid doing here?
Brad Malcolm: That’s in our IOS app and that’s what we just launched as well. In that case, that’s a cute young girl and it’s a typical example where she’s outside, it looks great. Wide dynamic range, camera couldn’t capture that. We detected that, we’re correcting every pixel automatically, making the exposure look the best, but we also detect the face and we can see her eyes are a little dark, so we’re making her eyes pop, bringing out the shine, the sparkle that her eyes naturally have, because she’s full of joy.
Larry Jordan: All right, well, what I’m hearing is the big benefit that your software provides is not that you can exceed necessarily the capabilities of the skilled photographer, but you don’t have to be a skilled photographer to take advantage of this – it’s one click, easy. It strikes me that the broad market, people who just want their pictures to look better, is a perfect market for what this product is. Do I have that correct?
Brad Malcolm: Yes, that’s correct. I would dissect it in two areas. If you’re a working pro or an advanced amateur, some of the stuff you can do in Photoshop and it’s going to take you five minutes. For us, it’ll take two seconds. Now, take that if you’re shooting weddings, if you’re doing a commercial, you’ve got a thousand images. If you’ve got to manually correct every one, that’s going to take you a lot of time. Run it through, we automatically correct it. That’s where there are huge time savings because you make your money doing creative stuff behind the computer, not doing mundane editing. If you’re a photo enthusiast, well, you don’t want to learn complex tools. We get you there without the learning curve. So there are two segmentations there.
Larry Jordan: One of the buzz words that we’re hearing a lot about especially in video but it’s been around in photography for a long time, is high dynamic range images where we have blacker blacks and whiter whites. Are you able to work with HDR images? And, if so, is there really that much of a difference after we’ve run those images through your product?
Brad Malcolm: Absolutely. There are two aspects to that. One, HDR images are often quite noisy because you’re taking out a very high ISO and then you’re combining that, so you’re getting the noise aggregated throughout two, three, five or seven images so running it through Perfectly Clear will actually remove the noise. Even with the HDR images, yes, you’re taking several exposures and combining them together, but with Perfectly Clear we’ll notice that it still is often dark and we’ll just make those colors pop and fix that exposure. We have a lot of people using that with a lot of success and loving it.
Larry Jordan: You’ve got technology for Mac and Windows systems, you’ve also got it for Android and IOS. Are you seeing that uses of the product are different depending upon what platform they’re using?
Brad Malcolm: No, I wouldn’t say the uses are different. We license the core technology and then we’ve got our mobile applications, our desktop applications, so no, we have people with very expensive cameras and lenses and I’m one of those, but still there are physical limitations where it’s like, “Wow, I just didn’t get it right,” and you run it through and the photos look amazing and I don’t have to spend time doing it, so it’s more from a use case.
Brad Malcolm: But we have a lot of Android users and we have a lot of people on IOS as well, so I wouldn’t say there are any specific trends within a certain OS. Those are just OS’s, but it’s getting the big picture. People are still taking pictures, they want images to look their best and they don’t want to spend hours behind a computer making it so.
Larry Jordan: I just realized that, according to what I was reading on your website, your software does 18 different tests or 18 different corrections to an image to make it look better. Can I select which of those I want it to do, or is it all or nothing?
Brad Malcolm: You can tune every one individually as well, so you can definitely adjust it. Those are the two sides. One button click – and we have eight different presets that you can choose from. We have Details, which works very robustly across everything. If you’re working on portrait, you hit our Beautify or Beautify Plus, but then if you want to fine tune it in our plug-ins or the standalone, there’s a separate tab you tap, all the slider bars are there and you can make adjustments if you want.
Brad Malcolm: The adjustments are very simple because they are exposure and when you move exposure to the left or to the right, you’re adjusting every pixel independently, never clipping, always maintaining real color, so no complex levels or curves adjustment but it does an excellent job with one slider.
Larry Jordan: I should say that congratulations are in order. Apparently Apple’s awarded Lucid one of the best new apps on the IOS platform. Congratulations. That’s very exciting.
Brad Malcolm: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: What did you have to do to qualify? Did they pick you out of the blue or did you wave your hand and say, “We’re here, pay attention to us”?
