Digital Production Buzz
July 28, 2016
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James DeRuvo, Senior Writer, DoddleNEWS.com
Peter Hamilton, Founder and Editor, DocumentaryTelevision.com
Laura Blum, Curator/Journalist, Thalo.com
Philip Hodgetts, President and Co-Founder of Lumberjack System, CEO of Intelligent Assistance
Michael Kammes, Director of Technology and Marketing, Key Code Media
Sam Mestman, Founder of We Make Movies, CEO of Lumaforge, Workflow Architect at FCPWorks
Larry Jordan: Tonight, the Digital Production Buzz focuses on documentaries and introducing a new format for the show. Peter Hamilton is a senior business development consultant who works with the unscripted media industry. Based in New York, he is the publisher of DocumentaryTelevision.com and joins us tonight to talk about how Netflix, Apple and Amazon are changing the rules for documentary producers.
Larry Jordan: Next, James DeRuvo, the senior writer for DoddleNEWS, reports on the 2016 Comic-Con that just finished in San Diego. Next, Laura Blum, contributing writer for thalo.com shares her thoughts on the changing face of documentaries today. Then Philip Hodgetts, the CEO of Lumberjack System sets up a three part discussion on workflow for documentary producers. Philip begins with how to prep a non-scripted project.
Larry Jordan: Next, Michael Kammes, the Director of Technology and Marketing for Key Code Media reflects on the increasing use of proxy media during post production. Finally, Sam Mestman, the CEO of LumaForge, wraps up our workflow discussion with tips and techniques independent filmmakers can use today to keep their projects organized and on track. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome back to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan and it’s good to be back from hiatus. We have a new show format, new regulars and new guests to share with you over time. Tonight, we’re looking at documentaries and workflow, along with a report on Comic-Con and SIGGRAPH. James DeRuvo was in San Diego at Comic-Con and he’ll be along in a minute with his report.
Larry Jordan: Earlier this week, I drove down to Anaheim to spend the day at SIGGRAPH. It’s been years since I last attended and I was struck by two things. First, the trade show was focused on games, effects technology and render farms. Some of the demos were absolutely mind blowing, but even more impressive was the size of the experience area, where attendees could get their hands on a wide variety of new technology and the variety of research papers on graphics technology that were posted all over the room. There must have been three dozen papers giving attendees not only the chance to see the latest technology, but to learn more about the new discoveries that will change the technology of tomorrow.
Larry Jordan: This mix of research, education, exhibits and hands on activities I haven’t seen at any other show. I’m still reflecting on my experiences and I’ll write more on this for my newsletter next week.
Larry Jordan: Also, I want to remind you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’ve spent the last month redesigning our publication and you’ll see the new version this Friday. Every issue every week gives you an inside look at The Buzz, with quick links to all the different segments on the show and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. Best of all, every issue is free.
Larry Jordan: Now, let me introduce a new segment on the show, a weekly recap of news from our industry hosted by James DeRevo of DoddleNEWS. Hello, James.
James DeRuvo: Hi, Larry, welcome back to the live internet.
Larry Jordan: I tell you, it’s nice to be back. I should tell people that you have a career that spans radio, film and publishing. You’ve been a writer about technology and the video industry for nearly 20 years and you’re also an award winning film director as well as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles and it’s good to have you on the show.
James DeRuvo: Well, it’s good to be back.
Larry Jordan: Tell me, you’re just back from Comic-Con 2016 in San Diego. What’s the news?
James DeRuvo: The big news at Comic-Con was that this year they were trying really hard to be very strict on not allowing recording of any screens and any of the panels. The problem has been over the last couple of years that when filmmakers come out and bring along some exclusive footage just for the fans in the room, somebody pulls out their cell phone and sometimes even the panellists pull out their phone, they record it and within a minute it’s up on the internet. They’ve been trying to prevent that because a lot of the clips are works in progress or trailers that were only meant for the room to see.
James DeRuvo: This year, Warner Bros did something interesting. They decided, rather than to prevent it, they just told everyone, “We’re going to release all of our trailers and all of our behind the scenes footage on YouTube so you don’t need to record it, you don’t need to do anything, it’ll be there,” and those trailers and that exclusive footage ended up being there as promised at the exact same time they were showing it in the room. That was a big deal at Comic-Con.
