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Transcript: Digital Production Buzz – December 10, 2015

Digital Production Buzz

December 10, 2015

[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]

(Click here to listen to this show.)

HOSTS
Larry Jordan
Mike Horton

SEGMENTS
Randi Altman’s Perspective
Tech Talk with Larry Jordan
BuZZ Flashback: Matt Katsolis

GUESTS
Sue Lawson, Editor, Chicago Edit
Maxim Jago, Director, MaximJago.com
Max Votalato, Director/Producer/Editor/Researcher, Freeway City Films
===

Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, Sue Lawson is an award winning Chicago based editor and recently she associate produced and edited a documentary on guerilla film preservation called ‘Reel Heroes.’ Tonight, she tells us how to save our films.

Larry Jordan: Next, Maxim Jago is an award winning director who’s thinking about the future of media. We’re moving to 4K, but what about 8K and what’s the relevance of more colors or HDR? Tonight, Maxim takes us into the future.

Larry Jordan: Next, filmmaker Max Votolato was born in London but now he lives in LA. His latest documentary is called ‘Freeway City,’ which is the story of Gardena, California, the onetime poker capital of the world. Tonight, we learn how he made it.

Larry Jordan: All this plus a Buzz Flashback, Tech Talk and Randi Altman’s Perspective on the News. The Buzz starts now.

Announcer #1: Tonight’s Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Other World Computing at macsales.com; and by Blackmagic Design at blackmagicdesign.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 for creative content producers covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. Mike.

Mike Horton: Hmm?

Larry Jordan: Cast your mind back, back into the dim reaches of time.

Mike Horton: Cast my mind back. Ok, yes.

Larry Jordan: Do you remember the first show that you and I did together?

Mike Horton: No. Do you?

Larry Jordan: Yes, I looked it up. I had to because…

Mike Horton: Well, if I’d looked it up, I wouldn’t remember.

Larry Jordan: Yes. November 15th 2007.

Mike Horton: Oh my gosh.

Larry Jordan: More than eight year ago.

Mike Horton: Oh my gosh. Seriously? Eight years ago?

Larry Jordan: Eight years ago and between the time of the first show – by the way, my notes on the first show were rocky, rocky, rocky but nobody died, so it was a little on the shaky side technically…

Mike Horton: You actually keep a diary of notes of every show that we do?

Larry Jordan: Clearly, we have notes on every show but I don’t keep a diary on it because I couldn’t… We’ve had 434 shows since you and I started working together on November 15th, 434.

Mike Horton: Wow.

Larry Jordan: We’ve done 1736 interviews and we’ve had 1311 guests on the show since November 15th 2007.

Mike Horton: And I don’t remember one of them.

Larry Jordan: It’s a frightening thought, isn’t it?

Mike Horton: I’m still trying to figure out how to get to this place. No, that is a frightening thought, but that’s an awesome statistic.

Larry Jordan: And think about it, we’ve done a new show every week, every year, for eight years.

Mike Horton: That’s not easy.

Larry Jordan: That’s not easy.

Mike Horton: It is, it’s a lot of hard work and you’ve got to thank everybody around here and you’ve got to thank you and congratulations on all this, because this has imparted a lot of wisdom to the world that this world needed to know.

Larry Jordan: Well, thank you, but it would not be as much fun if you weren’t on the show.

Mike Horton: You’re damn right, and I’ll try to remember this show.

Larry Jordan: Let’s focus on the important stuff. Also, I want to remind you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. You can keep up with all of Mike’s activities every issue, every week. It’s an inside look at both The Buzz and the lives that our co-hosts lead, plus quick links to all the different segments on the show and, best of all, every issue is free.

Larry Jordan: We’ve got a really exciting show with some amazing guests. Mike and I will be back with Sue Lawson, right after Randi Altman’s Perspective on the News.

Larry Jordan: This is Randi Altman’s Perspective.

Larry Jordan: Randi Altman has been writing about our industry for more than 20 years. In fact, she’s the editor in chief of her own website called postperspective.com and, as always, it’s wonderful, Randi, to have you back on the show. How are you doing?

Randi Altman: I’m good, Larry. How are you?

Larry Jordan: Well, it’s getting closer and closer to the holidays, which means it’s the award season and, man, you talk to everybody that’s out for awards today. What are you hearing and what are you paying attention to?

Randi Altman: Well, we’ve been covering some of the top directors for the last month or two and what I’ve been noticing in terms of trends is there really is no trend. We’ve got some pretty high end directors on some films that were mentioned in the Golden Globe nominations and some of the other nominations that have been announced so far. We’ve spoken to Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott and Todd Haines and Todd Hooper and we have Quentin Tarantino coming up and Spike Lee.

Randi Altman: What I’ve been discovering is these guys are all over the place in terms of who’s shooting digital, who’s shooting film and who’s shooting a combination of both; it’s been fairly interesting. Then they’re all debating on the post schedule as well. You’ve got someone like Ridley Scott, who loves digital, just loves it, can’t wait for the process to get even faster and wants a faster post schedule. He did 25 weeks on ‘The Martian’ and he thought that was too long, so you’ve got a director like him and then you’ve got a director like Quentin, who really wants to take his time, wants to shoot 70 millimeter, and it’s fun to watch.

Larry Jordan: The other thing that I was impressed with, especially with the Golden Globes, because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves to throw out shocking nominations, is films that we thought would be heavily nominated, like ‘The Martian,’ are totally ignored, and films that we weren’t expecting to get nominated, like ‘Spotlight,’ get a lot of attention. Are we seeing a shift away from traditional Hollywood movies and more of an emphasis on independents?