Brad Malcolm: We worked a year and a half of hard development and engineering and just developed a world class app.
Larry Jordan: When did they give you the Best New App award?
Brad Malcolm: Well, what they do is they do their featuring of different apps and they rotate that frequently as well. That happened a couple of days ago, just when we launched it here. I was on a call and all of a sudden I started getting Skypes from people in Norway and our… buddy and part of the development team there said, “Wow, this is cool, check it out,” and I was trying to stay focused on the call and another guy said, “Hey, wait a minute. What’s this going on here?” so, yes, it was pretty cool.
Larry Jordan: That’s very cool, congratulations.
Brad Malcolm: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: You’re focused on making images look better. What new technology are you keeping your eyes on in the near future that could enhance the images that we take?
Brad Malcolm: Stuff that we’re specifically doing or just stuff in the industry in general?
Larry Jordan: Well, I know you’re not going to preannounce products, that’s always what I’m interested in but it won’t happen, but I’m just thinking more of what new things are coming down the pipe that you’re keeping your eyes on, generically speaking?
Brad Malcolm: One thing that we’re always interested in is to be as good as we can and, with technology, we’ve got lots of inventions but we want to continue to innovate so that when you touch a button – and we’re very good, we’re the most robust that there is out there, but there’s always room to make it better, make it faster, do more stuff. Those are the things that we’re always working on- how do we do it better? How do we even refine everything more? Are there more corrections that are needed?
Brad Malcolm: One thing we don’t deal with is blurry images due to motion – can we take an image after the fact and make it crisp? Different things like that. There are other examples but everything about picture quality – how can we make it easy to look your best? Sure, cameras are getting better and there’s a lot of great equipment out there and great processing software, but there are still physical limitations – the way that the human eye works dynamically… the light versus a single aperture, that still continues to be the case.
Larry Jordan: If you can figure out how to make a blurry image look sharp, that I think qualifies as absolutely magic. How do you find an edge in a blurry image?
Brad Malcolm: I don’t have an answer for you. If I did, we’d probably have a product out there. But that’s just one of many. Yes, there are some really challenging problems out there.
Larry Jordan: Yes. It’s analogous to taking echoes out of audio and human speech, how you remove the echo without removing the voice. It’s a real challenge, how you remove the blur and keep an edge when the edge isn’t there. I think that qualifies you for Magician of the Year award. I’m very impressed.
Brad Malcolm: Well, it wouldn’t be me, it would be my team that’s smart behind me, just for clarity. I don’t take the credit.
Larry Jordan: Brad, where can people go to learn more about the products that you guys offer?
Brad Malcolm: You can go to athentech.com and you’ll find everything there. You can also Google Perfectly Clear and it’ll come up.
Larry Jordan: Perfect. The website is athentech.com. Brad Malcolm is the President and Co-founder. Brad, thanks for joining us today.
Brad Malcolm: Thanks for having me. A real pleasure as well.
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Larry Jordan: We’ve got an interesting story of two cities for you today. Two students, André Gabriel and Jonathan Burcin are students at the City University of New York, the College of Technology, and both of them are third year students studying entertainment technology. André’s background is in production; Jonathan’s background is in post production and they created this film – I’ve got to look at my notes – Building for the Future: A City Tech Tale. But what makes it especially interesting is that, while they go to school in New York, they’re actually in Los Angeles and therein lies a story. Hello André, hello Jonathan, good to have you with us.
André Gabriel: How are you doing?
Jonathan Burcin: How are you doing?
Larry Jordan: I’m talking to the two of you, this is going to be great. Tell me about your film, ‘Building for the Future: A City Tech Talk.’ What is it?
Jonathan Burcin: It’s… that happens that students from different schools, from different states build…
André Gabriel: An energy efficient house.
Jonathan Burcin: Yes, they try to build energy efficient houses. Our school City Tech has an undergraduate architecture students who decided to participate in this proposition. We’re the only participating school with undergraduates, right?
André Gabriel: I think so.
Jonathan Burcin: Yes… so since we were doing that, we were interested in videotaping and documenting their progress in building the house, so we documented them starting the build and their progress. They had to ship it to California for the competition.
André Gabriel: Yes, they build the house completely and then they dismantle it and have it shipped to California and then rebuild it here.