James DeRuvo: The other thing, and it’s serendipitous that we’re talking about documentaries tonight, I got to see a documentary called ‘The Giant’s Dream’ which was the story of the animated movie ‘Iron Giant,’ which was directed by Brad Bird. It was a very interesting story that basically told Brad Bird’s career where he knew he wanted to be an animator since he was four years old and his parents had a friend who worked at Disney Studios and took him there, where he got to meet all of these amazing classic Disney artists from the ‘60s who were responsible for every classic Disney feature that there was.
James DeRuvo: Then he said, “That’s what I want to do for a living,” so when he was 14, he made his own animated film and his dad told him, “Send it to Disney,” so he sent it to Disney and he not only got a summer internship out of it, but they also gave him a scholarship to go to … Arts.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
James DeRuvo: And then he got his dream job fresh out of … Arts.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got about a minute left. What were your two key takeaways from Comic-Con? What struck you the most?
James DeRuvo: The key takeaway that I got from Comic-Con was mainly Brad Bird in that panel. He ended up getting fired from Disney, which led him to the ‘Iron Giant’ and he never gave up. He always stuck to his guns and even when he knew it would get him fired, he always stuck to his guns of what he believed was faithful to his vision and he trusted the process would lead him in the right direction. That was the big take away from that panel.
James DeRuvo: The other takeaway was that Comic-Con is exhausting. There are up to 200,000 people and it’s just an incredible experience.
Larry Jordan: James, what website can people go to keep track of you?
James DeRuvo: They can check out our Comic-Con coverage and our filmmaking coverage at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s doddlenews.com. James DeRuvo is a senior writer and, James, thanks for joining us today.
James DeRuvo: Thanks, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website – thalo.com. Thalo.com is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works. Thalo is a part of the Thalo Arts community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Visit thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Peter Hamilton is a senior business development consultant who works with the unscripted media industry. He’s a former CBS executive whose clients have included A&E Networks, Discovery, BBC, National Geographic and many other media groups. He’s based in New York and is the publisher of documentarytelevision.com and welcome back, Peter, it’s good to have you back.
Peter Hamilton: It’s great to be back on the show.
Larry Jordan: There’s so much stuff I want to talk to you about, but let’s start with the most interesting. I want to focus on documentaries and on your website you write about how over the top services such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple are changing the documentary industry. How so?
Peter Hamilton: Absolutely massive change is the order of the day in our industry right now. The main driver is that Netflix and these SVOD services which provide an all you can eat model for around about $10 a month have drawn viewers away from scheduled 24/7 network television and they’ve particularly drawn them to these dramatic fictional series that have taken the buzz away from reality shows that were the staple of the channels that provided documentaries.
Peter Hamilton: That’s the first big trend, but these SVOD services like Netflix have also found documentaries to be a very successful area of content because they appeal to audiences who have an intense affinity with a particular topic, with a particular subject area, so both Netflix and Amazon and then new entrants are beginning to commission and also to buy lots of documentaries. So there’s a lot of change to the networks and their business strategy right now.
Larry Jordan: I remember the last time you were on, which was in February of 2015, when you were talking about the shift from broadcasting to mass audiences to affinity groups – people who were interested in that particular program. It sounds like the trend you spotted then is continuing to accelerate. Is that a true statement?
Peter Hamilton: I use the metaphor of the tent. The circus tent is held up by a giant tent pole and then there’s the fabric of the tent. There are two trends here. One is that both networks and SVOD services like Netflix, and with networks we’re talking about Nat Geo, Discovery, History Channel and the BBC and others, they’re betting heavily on these big promotable huge budget tent pole programs or limited series. The budgets for these documentary specials, if that’s what they are, can be as high as a couple of million dollars a year and involve major celebrity talent and often co-funded by billionaires, so that’s the tent pole. Big move towards tent pole signature projects that break through the quota and support the brand.
Peter Hamilton: Then there’s the tent. What happens with the 24/7 programming on the SVOD services, particularly Amazon that has unlimited storage, they want to serve audiences with every kind of affinity from motorcycle enthusiasts to people who grow tulips with a tremendous variety of programs, so there’s a big demand for individual programs but more particularly series to satisfy the intense, passionate interest in what we’ve been calling for a few years the long tail of demand.