Randi Altman: I think we’ve been seeing that for the last couple of years. ‘The Martian’ has a lot of visual effects, but they might be moving away from nominating those movies with visual effects and going more for personal dramas, so I’m not terribly surprised about that.

Larry Jordan: Well, it’s going to be fun to watch because award season runs now until March of next year and there are going to be all kinds of conversations about who’s ahead and who isn’t and we’ll have you give us the latest scoop in terms of what’s happening behind the scenes. Randi, for people who want more information about you and your writing, what website can they go to?

Randi Altman: They can visit postperspective.com.

Larry Jordan: Postperspective.com and Randi Altman is the editor in chief. Randi thanks for joining us today.

Randi Altman: Thanks, Larry.

Larry Jordan: To read more from Randi Altman, visit postperspective.com.

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Larry Jordan: Sue Lawson is a Chicago based editor specializing in narratives, documentaries, indie features and trailers. Her clients include international recording artists, Fortune 500 corporations and, of course, lots and lots of independent filmmakers. Hello, Sue, welcome back.

Sue Lawson: Hi Larry, how are you?

Mike Horton: Hi Sue.

Larry Jordan: Mike and I have been looking forward to this…

Sue Lawson: Oh, Michael’s there too.

Mike Horton: I’m here.

Sue Lawson: Oh… my heart.

Mike Horton: I know, it’s so great to talk to you and see you.

Sue Lawson: You too.

Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, Sue, you’ve been a long time member of the Chicago Creative Pro User Group. What’s the film and media community like around Chicago?

Sue Lawson: It’s actually getting a lot stronger these days. We were flying over… for a while, but it’s coming back, which is great.

Mike Horton: Well, now you have, what, three primetime series that are filming in Chicago, like Chicago Med, Chicago Police…

Sue Lawson: Fire.

Mike Horton: Yes, Chicago something.

Sue Lawson: Police, Fire, Chicago CSI.

Mike Horton: Yes, exactly, so that’s really stepped up, so there’s a lot of television shows shooting in Chicago right now.

Sue Lawson: It’s awesome. It’s coming back, baby. What can I say?

Larry Jordan: I was just wondering, where’s the bulk of the business? Is it in corporate media, traditional media like you and Mike were just talking about, or independent films?

Sue Lawson: For Chicago, I still think that the bulk of it is in corporate, which is good. Corporate and agency stuff, that’s probably really the hub of it all, but the independent scene is blossoming here, it’s getting stronger, so that’s a good thing.

Mike Horton: Back when I was an actor…

Larry Jordan: That long ago?

Sue Lawson: Back then.

Mike Horton: That was way, way back but we used to do a lot of commercials in Chicago. Chicago was like the commercial capital. There was New York and then there was Chicago and we used to go back to Chicago to film a lot of commercials. Sometimes we’d come out to LA, but Chicago had all these great big agencies, so it was a great place to film.

Larry Jordan: And great architecture.

Mike Horton: And great architecture.

Sue Lawson: Fabulous architecture. Obviously, Michael, what we need is for you to come back to Chicago so we can… that commercial was. You went to LA, that’s what happens.

Mike Horton: I know, that’s what happens.

Larry Jordan: Don’t stroke his ego any more than it is already because he’s unlivable at that point.

Mike Horton: Merry Christmas.

Sue Lawson: Merry Christmas.

Larry Jordan: Sue, what caught my attention recently was an announcement that you’ve been working on a documentary called ‘Reel Heroes: Saving Film One Frame at a Time,’ and while I know Mike would like to talk about making commercials in Chicago just to get you to smile, tell us about this documentary. This whole idea of archiving and preservation is one that I think all of us are overlooking, so tell us what that show is about.

Sue Lawson: It is absolutely awesome. I kind of stumbled into it. I know the filmmakers, I’ve worked with them on a couple of other projects, and they have been working on this for 12 years so far. It started out as a quirky little story about film preservationists, film collectors, the people who have day jobs doing something else somewhere else, most of them still in the film industry, but it really evolved over time into something much bigger than they thought it was going to be and, fortunately, that’s when I got involved. It’s awesome that way, but some of the things that I have found so interesting about that was the FBI actually had, I don’t want to call it a witch hunt just in case I’m on their list and my broom’s in the closet…

Mike Horton: Well, you will be after this show.

Sue Lawson: That’s right, that’s right. I’ll just tell them I know you guys and I’ll be fine.

Larry Jordan: There’s no question, that’ll get you out.

Sue Lawson: But they had actually really done this witch hunt to go after people who were collecting films – I think one of the most notable ones was Roddy McDowall and I was like, “Really?” – and what they did about trying to destroy films – I understand the copyright issues, if you don’t own the copyright, you don’t own the film, you don’t own that print – but so much of our cultural heritage has just been destroyed because there wasn’t room for it and people didn’t think it was necessary to save these things. So it’s kind of near and dear, I think, to all of our hearts in the industry.

Larry Jordan: That’s part of why we have such a sense of triumph when we read about the restoration of a film from the ’30s and ’40s because we are only able to restore a fraction of our film history.

Sue Lawson: Oh, exactly.

Larry Jordan: So what was the film about?