Larry Jordan: And why did you decide to turn this into a film? What was it that caught your attention?
André Gabriel: It was actually the diversity of the students involved. They weren’t just architecture students alone. There were students from other backgrounds.
Jonathan Burcin: Math majors.
André Gabriel: Engineering, all kinds of stuff. Everyone had a hand in it, so we decided to cover the diversity of the student body that was participating in the program.
Jonathan Burcin: Since City Tech is one of the most diverse colleges in the nation, we wanted to highlight that along with documenting the progress of building the house.
Larry Jordan: You’re in production, you’re shooting the film. What were you using for gear? What did you shoot it on?
Jonathan Burcin: It was a Panasonic HBX170.
André Gabriel: That was the camera and we rigged shotgun mics. They were Sennheiser shotgun mics. I’m not too sure if they were using mixers?
Jonathan Burcin: Maybe for narration, but not for…
André Gabriel: Ok, yes.
Jonathan Burcin: It wasn’t the most advanced 4K.
André Gabriel: We basically used what we had on hand.
Larry Jordan: And Jonathan, how did you edit it?
Jonathan Burcin: I edited on Avid Symphony. It’s was good product to work on, as I was learning Avid. It was the first major project I worked on on Avid.
Larry Jordan: Now, you entered this into a contest. Not only was there the architecture contest, but didn’t you enter it into a student film festival? Tell me about that.
André Gabriel: Oh yes, the SMPTE Student Film Festival. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers held their first annual film festival for students this year and we decided to enter it.
Jonathan Burcin: It was on a whim.
André Gabriel: … yes. We didn’t have a chance.
Larry Jordan: And there were how many people competing?
André Gabriel: In our division, there were three schools, eight people competing, three films.
Larry Jordan: And how did you do?
André Gabriel: We got second place in the category, which was best use of entertainment technology and film, but we got first place and Best in Show.
Jonathan Burcin: Best in Show, yes.
André Gabriel: And that was an unexpected thing.
Jonathan Burcin: Yes, we didn’t expect it at all.
Larry Jordan: Well, congratulations. Best in Show is always a delight. I wish you both great success. Is this film going to be posted anywhere? Can people see it?
André Gabriel: I’m not too sure. We’re going to have to speak with our head professor to find out exactly where it’s posted. Right now, it’s posted internally for us to view but it’s not for the general public just yet.
Larry Jordan: Well, I wish you great success, André Gabriel for doing the production and Jonathan Burcin for doing the post production, both at City University New York. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today.
André Gabriel: Thank you for having us.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is the Supervising Producer for The Buzz and a highly respected and very productive filmmaker in her own right. Recently, she attended the SMPTE Student Film Festival screenings, where André and Jonathan won the Best of Show award. Hello, Cirina, good to see you again.
Cirina Catania: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I am doing great. I was thinking that you were at the SMPTE screenings where our two guest won their award. What were your thoughts, watching all these student films?
Cirina Catania: The enthusiasm in the audience was amazing. These young filmmakers had come from as far away as Ecuador, Canada, United Arab Emirates. It was amazing how enthusiastic they are and that’s rejuvenating for us too.
Larry Jordan: What was it that impressed you the most?
Cirina Catania: The DSLR generation has really taught students how to film well visually. The visuals are very, very good in these films. I was also impressed with some of the special effects and some of the mock-ups that were used in the film. Lighting was good. Editing was surprisingly good and I was also surprised that a lot of these schools are teaching on Avid.
Larry Jordan: Hmm. What was it that needed the most work?
Cirina Catania: I think it was sound. They need to listen to your recent webinars on sound, Larry. There were some sync problems, probably having to do with the DCP that was made on the other end or I don’t know if the schools made them ahead of time or if they were made by SMPTE. Something happened with the DCPs and so there were sync problems.
Cirina Catania: I would advise anybody who’s screening a film in a public venue to first find out how it’s going to be projected and make sure that your specs are going to be top notch and you’re not going to have any problems technically, because if the sound isn’t good it’s very distracting. Some of the films were every good in terms of sound, but others, they even admitted it in the Q&A, that they needed to learn a lot about the sound. They weren’t mixed, the levels were uneven and in the room it sounded very tinny. It was sometimes hard to understand what was being said.