Larry Jordan: It sounds to me like there’s a problem with marketing. A tent pole at least gives you something to market, it’s an event, whereas with the over the top services like Netflix or Amazon, they’re marketing the range of programs, they’re not marketing a specific event. Is that true?
Peter Hamilton: That’s a really good observation. The tent pole is very promotable but just remember there are a lot of networks and a lot of brands trying to create these signature programs, so there’s a celebrity arms race and a budget arms race going on there to get the best film with the Sundance credentials and with the buzz from all kinds of facets related to the project, the talent, the topic and so on. That’s still very hard work and it takes a lot of talent and a lot of magic for it all to come together.
Peter Hamilton: Look at ‘Virunga’, which was an award winning show that Netflix commissioned with Leonardo DiCaprio as the Executive Producer, the story about a military campaign to conserve the gorilla population in Central Africa. Netflix also heavily promoted that show, but for the long tail, particularly on Amazon but also on Netflix, promotion gets down to the producer or the distributor and particularly the producer. They have to come up with a great title, they have to work with their own social media to reach their affinity group and they have to have great poster art because the choices are made on just what’s available on your electronic program guide or your mobile screen, so it really puts a lot of the promotional hard work back on the producer.
Larry Jordan: It sounds to me like what the over the top services are turning themselves into is distributors. They’re providing access to what I call smorgasbord programming, but it means that the burden of being successful is no longer with the distribution, like a CBS or an NBC, but with the individual producer who doesn’t have anywhere near the resources that a network does.
Peter Hamilton: I think that’s a really clever observation. I talked this week to the creator of a successful marketing franchise that’s based on a documentary called ‘Choppertown’ and ‘Choppertown’ is a film about hotrods and the community that love these Chopper bikes. This venture started as a classic observational documentary and then the producer, whose name is Zack Hoffman, began to sell DVDs of his film from his website out of his living room and he now has nearly two million Facebook followers and a Facebook channel called choppertown.com that hyper services this audience that really loves and is involved with motorcycle hotrods.
Peter Hamilton: The model, which I’m going to be writing about in documentarytelevision.com in the next week or so, that is a really great case study in what it takes to distribute in this new environment. You can no longer just hand it over to your broadcaster, your distributor and say, “Here’s my wonderful film. I’m waiting for your next commission. Thank you.”
Larry Jordan: Does this mean that network non-scripted programming is dead and that if someone’s creating a documentary they should pitch Netflix rather than the networks?
Peter Hamilton: No, because the networks are still huge buyers of programming. We have to remember that the big branded channels like the ones we mentioned before have multi-year contract deals with their distributors – Comcast, Time Warner Cable and so on – and Comcast and these other players offer three products. They offer video – these big packages of 500 channels etc – they offer the internet and finally telephony, including mobile. Video is a loss leader now for the hugely profitable operators that are still doing very well, so they are going to continue to be supporting the channels that are a big part of their overall business franchise for a long time. So that means even though some people would describe these cable and satellite channels and broadcasters as a satellite business, I would say the sun’s going down very slowly and there are billions of dollars to be spent on unscripted television in the next ten years.
Larry Jordan: What advice do you have for the ordinary producer to get into this mix? What should they do first?
Peter Hamilton: That is really the big question and it really depends on their level of experience, the quality of the concept. My first recommendation is always attend as many markets and industry events as you can, because that’s where you forge relationships – in a bar, on a beach, walking to a session, whatever. That’s where you make the relationships that get you ahead, so I would say rather than beg, borrow and steal to make a $100,000 documentary, do what you can to get to the nearest industry conference that’s with you.
Peter Hamilton: Secondly, if you have a really strong concept, I would find an established production company that has a good relationship already, is a preferred supplier, for instance, to one of the major or even middling networks, and try and work with them, pitch them. They’ll drive a very hard bargain with you because they own the relationship with the network, but that’s better than sitting at home dreaming about the project that never gets off the ground.
Peter Hamilton: Thirdly, I’d say work with digital channels. Pitch the middle range channels. For instance, if you have a wildlife program, try and work with Nat Geo Wild rather than with Nat Geo itself, because these middle ranked second tier channels – and all of the networks have them – are more open to working with new talent and serving as the minor leagues for the big show, and yet they still pay and it’s an incredible credential to have any kind of relationship with those channels.
Peter Hamilton: They’re my three big takeaways.