Sue Lawson: The film will be about – because it’s still in post production. In fact, it just recently entered the post production side of things after, as I said, about 12 years of interviews that they’ve been conducting, so…

Larry Jordan: But is it about the process of preserving film or is about the people who are preserving film or is it about the films that have been preserved? What point of view does it take?

Sue Lawson: It is about the people who are preserving the films and it is not so much about the process of preserving them, but the process that these people are going through to find just those missing frames to go ahead and restore the films. I think one of the most notable people was Kevin Brownlow, who actually got a special Academy Award for restoration, I want to say it was of ‘Napoleon,’ which came out way before my time.

Mike Horton: It was early 1900s, yes.

Sue Lawson: Yes, I believe so. It is about the people and their quest to go ahead and preserve films and about some of the films themselves. There are a lot of films that are in the public domain, if you can find them now, and a lot of these collectors are nice enough to share the films and some of the films, at least clips of the films, are going to be in this project as well.

Mike Horton: How do people determine which films to preserve?

Sue Lawson: I think that’s a really good question. I don’t know if there is a correct answer to that because in a perfect world they would all be preserved.

Mike Horton: Yes. You know what the great thing is, at least in 2015 versus, say, 2000? To preserve films now with all the technical equipment we have right now, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than it was just 15 years ago. So we can take a lot of these films that we were asking, “Should we preserve it or should we not preserve it?” and it’s really not going to cost us that much, it’s going to cost us that much in time is what It’s going to cost us.

Sue Lawson: Exactly, and to be able to preserve them in their original state, in the film state, not just …

Mike Horton: That’s where you need the people. That’s where the people come in.

Sue Lawson: That’s where the people and the money comes in as well, because that is a costlier process. But obviously the people who are profiled in this piece, and some of them are pretty notable, as I said, Kevin Brownlow, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin. There are a number of named people in this and people who are just really known within the film collector and film preservation world as well, but they’re obviously not getting the same press as, for example, Scorsese is, who obviously is at the forefront of this, he and… and I think Clint Eastwood’s on the Board of Directors for the film group as well. It’s amazing and I think people understand this is something that we almost have to do because we lose it otherwise and film is hard to preserve and hard to keep, it’s a very volatile medium. Just being exposed to air and – poof! – it’s gone.

Larry Jordan: Of the interviews that you’ve heard, because you were involved both as an associate producer and will be working with the editorial crew, which one stands out the most to you and why?

Sue Lawson: I actually can’t choose. I was going to say it depends on the day, but I think so many of them are truly phenomenal. I think one of the things that caught me first were the interviews where they delved into the FBI going on this hunt for people and how paranoid people were about this. A couple of people who were in the film actually have asked not to be in it now because they are still concerned about repercussions from the government.

Mike Horton: Wow.

Sue Lawson: Really, after all these years, you’re still concerned about that, so it’s an interesting journey that we’re taking.

Larry Jordan: What method of preservation are your guerilla preservationists using? How are they keeping the film safe?

Sue Lawson: They’re actually going ahead and restoring film itself and having more film prints made. This particular project, although it was shot on digital and even tape – if you think 12 years ago, it began its world in tape – but they’re looking at doing film outs on this as well because they are true preservationists and they truly believe in the beauty and the pristine quality of film, even when it’s all scratchy. There’s something magical about it.

Mike Horton: Just don’t run it through a projector. Just keep it in the can.

Larry Jordan: Never show it, just keep it.

Mike Horton: Never show it, yes.

Larry Jordan: Now, you’re going to be the supervising editor on this and they’ve been shooting for 12 years. You must have a plethora of – I work in that word as often as I can – a plethora of…

Mike Horton: Let me look that up, Larry. Oooh.

Larry Jordan: …of formats. What’s your workflow? How are you getting all this stuff organized and how are you going to edit it?

Sue Lawson: Well, first of all, as you said, organization is the key. They have a ton of stuff, and they’re not done, they still have a few more interviews that they would like to go ahead and get. But it’s the basic format of determining what it is you have, what the different formats are. I categorize all of those.

Sue Lawson: What I actually want to do is let’s get the cut made first and then we’ll go ahead and worry about transcoding things, as opposed to transcoding 12 years’ worth of material. Let’s work a little differently with that. Storage to me is probably the biggest thing that we have to worry about at this time because there’s so much and I like having things neat and tidy and organized, but between archival footage itself, all of the interviews that they’ve done, all the B-roll, of course, that goes along with everything, it’s a lot.

Larry Jordan: So how are you organizing it? Are you using a digital asset manager or pads of paper or what?

Sue Lawson: I’d like to use the old rock and chisel type of thing from the Flintstones era. I thought that would work really well and it’s pretty indestructible as long as I don’t drop it. Yes, I’m big on doing digital asset management, backing things up again and again and again and as far as keeping track of everything that we have, I don’t want to say I’m a paper and pencil type of gal, but I still like things like spreadsheets for those things. I like keeping track of things that way; and when I’m working with other people, I think that that’s really a good way of doing things at this point.

Larry Jordan: So although I keep trying to pin you down and you keep tap-dancing around the issue, have you decided whether you’re going to use a digital asset manager? And if so, which one?

Mike Horton: Use FileMaker Pro. That’s what you would love.

Sue Lawson: You think that would be the one that I should go with, Michael?

Mike Horton: Absolutely. That’s what Walter Murch goes with, so you might as well go with it too.

Sue Lawson: Might as well, then, yes. I really thought I could find something better than…

Mike Horton: You and Walter are like this, we all know that, come on.