Larry Jordan: How about the storytelling? Was that ok?
Cirina Catania: Actually, that was my next point. Story is a big problem for some of these films. Even a 30 second film, especially the 30 second film, has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s got to have a payoff. You need to know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, who you’re rooting for and you need an ending and some of these were technically wonderfully interesting but the story was lacking.
Larry Jordan: What was the key takeaway that you’ve got for student filmmakers? What can they learn from these films?
Cirina Catania: I would say get a mentor who is not one of your teachers but a mentor who’s in the industry and is working as a pro so that you can ask them questions outside of the box and get a really high level feedback for your projects. It really does make a difference; I watched the men and women in the room who are professionals who have been working for many, many years and they’re very interested in helping out. You can always find somebody who is from an older generation who’s been around for a while and is willing to spend some time helping you to learn things that you may or may not learn in school.
Larry Jordan: Cirina, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you again. Look forward to seeing what else we’ve got planned for the rest of the show.
Cirina Catania: Thanks, Larry.
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Larry Jordan: Welcome to Tech Talk, sponsored by Keycode Media.
Larry Jordan: Here we’ve got two kids and we can see they’ve got skin and they look normal. Let’s look at our scopes. All right, a little bit of highlight with the sky, but notice that we would consider those kids white, but they’re not white. They’re a mid-tone gray. This brings me to one of the most politically incorrect statements I can think of saying – there are no white people and there are no black people. There are just mid-tone gray people.
Larry Jordan: If you think about it, when you’re getting yourself cleaned up in the bathroom in the morning and a piece of skin falls off, the very first thing you do is you look at that dead skin and make sure that it’s not some major body part that you’re suddenly losing, but the other thing you do is you look at it closely and you realize it’s gray dead skin, because skin doesn’t have a color. Skin has a grayscale. Our blood has a color. So that which gives us color is not our skin, but the blood under our skin. The rest of our skin is just simply varying in grayscale. It’s a grayscale difference.
Larry Jordan: So what does that mean in terms of the scope? Look at the computer. You see this line right here on the vectorscope that’s going up left? That’s called the skin tone line or the flesh tone line. Whether you are Caucasian or black or Asian or Indian or any other ethnic or racial group, every single one of us has the same red blood under our skin and this line represents the color of red blood under skin. The color is always the same, the only thing that changes is the saturation.
Larry Jordan: So here the girl’s skin is that big clump right there on the skin tone line. Here the background is white. Her sweater is beige. Her face between 60 and 80 percent. She’s not white, she’s a mid-tone gray.
Larry Jordan: This Hispanic woman, her skin tone right around 60 to 70 per cent. The background is 90 per cent. She’s clearly not a grayscale white. She’s a mid-tone. This black woman, there’s the white of her sweater, the beige of the couch. Her face? 20 to 40 percent. She’s not black, she’s a mid-tone gray. She’s not white or black, she’s a mid-tone gray. She’s not white or black, she’s a mid-tone gray and look where their skin tones are – right on the skin tone line, right on the skin tone line, right on the skin tone line.
Larry Jordan: In fact, if I go here and go to effect controls and turn on a crop so I just see her skin and go back to the scopes, her skin is right on the skin tone line. This is a huge benefit to us as we’re doing color correcting, because if our skin tone is not on the skin tone line or a couple of degrees above or below it, we’re going to look strange.
Larry Jordan: Here, for instance. Ok, but feels lifeless so the first thing I’m going to do is analyze the image. Let’s pull our blacks down just a little bit. But she’s Caucasian, her skin tone should be around 50 to 70 percent. Nothing gets over 50, so the first thing I’m going to do is apply a crop, go back to effect controls and let’s crop in and find a well lit part of her skin. I want to make sure to exclude other colors, because otherwise it can be confusing trying to read the scope if you’ve got a bunch of other colors in there. There we go. It doesn’t have to be very big. She’s on the skin tone line, but she’s supposed to be between 50 and 70 percent. She’s between 40 and 45 percent, so I’m going to bring my white levels up and pull her up to be about, oh, 55 to 60 percent.