Larry Jordan: Peter, for people who want more information about you and what you’re doing, what website can they go to?
Peter Hamilton: Please do, go to documentarytelevision.com and it’s really great working with you and having this opportunity to share my experience.
Larry Jordan: Peter Hamilton is the founder and editor of documentarytelevision.com. Peter, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.
Peter Hamilton: Thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum is a film and events curator, as well as a thalo.com contributor writer, filmfestivals.com blogger and former film and television development executive with Sony BMG. Hello, Laura, welcome.
Laura Blum: I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: We are delighted to have you. The Buzz is looking at documentaries. What do you see as one of the more interesting creative trends in today’s documentaries?
Laura Blum: It’s not that it’s only started now. Of course, we can go back to 1922, when Robert Flaherty was doing ‘Nanook of the North’ and we can see all sorts of staging and choreography. But what we are seeing now is this staging on steroids and we’re seeing in particular that documentaries are cribbing many of the devices associated with fiction films, so you’re seeing a very taut three act narrative structure, you’re seeing heightened music, sometimes very Hollywoodized, and you’re seeing sometimes scripts, you’re seeing performance, that the boundary between performance and reality is blurred more and more, so an interesting new anti-documentary or un-documentary moment for documentaries.
Larry Jordan: Has this changed the narrative structure of the documentary? Are docs no longer documentaries?
Laura Blum: There’s more and more borrowing from the conventions of dramatic fiction; and so documentaries are also saying, okay, we know that you know, that we know we are manipulating reality; so why don’t we just be open and out there? We’ll be entertaining; we’ll be immersive; we will, you know, not hesitate to borrow from the creative floorshows of fiction. The traditional mandate, which was just really to impart information, is now being origamied, to seduce and the viewer becomes emotionally involved with the arc of the subject or subjects.
Larry Jordan: Well, it seems to me that the point of a documentary is to reveal the truth, whatever the truth happens to be; from the perspective of the Producer or the Director. It sounds now like the storytelling is being subsumed with all these other dramatic, which are not necessarily truthful.
Laura Blum: Life is a sty, we can say that right? Documentaries clean it up a bit and the best ones say ‘stuff happens.’ This is, you know, reality, this is how it all goes. This is one take on how things went down; one coherent version of messy life. These days, for a filmmaker, you have to prepare and make sense out of things; but you also have to be flexible and make adjustments, as your assumptions get really savaged. It really is a communication to the audience that, yes truth, but it’s actually really in a moment where everybody gets to construct their own selfie; everybody gets to manipulate around software; everybody’s out there, you know, selling how they want to come across. It’s kind of winking at these self-televising technologies and saying, we’re now all in on the strategies.
Laura Blum: Really, the only recourse for a documentary filmmaker is to go …. Saying again what I was saying before, “I know you know that I’m choreographing fact, so let me be up front about it and show you my techniques.”
Larry Jordan: Now, in the past, you’ve called this the truth games; why do you pick that name?
Laura Blum: Well, truth games is really just another way of saying that it is a understanding that things are being staged; things are being played with. It’s sort of getting out there and saying, “Okay, we’re fiddling.” It is not that this is all just now, as …. said, “All great fiction films tend towards documentary; just as all great documentaries tend towards fiction.”
Larry Jordan: Laura, thank you so very much for your time and we’ll talk to you soon.
Laura Blum: It was my pleasure; thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Philip Hodgetts is the CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack System; he’s also involved with technology in virtually every area of digital production and post. Hello Philip, welcome back.
Philip Hodgetts: Welcome back, yes indeed. It’s great to be back and have the Buzz back.
Larry Jordan: Yes, I tell you, I don’t like those summer hiatuses, I’m very glad to be back in production. Tonight, we’re talking about documentaries; so I’m curious about how you prep a non-scripted project; because, the first half of the show we’re going talk docs and the second half we’re going to talk workflow. Make the transition for me. How do we get ready?
Philip Hodgetts: Well, it’s not really that much different from working with a script. Obviously there are logistics that have to be dealt with in both cases; you have places where you need to go to shoot; you have people that you need to organise to get on camera; you have gear that has to be organised and wrangled to get to wherever you need it to be. So those things are fairly common between the two types of production. But with a documentary, you don’t just have the script, you have an intention; you have an intention to tell a story about backup singers or have intention to tell a story about …; you have an intention to tell a story about a particular performer. The intention of that story tends to give you an idea of what you should be looking for, the questions you should be asking and who you should be interviewing; so you can organise based on the topic, the angle you’re coming to.