Sue Lawson: We’re like this. We’re like this.

Larry Jordan: So you’re not going to answer the question?

Sue Lawson: No, I’m not answering that yet, yes.

Larry Jordan: Have you started editing yet?

Sue Lawson: They have got as far as getting the trailers done for additional financial resourcing, for their Indiegogo campaigns. To actually start on the project itself, we are at that point now and we’re starting to pull everything together. It’s a process and I as the supervising editor, for better or worse, my hands are tied on this one. That’s the frustrating part for me, because I just want to sit down and start moving things around. But that is not my role in this one, yet.

Larry Jordan: Then what is your role? What does a supervising editor do?

Sue Lawson: My role on this particular project as the supervising editor is to keep them on track, keep them on budget, make sure that they’re moving in the right direction, offer creative advice as well as to what’s working, what’s not working, how the story should be flowing and, truthfully, I’m touching things up as well as far as taking things out, making them look better. I’ll probably be doing the final color work on it as well, just because the experience that the current editor has on it, which are the filmmakers, and they don’t have quite as much experience on a regular basis as somebody older like me.

Larry Jordan: We have a live chat going and Eric says that he’s tired just thinking about the amount of work that’s involved in editing this.

Mike Horton: Yes, seriously. That’s a lot of work.

Sue Lawson: Eric, that’s why you’re not editing it. But he’s right, it is a lot of work, but frankly it’s nothing that we’re not accustomed to. The last documentary I did, granted it was only five years’ worth of footage and interviews, but there was a lot with that one. This one, I will at least look at as being a little happier subject, because the last one was on sex trafficking. That was a really tough one to do and I’m the one who edited that one. That was a tough one to do. This one, at least, is happy. You know, we’re looking at movies.

Mike Horton: Yes.

Larry Jordan: As you’ve looked at this, in a really short period of time, what have you learned as you’ve been involved with this process?

Sue Lawson: From what standpoint?

Larry Jordan: From something you didn’t know before that you know now. Is there a workflow thing that you’ve learned or is it pretty much the same thing, just a different subject?

Sue Lawson: I think it’s the same thing, just a different subject. One of the workflows that I like to emulate, and it’s online, everybody can see it anywhere anyplace, but it’s pretty much the standard workflow that they use with Frontline. Steve Audette was kind enough, I think, at one point to post that online and that’s our go to Bible. “Let’s see what we can do about emulating that type of organization structure,” because we’ve all been given projects that are just one hot mess when you get them and…

Larry Jordan: Sue, thanks for joining us today. We’ll keep track of this project in the future and your website is?

Sue Lawson: Thanks guys. My website is chicagoedit.com and the website for the movie is reelheroesfilm.com.

Larry Jordan: Thank you, Sue. The websites are reelheroesfilm.com and chicagoedit.com and Sue Lawson is involved with both. You take care. Bye bye.

Mike Horton: Bye Sue.

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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 filmdo.com and a mentor to new filmmakers. Hello, Maxim, welcome back.

Maxim Jago: Hello, how are you? It’s good to see you.

Mike Horton: Hello.

Larry Jordan: It’s good to hear your voice. You know, the last time we chatted was in October, talking about your ‘James Bond’ spoof, but this time I want you to put your futurist hat on and share your thoughts on the trend toward ever higher resolution video. 4K is well entrenched in production, it’s moving quickly into the consumer market, but is it likely to be successful?

Maxim Jago: Well, it’s an interesting question. Ultimately, our job is to produce media for people to experience and we’re finding that those people can’t tell the difference between a 4K screen and HD. Now, they can really obviously if it’s SD and so the TV manufacturers are trying to produce a marketing campaign that 4K is better, there are more pixels.

Maxim Jago: But I was doing a little bit of a calculation and actually, at enough of a distance from a screen, the picture is effectively retina anyway and this idea of retina is that you can’t see individual pixels, so it’s as high resolution as your eye can perceive, and this was the thing that Apple made a big fuss about when they came out with the retina screen for the iPhone and now that’s become a standard that we refer to.

Maxim Jago: But I think that a lot of people are just going to skip 4K. HD’s great, there’s not that much 4K material available, but what I’m estimating is that we will typically, because we can, go for higher and higher resolution screens. If you look at frame rate, a lot of productions now, people are over cranking at double frame rate because they can. It’s extra data but it just means you’ve got the potential to do slo-mo and you’ve got that flexibility in post.

Maxim Jago: I’m seeing a lot of people shooting 4K but they’re not finishing in 4K at all. They’re finishing and grading and working on their content in 2K or 1080, really, HD. But I have this theory that we will inevitably go for higher and higher resolution screens because the technology is there, but I think that we will top out in terms of distribution at 8K and the reason I think we’re going to top out at that level is I worked out that if you had a 20 foot wide screen, which is as big as any front room I can imagine anybody having a TV on, at nine feet away, if you were working in 8K, it’s retina. So even if you could go higher than that resolution, it would be fundamentally pointless and really…

Larry Jordan: Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait. Stop a second. In order for us to perceive an 8K image, it has to be viewed on a 20 foot screen?

Maxim Jago: Oh no. No, no. No, of course you can view it on anything, but it’s pointless unless your nose is almost on the screen because the further away you are from the screen, the smaller the dots appear, so at…

Larry Jordan: Wait, wait, wait, I disagree with that. You’re absolutely right, the further you get from the screen, the smaller the dots appear. Or the smaller the screen.

Maxim Jago: Right, yes.