Larry Jordan: Now when I take the crop off, much better. Now we can pull this down a bit to give ourselves a little bit more black level, give ourselves a little bit more richness. This is where we were before, this is where we are.
Larry Jordan: Maxim Jago is a film director, a screenwriter and an author who splits his time between filmmaking and speaking as a futurist. He’s a regular speaker at media technology conferences, film festivals and events celebrating creativity. He’s also the Chief Innovation Officer at filmdoo.com and a mentor for many new filmmakers. Welcome back, Maxim. Good to have you with us.
Maxim Jago: Very happy to be here. Nice to see you again.
Larry Jordan: Well, you know, I was just thinking, the last time we spoke, which was back in February of this year, we were talking about your approach to creativity and the training that you do for Adobe. This time, I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about your work as a film director. What are some of the films that you’ve created?
Maxim Jago: Goodness, there are 50 terrible films that I’ve created. A couple of them are acceptable. I think the most significant ones recently, there was a feature length documentary I made about a New York based abstract theater director called Richard Foreman. That was pretty interesting and it’s beautiful as, because he’s an abstract theater director, it’s pretty crazy stuff and at the beginning of the process I interviewed one of the actors who said, “I know this is fake. Just so you know I said it, this is definitely one of those psychological tests and just so you know, I spotted that’s what it was, because it’s too crazy.”
Maxim Jago: Two weeks in, the same guy said, “I get it, it’s amazing, it’s transformative, I’m wowed,” so it was wonderful seeing that development. I got Best Director last year in Monaco for a short film called ‘Strong Heart’ and that was a beautiful little piece, it’s a serendipitous love story, and I did pretty well with a short again last year which was called ‘Theft Unexpected.’ It’s based on a beautiful Douglas Adams story about a man who thinks that his cookies are being stolen by a stranger across the table from him in a railway station café and, of course, the big reveal at the end is that his cookies were under his own newspaper and he’s actually been stealing the other guy’s.
Maxim Jago: There’s this beautiful battle of wills between these two characters, neither of whom have any training to prepare them for a stranger stealing their food like that, and looking annoyed while they did it. It’s beautiful. That actually got Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It’s a lovely little film.
Larry Jordan: There are a lot of different ways to approach film. Some people, like Hitchcock, like the technical challenge of planning every shot; other directors like working with actors and other directors like the post production process. Which part appeals to you the most?
Maxim Jago: When I was a kid, I was always interested in the idea of lucid dreaming, where you’re in control of the dream. I never managed to pull it off; although I have dozed off a lot during the day, it’s not quite the same. I love the idea that, as a filmmaker, you are using in a sense reality itself as your paintbrush and paint and canvas, that you’re really creating an experience for your audience, and I read a little while ago that the part of your mind that has experiences does not differentiate between something that you literally are experiencing, something that you imagine, something that you remember, something that you dream. It doesn’t differentiate at all.
Maxim Jago: So as a filmmaker, I think that in a very literal sense you’re creating a real experience for your audience and I think that’s very beautiful. I’ve been an actor and I sometimes still do act and so I particularly love helping actors to become very present and very real. I’m not particularly concerned about the precise words of the script. I’m more interested in naturalism and realism, I’m more interested in the authenticity of the moment and as long as the key sentiments of the scene are there, as long as the plot is expressed and the main stuff is right, I’m much more concerned with the audience believing what they’re witnessing and feeling that it’s real.
Maxim Jago: There’s an amazing moment in ‘Interstellar,’ which I enjoyed very much. I don’t know the name of the young actress that plays his daughter at the beginning of the film, but there’s a scene where she is very angry with him because he’s leaving and her performance was so powerful and real that I felt myself welling up watching it. I could feel my own eyes sympathetically responding and she wasn’t even speaking. It was just so completely real and present and I think if you can create something with all of your cast and crew that has that reality tone, it’s just an incredible thrill.