Larry Jordan: Now when should you start this organisation? Is it started after you do production or before prep or what? How soon?
Philip Hodgetts: Well, you’re organising your people that you’re going to interview, which gives you the topics that you’re going to ask them about; which gives you some sort of organisational structure. Now, I’m a bit proponent of making sure that I log on the set; you know, using paper and pen. You can do it that way, you can use Adobe’s Prelude live logger. You know, make notes, make sure that your technical metadata from the set is accurate, that you know the frame rates were right, you know that the Codec was right and it’s all correctly identified.
Philip Hodgetts: As much of that should be done during the shoot as possible and beforehand; but when you come to editing, before you start putting anything into a timeline, get yourself organised; go through the footage; either get transcripts done and incorporate them into your workflow; or find some means of organising your footage, so that you can find it by topic, you’ll find the stories that are there and start to assemble them and put them together into a cohesive non-scripted presentation.
Larry Jordan: What does the word organise your media mean to you then?
Philip Hodgetts: Well, there’s two aspects to that; one is physically organising it, so that it can be appropriately backed up and so can be found. If it’s a collaborative workflow, it needs to be on a SAN; storage area network. Also, it’s a meaning of organising the content of your media, so that you log it, as I say, either on the shoot or in post; so that you know that where ideas are, where particular soundbites are and where you need to go to get the things that you need to build your story.
Philip Hodgetts: Getting that organisation at the media level and also at the content level. I think it’s very crucial, before you start putting a single moment’s thought into editing a timeline and putting it together.
Larry Jordan: I just want to emphasise that point, that you want to get yourself organised before you start cutting, not after you start cutting; because it’s a whole lot harder once you’ve got the timeline starting to go together.
Philip Hodgetts: I know. On the documentary I was working on one day a week and I spent the first three months just logging the 46 hours of material; but then I could start to put together stories, very quickly, once I had that logged material.
Larry Jordan: That just seems like so much time spent doing everything except what you want to do which is cut.
Philip Hodgetts: Except it’s time well spent. You know, if you don’t organise it and you can’t find it, it takes a lot longer.
Larry Jordan: True enough. Philip, for people that want more information about what you’re doing, what website can they go to?
Philip Hodgetts: Philiphodgetts.com is probably a great place. I’ve been blogging quite a bit lately.
Larry Jordan: And Philip Hodgetts himself, CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack System, at philliiphodgetts.com. Philip, thanks for joining us today.
Philip Hodgetts: My pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: In his current role as Director of Technology and Marketing at Key Code Media, Michael Kammes consults on the latest in technology and best practices. He also has a strange love of workflow, codecs and process. Hello Michael.
Michael Kammes: It’s so good to hear your soothing voice Larry.
Larry Jordan: Oh, thank you so much; it is so good to have the soothing voice back on the air, I’ve missed it. Tonight we’re talking documentaries and, as you just heard from Philip, we also need to consider our workflow. Recently you wrote that everything old is new again; what do you mean?
Michael Kammes: Well, there’s a big misconception that Hollywood is all about the newest and latest and greatest technology; but the fact remains that, underneath that sheen, we’re doing the tried and true workflows that we’ve been doing for, coming up on two decades now and that hasn’t changed. That’s what we do.
Larry Jordan: You know, I’ve thought, for many years, that Hollywood is both risk taking and risk averse; depending upon which direction you’re facing.
Michael Kammes: You’re completely right. When it comes to being risk averse, one thing we see quite a bit is the age-old offline, online workflow; which is prevalent here in the TV and film realm here immensely.
Larry Jordan: Well I was just thinking about that. When Adobe introduced their new proxy workflow in the latest release of Premiere, I was flashing back to all kinds of proxy editing we were doing in the 80s and 90s. Does this mean now that everything needs to be offline and online? What’s going on here?
Michael Kammes: Well, not everything needs to be offline. I find it kind of ironic because Adobe was kind of leading the charge for many years; of hey, use your camera originals. Now they’re saying, well, you know what? In some situations you don’t need that. Because there’s a disconnect between how we’re shooting, in terms of camera codecs and how our computers can deal with that; the post process with, you know, video editors, those two aren’t linear. Because of that, we need to many times take the camera originals and crate off on materials so we can get our computers and storage that can actually deal with them in a useful format.