Larry Jordan: So if you were looking at an 8K image on a six foot screen, are you going to see 8K?

Maxim Jago: No. You can’t perceive that image resolution, that’s the point. If you had a six foot screen, I didn’t do the calculation for six feet, ah goodness, I mean, if nine…

Larry Jordan: The answer’s two and a half.

Maxim Jago: Two and a half feet?

Larry Jordan: Two and a half feet away from the screen to see 8K resolution.

Maxim Jago: Thank you, there you go. That sounds about right if it’s nine feet at 20 feet. So if you are pushing for higher and higher resolution media, then it’s pointless. For acquisition, maybe, if you’re doing scientific work or if you’re producing, ARRI came out with a 65 mm frame sensor and then they produced this extremely high resolution, high megapixel video camera and then, when they were asked what it was for, they had to say, “Well, we don’t know but we thought some people would have a use for it.”

Maxim Jago: So I think that we’re always going to push for better and better acquisition, we want to accurately reproduce what’s there. They humanize much better than cameras currently for perceiving real life, but in terms of distribution NHK in Japan are now trialing an 8K 100 megabit AVC intra-broadcast through satellite, just to see if they can. It’s an enormous amount of data to put in the satellite bandwidth to distribute at that resolution. My point is that I think we will go for higher and higher resolution screens, but there is a biological limit to how high it’s worth going and, like you just said, on a six foot screen it’s two and a half feet.

Maxim Jago: It’s literally pointless to broadcast anything higher than that, even if we could, and what I think’s interesting about that is that we’re reaching new limits in our technology that are not defined by the technology, but actually by our own biology. We’re very unlikely to have bigger walls in our lounges, we’re very unlikely to have bigger screens, so we’re reaching a new threshold, a new limit, which I think is really interesting. What’s much more interesting for the end user experience, I think, is HDR, broader color gamuts, that kind of stuff.

Larry Jordan: See, that’s what I want to get to. I think that once consumers see an HDR picture or a wider color gamut picture, they’re not going to be interested in resolution. They’re going to be interested in the vibrancy and the emulation of real life that HDR provides that standard dynamic range can’t begin to touch and, in fact, SD starts to look really good if you’re looking at an HDR picture in a way that it never did when compared to HD. The difference between HD and HDR is just unbelievably toward HDR. Would you agree?

Maxim Jago: I 100 percent agree. In fact, as you know, I’m really into the VR headset thing and I think that’s going to be a huge new medium, but you’re not always going to want to put a headset on to watch the news or to see something passing on a screen. Those are going to be a particular type of experience. Somebody said something interesting about HDR that hadn’t occurred to me before, just for a frame of reference for people who aren’t familiar with the high dynamic range idea, most TVs go to maybe 100 or 200 Mits. I think that’s one candle power per square meter of light.

Maxim Jago: The new screen technology they’re talking about in the home, they’re looking at either going to 1,000 or 2,000 Mits, so it’s ten or 20 times as bright as a regular TV. But what’s important about it is the contrast range. You still have very dark shadows with detail in them and have very bright parts of the image and, as someone said, when you see a bright image come on an HDR screen, you have a physiological reaction. Your pupils shrink and so you feel that in your eyes, you feel a physical reaction to what’s happening on the screen, which is something that we just haven’t had before. I’ve had headaches from bad stereoscopic, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Maxim Jago: So I think this is absolutely the next step. I think it’s relatively straightforward technology to implement, but then all of these things are. By the time you’ve paid for the R&D, manufacturing the technology isn’t that hard. The question is what do audiences really feel strongly about? And I’m with you, I think HDR is the next step. I think what’ll happen is we’ll get HDR, we’ll get these better color gamuts, we’ll get all of that, and I think the manufacturers will just sort of sneak in, “Oh, by the way, it’s UHD,” or, “It’s 8K.” It just will be, but that’s years away. I think we’re going to start to see HDR media very, very soon.

Mike Horton: To interrupt here, you brought up VR. I had a demo earlier today in west LA of a VR workflow. It was VR a 10K workflow in post production. You’ve seen the mounts where they have several GoPros or several Red cameras or whatever and they’re all shooting at the same time, when they’re actually filming entertaining for VR, and then you ingest them into your computer and I saw a 10K workflow. Of course, you’re maybe going to acquire 10K but you’re not going to distribute 10K, but it was really interesting and, yes, we can do it. It was incredible.

Maxim Jago: I love it. I was speaking with Al Jazeera a while ago about their workflows. You can 3D print a GoPro rig perfectly aligned to them. That’s cheap to do now and you can hire GoPros for $20, $25 a day. You get a 14 camera rig, you can do it stereoscopic if you want, although it takes some finishing, so you just plant one of these things in a location and you can have a reporter in the scene talking to the camera and walking around the camera and saying, “Look over here,” and you can look over there. What they’re saying is if you get it cheap enough, as the front line of a warzone moves, you can put a satellite transmitter in one of these, leave it behind and run.

Mike Horton: Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s absolutely brilliant.

Maxim Jago: Yes. You can get rigs, if you want go around you can do it with something like four cameras, if you want to get a complete circle of image, but if you want a sphere it’s something like seven and if you want to do it beautifully with stereoscopic it’s 14, but imagine if your experience of locations around the world is VR like that. Now, I think that is happening and it’s coming and we’re working on the standardization right now. As usual with new technologies, there’s 15 different competing technologies and we have to pick one.