Maxim Jago: I directed a film a while back, I was very proud of it though it didn’t do very well at the festivals. It’s called ‘The Party’s Over,’ you can see it on my Vimeo page. It’s about a guy and a girl in a café and it’s the very serious topic about her being assaulted at a party. I just helped the actress through this emotional journey. There’s a moment where he should be saying, “I’m so sorry this has happened, let me help you,” but he reacts the wrong way and I took her on this emotional journey to the point where there was nowhere for her to go but tears and slapping him, so she does both. Members of the crew were welling up watching her performance and I just thought, “I might as well quit now, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”
Maxim Jago: So I love all of it, but I also feel that as a director, it’s not about me being in charge, it’s not about my ego or me being right, it’s about me enabling everybody else there to fulfill their genius. I want to reclaim the word enabler. Alcoholics Anonymous use it as someone who justifies behavior, and I want to reclaim that word because I think it’s very powerful. If you can enable other people to fulfill their potential, and as a director if you can be the one – I always think it’s like tuning an orchestra and you’re the only one with a tuning fork and you go around and people show you things and you go ‘dong’ and you listen and it either fits or it doesn’t, it’s either in tune or it isn’t, and if it is in tune then it’s better than my idea, let’s have it, because it makes me look like a better director. It’s wonderful. You just have to help other people, to challenge them in the right way and I find that very fulfilling as well.
Larry Jordan: It’s a hard position, though, for an actor to be in the moment in relationship to the film as opposed to being in the moment surrounded by crew and all the technical gear that’s necessary with filmmaking. What’s a typical instruction you give to an actor to help bring them into the moment you need them to be in relationship to the film as opposed to real life?
Maxim Jago: Yes, I have a rule about that. Following on from this idea that the brain doesn’t differentiate between something you imagine or something that’s really happening, I found that particularly actors are willing to step into a world that you paint for them, a world that you describe, so my rule is this – I say very clearly, and I say it regularly until they really get it, you are not acting for the other cast, for the crew, for the audience, for the camera, nobody. You’re not acting for any of those people. You’re just acting for me – and I will sit next to the camera so the eye lines are right and it’s all just as it should be and I promise to tell you when it’s right and if it’s not right, I’ll tell you why.
Maxim Jago: But if it is, not only will I tell you, but it’s kind of my responsibility, so if I’m wrong, it’s my fault, not yours. If I say it’s good, it’s good and it’s time to move on. But I want you to imagine there’s a bubble around this location that you’re in, this scene, and nothing exists outside of that bubble. If it’s a three wall set and it’s a flyaway stage or whatever, there are obviously crew there. I won’t have this stuff of crew moving lights around. Gaffers are terrible for it. Because you can’t hear them, they think, “Well, I’m just going to move this light,” but of course it’s distracting for the cast, so I want everyone to be very present and I want the cast to only be thinking about whether they’re performing for me – and I’m right there, right next to the camera watching – and am I convinced that it’s real?
Maxim Jago: My rule is if you’re not feeling it, I don’t want to see it and it’s my responsibility to give you the feelings, not yours. Don’t direct yourself; and if I haven’t given you a feeling, show me that, show me absolutely nothing. It’ll be wonderful on camera, it’ll look fantastic because when you have that blank expression, the audience projects onto you and that’s because when people go into shock, when their feelings are so powerful it’s not worth expressing them, you just shut down, so let’s have that. If that’s not what I want, I promise I will give you the feeling.
Maxim Jago: There’s a fantastic UK director’s trainer called Simon Philips, he has this great technique where you never answer the question if an actor asks you how they should feel, just don’t answer it, just pretend they never asked it, but tell them a little story about something that happened to them. So, for example, if you want them to really dislike another character, you can take them aside and say, “You know, the last time you saw that guy, he was really drunk. He was fall down drunk and he mistook you for somebody else and he took a swing and punched you in the head, and he was so drunk he walked off, didn’t even realize he’d done it, he’d just gone. He hasn’t seen you since and you haven’t seen him and he obviously doesn’t recognize you and doesn’t remember he did it. Let’s have the scene.”
Maxim Jago: Now, what you’ve got is this powerful layered story that the actor has in their mind and the other actor has no idea why they’re reacting that way. It’s beautiful, it’s a real feeling.
Larry Jordan: So you don’t give the same instruction to all your actors? Each actor’s getting a specific instruction?