Larry Jordan: You know, for a long time the processors were ahead of the video codecs, but now video codecs are generating files that our processors can’t handle; thinking 4K and 8K and with HDR coming on. What do we need to know to keep our files together and what kind of workflow changes do we need with these new formats?
Michael Kammes: Well, as Philip pointed out, you need to have some organisation at the front end. If we go on the assumption that that organisation’s already done, then it requires having a transcoder or requires you having your NLE create these proxies; these kind of lightweight versions of your high resolution media for your systems to edit, but also keep as much metadata as humanly possible; so when you are done with your creative edit, you can then relink back to the camera originals for your color grade and ultimate export.
Larry Jordan: Does the workflow change if we’re doing film versus TV versus web?
Michael Kammes: That’s a very interesting question. I think it more boils down to how quickly your turnaround is and how hit you are to the newest technology. If you have blazingly fast computers and, as I’m sure Sam will talk about later, blazingly fast storage, you may be able to get away with some … originals and not do a proxy workflow. But if you’re dealing with, you know, 30,000 hours of footage and you’re dealing with computers that aren’t the newest and you’re doing a lot of temp effects and whatnot, then it may make sense to go to a proxy workflow so you have, what I like to call, a pleasurable editing experience.
Larry Jordan: That’s true; pleasurable is a relative term. Michael, for people that want to keep track of you, where can they go on the web?
Michael Kammes: Two places; you can go to 5thingsseries.com and you can also head over to michaelkammes.com.
Larry Jordan: And the Michael Kammes himself, michaelkammes.com. Michael, thanks for joining us today.
Michael Kammes: Been a pleasure; thanks Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care; bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you; DoddleNEWS.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform, specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings provide in-depth organisational tools for business production professionals.
Larry Jordan: DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo works community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to film making, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require start of the art online tools to manage your next project; there’s only one place to go; doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Sam Mestman is the Founder of We Make Movies, the world’s first community funded production company. He is also the CEO of movie technology company LumaForge and, as a professional editor and colorist, he has worked for Apple, ESPN, Glee, Break Media, to name just a few. He is also edited or colored hundreds of shorts, features, web series. If it moves on a screen he’s done something with it. He is also the architect behind some of the largest Final Cut X integrations in the world. Hello Sam, welcome back.
Sam Mestman: Hello Larry, how you doing? Thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Well, we are always delighted to have you on, you’ve got such great ideas and especially because tonight we’re talking about documentaries and you’ve designed workflows for some of the very largest feature films. I’m thinking ‘Focus’ with Will Smith. What I want you to do is define what a workflow is.
Sam Mestman: Basically, the easiest definition is how to get from script or concept to screen and finished format; and everything that needs to happen, from acquisition, all the way to delivery.
Larry Jordan: Why is this so important? I mean, we just plug our computer in and start cutting off media that’s on a hard disk. Why do we need to worry about a workflow?
Sam Mestman: Well, I think, basically, if you want people to see it, I mean, I think there’s a lot of things that need to happen along the chain; and if you want a proper viewing experience. It used to be that you could cut two pieces of film together and stitch together and play that out on a screen and then they invented computers and that kind of ruined everything.
Larry Jordan: Should documentary producers worry about workflow; especially if they’re working on a smaller project? At what point do you start to worry about all this stuff?
Sam Mestman: Well, you know, it really depends on what your goals are. I think, you don’t really need to worry if you don’t want to make any money.
Larry Jordan: That sort of puts it in perspective.
Sam Mestman: If you’re worried about, you know, having anyone interested in it or it’s going to go outside of your circle of friends or family, there is a process to airing and it’s a different process whether you want to stream in a movie theater or whether you want to screen on a television or for the web, etc and everything has a different codec and a different end deliverable. You need to know those before you shoot, because, it can really determine, you know, the viability of your project.
Larry Jordan: Give me an example. I know that you put the workflow together for ‘Focus.’ Just give me a sense of, what were some of the questions your workflow was trying to answer? What were you solving?