Larry Jordan: But do you think VR is going to be successful outside of games? Is the average viewer going to want to put on a headset to watch?

Maxim Jago: Yes, I really do. If you look at HD, that was driven by the PlayStation 3 supporting HD and suddenly there was demand for TV, so the price went up and then it went down. I’m a gamer, I’ve been a gamer since ‘Pong’, as they say, and I cannot wait to play ‘Far Cry’ with a VR headset. It will be amazing. But I think that what that will do is pay for the standardization, pay for the reduction in price, pay for the conversion of this complex technology into a consumer technology and, you know, they’re talking about $200 or $300 for a really great VR headset. Yes, many people will have them in the home but, no, they won’t use it for their general TV consumption. They’re going to use it for that one movie that’s been shot especially for it or location stuff.

Mike Horton: Or real estate or architecture. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities it’s going to be used for and you’re going to see all of that at CES in Las Vegas in January.

Maxim Jago: And you know there are two ways of doing VR, right? You’ve got one way where you set the camera in position and the viewer can look in every direction but they can’t navigate. The other way, which is much more complex, is that you generate a 3D model of the environment, you acquire photo quality textures, put those in the 3D environment and allow the viewer, as it were, to navigate the environment.

Maxim Jago: What we’re beginning to see now, particularly in the development of games but this is something that we can work towards fairly quickly now with film and TV as well, is that in the games effectively it’s immersive theater. There’ll be characters who’ll be having a conversation, a dialog, but you’ll come across it as a player and before you interact with these characters, you can just stand and watch or ignore them or interact with them and change the narrative.

Mike Horton: And they’re actually doing that right now. I just saw some of that last week at 20th Century Fox, so they’re actually doing that kind of stuff.

Maxim Jago: But now what I want to see is the acquisition of dynamically generated 3D models of actors as they act in a set so that you generate a 3D model of the environment and that becomes the 3D space in which the user is navigating and then you place the actors in that environment with cameras in every direction observing them, taking that data, building it into a 3D model of the actors and placing them in the virtual space for the viewer so that as a viewer, there could be an argument going on between two people in a room and you can walk around the room, stand next to them, go and stand somewhere else. You have an incredibly immersive experience. We have the technology for this, it’s just difficult at the moment.

Larry Jordan: Interesting. Maxim, where can people go on the web to learn more about the kind of projects and things you’re working on?

Maxim Jago: Well, I’m revamping my website, but maximjago.com is the place to go.

Larry Jordan: That’s maximjago.com and Maxim Jago himself is the face you’re looking at. Maxim, thanks for joining us today.

Maxim Jago: Thank you, Larry, it’s a real pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: Take care.

Mike Horton: Thanks Maxim.

Larry Jordan: See you soon. Bye bye.

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Larry Jordan: Welcome to Tech Talk.

Larry Jordan: That’s the back-up process also straightforward, but how do I get stuff back? You click on the ‘R’ for restore and you click on ‘Search’. I want to search all of my archives and I want to search for a file that has the name ‘girl’ in it, and click on ‘Search’. It says, “I found this. I’ve got Girl Dancing on Bridge, we’ve got girls on a carousel.” I want to recover the girls on a carousel, so I check it – I could check multiple files – and then we can add it.

Larry Jordan: Once it’s been added, close this window and now it’s said “Go to, find this file. It’s stored at that location – think of it as a timecode – on volume number one in a set called Back-up 25.” This is the stuff that we’ve done. Now click on ‘Restore’ and it says, “Go for it.” Put in tape number one and you’ll never guess – right. It’s got to cue the tape, so let’s go fast forward and get the tape. Cue to the right spot and restore the file.

Larry Jordan: The file itself that we’re recovering is about 450 megabytes. At the speed the tape plays back, it’s going to take three seconds to pull it off the tape. In fact, we can see that the restoration is complete and this time I don’t have to wait for the rewind, because notice that there’s our girl on carousel laid to the hard drive and there’s the kids that we just recovered from the tape.

Larry Jordan: Very cool and the nice thing is that, yes, it takes a little bit of time but I know with absolute certainty that that which is on my hard disk as the master, when it got laid to the tape, is accurate and when it came back, it’s equally accurate because of the verification process that all tape drives use.

Larry Jordan: Filmmaker Max Votolato has lived in Los Angeles for 14 years, holding staff jobs at a number of major media companies around town. He’s originally from South London, though, and a graduate of the London College of Communication’s Film and Video Program. His latest film, ‘Freeway City,’ is the story of Gardena, California, the onetime poker capital of the world. Hello, Max, welcome.

Mike Horton: Is it?

Max Votolato: Hi, Larry, how are you?

Larry Jordan: We are delighted to be talking with you. I was just thinking, graduating from the London College of Communications is a big deal. What first got you interested in making films?

Max Votolato: I grew up in South London. My neighbor as a kid was Terry Jones, movie director, part of Monty Python, and Terry’s son Bill is around my age and we had class together so we took Terry’s Super 8 camera out and later his Video 8 camera and made our first films together in the neighborhood and that was my first foray into filmmaking. It’s funny, other neighbors in this community were also involved with media, and another neighbor named … who had a company named … Films, made documentaries for Channel 4 in London, so as a teenager I was his trainee and I would go out on these shoots and learn about documentary filmmaking.

Max Votolato: The London College of Communications used to be called the London College of Printing when I went through it, but it’s not a printing school, it’s just a media school, and they had a very documentary approach too, so somehow I’ve always been involved in documentary.