Maxim Jago: Yes, I give two separate sets of direction. One is for everyone together and the other is absolutely separately, because it’s about an internal journey. You can’t give away all the information. You want the reactions, don’t you? You want the reaction and I’m always saying to actors, “Stop waiting for your line. You’ve got to really listen because if you want a lot of screen time, you’d better look like you’re thinking about what the other person’s saying, because your reactions tell the audience how they should feel, so if you’re just standing there waiting, I can’t use it, that’s going to be on the cutting room floor.”
Maxim Jago: Feel it, be present and it’s my job to give them feelings, it’s my job to give them an attitude. You know, I was raised by intellectual hippies, I believe in absolute equality and we should all love one another and drink more tea, but nonetheless as the director you are an authority and I think that you create a space in which people feel safe to take risks and to work magic. In the Native American shamanic tradition, they have this idea that when you’re performing a big ceremony you’ll have two shamans. One shaman performs the ceremony and the other one holds the space, and I think as a director you’re both.
Maxim Jago: You have to create that atmosphere in which everybody in the room, cast and crew, feels that something’s truly being created here, something really magical is happening, and it’s all happening around this scene, this space in the middle of the room if you like, and it’s your job to create that space. You have to be the one that doesn’t freak out when the equipment breaks. You have to be the one that has humor when things go wrong.
Larry Jordan: Maxim, I was looking at my notes, you’re working on a new film called ‘Orpheus Rising.’ Tell us about that.
Maxim Jago: It is my baby. It’s a love story thriller about an uncommonly compassionate and emotionally ok contract killer who falls totally, truly, madly, deeply, French movie style in love and so far everybody who reads the script says they want to work on it for free, they can’t wait. It’s a meant story. It’s the kind of film we get into filmmaking for and I’m just inviting anybody who wants to get involved to get involved. It’s a bit of a challenge, I’m trying to reach out to Gemma Arterton, Johnny Depp, Anthony Hopkins and Terence Stamp to get them to read the script and get involved, and so I’m reaching out psychically because their agents won’t talk to indies, but it is a beautiful project and so far everyone wants to get involved.
Larry Jordan: Well, it seems like you’re sort of caught in a catch 22 – you can’t get money until you’ve got a famous actor and you can’t get a famous actor until you’ve got money. How are you coping with the stress?
Maxim Jago: Naps. You just have to keep going. I read a beautiful quote somewhere that you have to be lucky to be successful and the harder you work, the luckier you are. I think keeping going is one of those great tests. If you keep going, you will eventually have some success.
Larry Jordan: Thinking about success reminds me of the other film that you’re working on, which has a killer title. It’s called ‘James Bond 0013.’ Tell me about that.
Maxim Jago: It’s a fantastic project. Over the years, I’ve had a number of people tell me that they thought I would make a good Bond and being human and male, who doesn’t like James Bond? I’ve met a few people who’ve said, “Why don’t you just go for it?” and I was speaking with Cirina Catania, who you know as well, about this and she’s an incredibly experienced filmmaker and a wonderful person and she said, “Well, let’s work on it together.”
Maxim Jago: Over the years, as I get older and more cynical, I’ve realized that most of the people who say they’re going to do things are lying. They don’t realize they’re lying, they mean it at the time, but they’re lying and they just don’t do it. My old lecturer at film school, Ted May, he’s a genius, said the definition of professional is to do what you say you’re going to do. I used to think it was one in ten; now I’m thinking it’s more like one in 100 or maybe even one in 1,000 people actually do what they say they’re going to do and when you meet someone like that, grab them, marry them maybe.
Larry Jordan: But let’s get back to ‘James Bond 0013.’
Maxim Jago: Cirina was saying, “Let’s do it,” so the plan is that I’ve written a script, I’ve called it ‘James Bond 0013,’ it’s a simple short, it’s about nine minutes, a James Bond case where he conducts an investigation and I’m going to play the lead, I’m going to play Bond, and I’m going to direct it and it’s the second time for me – the first time was an unbearably awful student film – playing the role and directing the film and it’s proof of concept to see if I can do it. Now, I think in a situation like that you need an exceptional crew and you need an exceptional assistant director and production manager.