Larry Jordan: Well, your most recent film is ‘Freeway City,’ and we’re going to talk about that in just a minute, but you’ve also done a number of other documentaries. What are some of your past projects?

Max Votolato: There was a project called ‘Italian Americans in Federal Hill’ and, similar to ‘Freeway City’, it was about the community of Federal Hill. I was an associate producer on the project and I shot many of the interviews, so that was almost a training ground for doing this project. It was one of the early inspirations to do a feature length documentary like this. But more recently, I worked on a series called ‘On Patrol,’ which was all about the cops in Santa Barbara. It was a police ride along reality program, docu-style also, and it’s now on Hulu but you can see that it’s another documentary project chronicling the Santa Barbara PD.

Max Votolato: I’ve also worked on the series ‘Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.’ I was a unit manager on that show and that was great experience for learning how to make documentaries for broadcast, and deal with the clearances and all the other intricacies of getting films broadcast ready. Also I produced a short film for Jason Clark, who’s the producer of the ‘Ted’ movies. He was also producer on ‘Cosmos’ for the Breakthrough Initiatives Group. That was my most recent work.

Larry Jordan: What is it about documentaries that appeals to you as opposed to narrative or fiction?

Max Votolato: Well, I’m a big fan of the format because it’s something I can do myself. I wanted to make movies and didn’t have the financial resources to do a big narrative film or a dramatization of one of the ideas I have, so I can be a one man band and go out with my own camera and interview people and then almost do the post production alone too, so it’s an accessible format.

Larry Jordan: All right, well let’s talk about your newest project, which is ‘Freeway City.’ I love the subtitle, which is The One Time Poker Capital of the World. How can you not love a subtitle like that? What was it about the story that attracted you?

Max Votolato: Well, a lot of things. I wanted to make a film about Los Angeles. I was very inspired by the Mike Davis City of… and I was looking to tell a story about Los Angeles. It’s funny, I discovered… inadvertently. I was making another film about the Southern California bail bond scheme and one of the bail agents who I was profiling, a guy named Francisco Rodriguez, has a company called Hollywood Bail Bonds and it’s not in Hollywood, it’s in Gardena, so I started spending a lot of time in the area and his unofficial office is a bar called the Desert…, Gardena Boulevard, so this became one of our key hangouts and it was instrumental to ‘Freeway City’ because it started to build the network for the film in terms of the community and hearing the stories and the history of Gardena.

Max Votolato: I didn’t know about Gardena and when I tell these stories to friends, things that I was picking up, nobody else had heard about the history of Gardena. There are some poker clubs still there now, but at one time it was a major poker destination with six clubs and it was one of the only places in California you could play legally. It’s not just a poker story, it’s a chronological history, probably 85 years, of the city since it was incorporated and I think it touches on a lot of things and is SoCal centric and it’s an original untold story, so to me it was just a great opportunity.

Larry Jordan: So what is the story? Give us the one paragraph version of the plot.

Max Votolato: Well, Gardena was many things to many people. In the early days, it was an agricultural community that was white and Japanese American and then Pearl Harbor happened, there was the internment of the Japanese Americans and the post-war Gardena started. It made the city a very different place. Poker clubs came in. They’d already been there before the war but that’s when the poker community got very strong there and then you have this whole battle that went on between the clubs.

Max Votolato: Then in the late ’60s, the Japanese American story became very important to the city because Gardena became a gateway to Japanese corporations that wanted to come to the United States. Some big corporations like Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hitachi all made their entrance into the United States through Gardena because the city’s leadership was Japanese American and spoke the language and they were able to impart our culture and customs and show the Japanese corporations coming into America how our society works. So it was a big selling point to them and it became an area where they set up their formal US headquarters in the early days.

Larry Jordan: So as you were making the film, how many people did you interview and did you do it all yourself? What kind of gear? Talk about the production process for a minute.

Max Votolato: I interviewed 35 people and they were all about two to three hour interviews. I shot the film on a Sony FX1, which is an HDV camcorder which uses Mini DV tape. My process when I do these interviews is I set the camera up and then I sit by the camera and do the interview and so very simple, the interviewees were miked with a Lavalier and it was wired to camera. I missed shooting with tape; solid state maybe is not always as reliable as those old tapes were. So it was very simple and usually it was a sit down interview but on occasion I went out in a car or would be walking with someone, so again very run and gun style.

Max Votolato: Then I posted the film in Final Cut Pro mostly. In the beginning, I started in Final Cut Pro 5 and then the project graduated with the new releases, so it went to 6 and 7 and then ultimately brought it into Adobe Creative Cloud for the finishing. But that was when the film was really built. I didn’t do an .xml export to bring it into Premiere, I took it out as one big chunk of video and then I did the sound work and my titles.

Larry Jordan: Now, one of the things I was very impressed with is you did not only a lot of B-roll and a lot of Ken Burns style moves on still images, but a lot of historical footage. How did you find the historical footage and what’s the licensing process like?

Max Votolato: It came from a lot of sources. Most of the footage was from the Prelinger Archives, so it’s public domain footage and that’s always the battle when you’re doing these things, because you want to get away from the talking heads as much as possible and give the story momentum and there is no footage of these card clubs. Now it’s hard to bring a camera into a casino, it’s always a problem, so when I could I’d find archival footage that matched the stories and gave me kinetic stare, but then many times it was just photographs that I’d have or maps or headlines and I’d have to make them move, just film some energy and get away from those talking heads.

Max Votolato: I got my first round of photographs from the City of Gardena. They had done a project with a company called Arcadia Publishing and they publish these, you see them in Barnes & Noble, books about small towns… together a heritage community and they go across the country, so they’d done a lot of the work compiling their pictorial history of the city and that gave me a head start. But even book that didn’t have a lot of pictures of casinos or card clubs, so I was able through my interviewees to get pictures.

Max Votolato: There was one interviewee in particular, Blaine Nicholson, who had been publicist for Ernie…, who’s kind of the central figure in the story of the card clubs, and he had an amazing archive of photographs that he’d just scrapbooked, and he had photo albums and we shot a three hour interview at his home in San Diego, and at the end of it he pulled out these boxes and it was like everything I’d never seen before but had heard of. So I sat for two hours with a scanner at his coffee table, and we scanned these images together and he talked me through them, gave me notes on who the people in the photographs were, and when these pictures were taken and that was a huge resource.

Max Votolato: Toyota gave me access to their photo archive. A lot of it had to do with the early days of that company in the United States. So there were plenty of pictures of the area from there, and they even had film of their original cars being tested, old car commercials and things like that. There’s a gentleman in the film, George Castro, who’s a photographer for the City of Gardena and many of his pictures are in the film too. I was lucky to work with some really talented After Effects artists who were able to make those pictures come alive and that’s a lot of what you see also in those sequences.

Larry Jordan: I notice the film is online and for people who are watching, they can see the website, it’s freewaycity.org. But what are your plans for distribution and are you hoping to make money on this or is this a project for love?

Max Votolato: In the beginning, it was a different world in terms of distribution. I had big dreams about coming out on DVD. This has been a long time project, I’ve been doing this on and off for ten years, I started in 2005, and I’ve worked these jobs and done this in my own time. So it’s taken a long time to get it across the finish line.

Max Votolato: Maybe it still does have a chance with distribution. To me at this point, it’s more important for the film to be seen, and I’ve noticed that filmmakers are starting to use Vimeo that way just to get eyeballs on your film, and the outreach through Facebook and other social media tools to bring an audience to the film is incredible. I’m finding my audience online now and getting their feedback and it’s a real pleasure.

Larry Jordan: So now that you’ve got this one toward the finish line, what are you working on next? Or are you just going to take a long nap?

Max Votolato: No, no, I’m very excited about this project and I feel that there’s another film in there. There was so much that didn’t make it into this cut of ‘Freeway City’ that I’m very optimistic about another documentary, and maybe even a dramatization of some of these stories.

Larry Jordan: That could be fun. What website can people go to who want to see the film?

Max Votolato: The film is on freewaycity.org and you can follow the film also on Twitter, @freewaycityfilm, and my personal Twitter is @votolato.

Larry Jordan: And Max Votolato is the producer, director, writer, researcher, camera and editor for ‘Freeway City.’ Max, thanks for talking with us, I wish you great success with the film.

Max Votolato: Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: Take care. Bye bye.

Larry Jordan: It’s time for a Buzz Flashback. Five years ago today…

Matt Katsolis (archive): In the Western world, we so often feel that we have excess income, excess resources. While we may have physical excess, they have spiritual excess, and by that I mean just that so many people there have so little yet are content. It’s a perspective shift and I’d say it’s a healthy perspective shift, just to really keep things in mind like, wow, we really do have it so good here and not to contribute to the noise.

Larry Jordan: This was a Buzz Flashback.

Larry Jordan: You know, Michael, it’s been an interesting show, starting with Sue and looking at everybody else that’s there.

Mike Horton: You know what was really interesting? We talked to two documentary filmmakers and they talked about how many years they’ve been working on their documentary. Do you know how long it takes to do a documentary, the average time from conception to end? I bet you don’t.

Larry Jordan: More than a year?

Mike Horton: Yes. It’s about seven years.

Larry Jordan: Seven?

Mike Horton: Seven years is the average from conception to end for a documentary filmmaker, and that’s a lot of discipline.

Larry Jordan: You have to care.

Mike Horton: Yes, you have to care.

Larry Jordan: And you could see it in their faces, you see how they light up as they were talking about it?

Mike Horton: Yes. I mean, what was Sue, 15 years? And this guy, ten years?

Larry Jordan: Yes, Sue was 12.

Mike Horton: The average time is about seven years.

Larry Jordan: 12 years and they haven’t even finished editorial yet. They’ve got at least a year of that.

Mike Horton: Yes, you’ve got to care about documentaries.

Larry Jordan: Yes, that’s why you don’t necessarily get into it, as Max was saying, to make money, because the distribution’s going to change in the ten years you’re working on the project.

Mike Horton: That’s the thing, it is going to change.

Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests tonight that were making films, starting with Sue Lawson and Maxim Jago, both a director and a futurist, then Max Votolato, a filmmaker.

Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history not only in the world, but in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find hundreds of shows and thousands of interviews and Mike stars in just about all of them. They’re all online, all available to you today.

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; our engineering team is lead by Megan Paulos and includes Ed Golya, Keegan Guy, James Miller and Brianna Murphy. On behalf Mike Horton, the handsome guy on the other side of the table, my name’s Larry Jordan and thanks for joining us for The Digital Production Buzz.

Mike Horton: Goodnight, everybody.

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BuZZ Flashback

December 9, 2010


Director, Matt Katsolis, won the Grand Prize in Panasonic's Shoot It - Share It contest for his film on Africa.