Maxim Jago: You need people who are really in control and you have to be rehearsed and planned before you get on location. But these days, now you’ve got instant playback of what you’ve recorded and it’s much easier to capture things because we can shoot with two or three cameras, it’ll work out just fine. The goal of the film is to make a short film that is more James Bond than the last three James Bond films. Now, we’re a little bit scared that we’re going to get sued. Well, I should say I’m a little bit scared that I’m going to get sued, but it is just a fan film. We’re not going to make any money from it, it isn’t for distribution and for sale. We’ll put it online and, you never know, perhaps the Broccolis will see it and think, “That could make a Bond.” You never know, right?
Larry Jordan: So it’s an audition reel, I understand, this makes perfect sense. Now, James Bond films are $100 million to $200 million enterprises, so clearly you must have $30 million or $40 million budget behind this nine minute short, correct?
Maxim Jago: Well, I’m an optimistic realist and we’re aiming for a $30,000 budget. Because of the technology work, I’ve got some wonderful friends working for a lot of technology companies who’ve offered to help in lots of ways and that makes an enormous difference. The thing that’s the most important, though, is the people. You can shoot incredible films on a phone now, it’s the people that make the difference and over the years I’ve met some just extraordinary souls that I’m proud to have had the opportunity to work with and this is finally an opportunity to say, “Ok, let’s go, let’s work on something amazing, something just fantastic,” and so I’m ringing that bell and I’m inviting people to come and get involved.
Larry Jordan: So are you funded or are you looking for funding?
Maxim Jago: Well, it depends who we’re speaking to. If you’re talking to investors you have to say, “We’ve already got the money, but if you want to get involved, the train’s leaving the station but jump on board, the doors haven’t closed yet.” No, we don’t have any finance yet. We’ve got some offers of a lot of in-kind support, which counts for thousands and thousands. We’ve got a little bit of cash offered by companies where, if we talk about using their technology and produce some marketing material, we can fund it a little way, but we haven’t actually asked anybody yet for any money.
Larry Jordan: For people who decide they’ve got extra cash and need to fund another Bond film for less than $200 million, where can they go on the web to learn more about you and/or your projects?
Maxim Jago: Oh, thank you for asking. I’m at maximjago.com. Actually, it’s easy to find me if you Google me. It’s a weird spelling of my name, but the website is good and I’m MaximJago on Twitter. Pretty easy to find.
Larry Jordan: And Maxim Jago, the filmmaker and the artist and the creative source and the Adobe wizard, is the person we’ve been speaking to. Maximjago.com is his website. Maxim, thanks for joining us today.
Maxim Jago: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: It’s time for a Buzz Flashback. Five years ago today…
Core Trépanier (archive): There’s nothing that I’ve found that replaces the attempt of trying to capture something in real life. Talk to any artist, people who want to paint nudes, it’s better working from life. Well, similarly when it comes to the land, when you can smell the air and feel the cold in your fingers or the mosquitoes biting down your neck, whatever the case may be, it all lends to a greater sense of understanding of the place and hopefully trying to capture the essence of it.
Larry Jordan: This was a Buzz Flashback.
Larry Jordan: I enjoy listening to the comments of all of our guests, but I was especially struck by the comments that Maxim made about when he was working with actors and he wasn’t telling his actors what to do and he wasn’t telling his actors what to say, he was giving them tips on what they should feel, which I thought was a very interesting approach, because once they knew what they were feeling, then the actions and the dialog would then come out from that. The other interesting thing, I liked his quote where he said professionalism is doing what you say you’re going to do, which struck a chord with me
Larry Jordan: I also enjoyed chatting with our two student filmmakers as they were just bubbling over with excitement on the film that they not only created and submitted, but won Best of Show for at the SMPTE Student Film Festival; and Brad Malcolm with Athentech and his image enhancement technology is exceedingly exciting.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank Brad Malcolm, who is the President of Athentech Imaging, and André Gabriel and Jonathan Burcin, the filmmakers, and Cirina Catania, the Supervising Producer for The Buzz, and Maxim Jago, filmmaker and futurist for being on tonight’s show.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here, you’ll find thousands of interviews all online and all available to you today; and please remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Doogie Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription – visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania; engineering – Megan Paulos, Ed Golya, Keegan Guy, Hannah Dean and Brianna Murphy. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for joining us for The Digital Production Buzz.
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