Sam Mestman: Well, you know, for ‘Focus’ the question was, they were going to shoot with the Alexa and they wanted to monitor using Anamorphic Cooke lenses and they wanted to monitor basically all of this stuff in native resolution along the way, through the chain, using Final Cut X and not have to do a giant performance dance along the ways. The reason question is, how do you do that within an applications limitations or a navigating to get from one application Final Cut to, you know, whether it’s Tableau, which is what they used on the film, or going to DaVinci. They all have different considerations and XML along the way, where it can become incredibly confusing, especially if you’re a producer who has no concept or what any of these things are.
Sam Mestman: You have to really know what you want to do in order to make all of the links of the chain fit together in a certain way. Simply determining the acquisitions format can have huge ripple effects all the way down the line. For instance, the choice of Anamorphic can change and it’s the biggest mistake a filmmaker can use quite often.
Larry Jordan: Well that gets me, I think, to the key question that I want to figure out. What can we do, especially as independent producers, to maximise our time, maximise our money and maximise our effort, yet still keep an efficient workflow? What key questions do we have to focus on?
Sam Mestman: I think the number one thing is where you want to screen and find out what the deliveries best are for that and work backwards. For instance, if you know you want to finish for television and you want to finish for 4K, then your default resolution is 3840 by 2160; which should pretty much disqualify you from using Anamorphic lenses because it’s a 235 aspect ratio versus 69. You’re not going to be able to fill the screen and you’re going to have to pan and scan the whole thing.
Sam Mestman: It’s decisions like that which can just save you an incredible amount of money and headaches, if you know where you want to end up already and what your distributor’s going to ask you for.
Larry Jordan: What can we technically do to improve collaboration; especially if we have teams of people working on our stuff?
Sam Mestman: The biggest thing that you can do is have your different departments communicate ahead of time on what the deliverables are. For instance, you know, if you’re working in Final Cut X, make sure that the people who you’re going to be delivering to, whether that’s sound or color, know what to expect, you know, from you when you conform; and make sure that they’re ready to accept in a Final Cut X XML and if they’re not, do a workflow test ahead of time. Basically, the number one thing you can do is, prevent people from pointing fingers at each other once it’s late in the game.
Sam Mestman: It’s also helpful to establish communication early and do a workflow test before you’re anywhere near the finish line; because that’s where the biggest problems happen, is when nothing has been tested and then you’re in unchartered territory and you’re like, well I thought that was supposed to work and then it doesn’t.
Larry Jordan: And there’s nothing like pointing fingers as deadline approaches, to get work done quicker.
Sam Mestman: Yes and then, you know, you just throw people at the problem or throw money at the problem. It’s literally like lighting money in a fire. You know, for most independent producers, those are produced on a budget and suddenly you go over budget and everyone’s angry and people get fired and all sorts of bad things happen. Whereas, if you’d tested and had people actually talk to each other ahead of time and establish, you know, sort of a working relationship, it all could have been avoided.
Larry Jordan: Yes, true. Another challenge that we’ve got and I just need a relatively quick response is, what are the biggest challenges to archiving? What are you recommending for archiving these days?
Sam Mestman: Well a lot of it depends. I mean, the standard answer people give is LTO; but getting anything off an LTO is very difficult. If you’re on a limited budget, the simplest thing is extra hard drives that you would just clone and, I mean, keep one off site in a different place. It’s just a question of how paranoid you really are. But, you know, three copies of the same footage should be more than enough; and two copies is often all you need. Within that, you know, if you have a bonding company, they’re going to have certain requirements for insurance, at which point you may need to step up to LTO. But, bringing a project off from LTO tends to be a nightmare; so that’s usually a last resort.
Larry Jordan: Why so? Because I’ve heard lots of good things about LTO. What makes the restoration so difficult?
Sam Mestman: Well, you’ve got to pull it off the tape and it’s not like a regular hard drive. Then you’ve still got to get it onto something that’s going to work; so you’re going to need another hard drive to put it on. When you actually pull it off the archive, where are you going to put it and how are you going to find what you need? Most editors are not well versed in this. A lot of it really depends on the size of the production. For smaller productions though, it’s probably past what they would ever need. As you get higher up the chain, you know, you have certain larger requirements; you know, studios require far different things than independents.
Sam Mestman: Mostly, if you need an affordable solution, get an extra Sneakernet hard drive and if you need a more expensive solution, you know, you’re going to start looking at LTO. But, even then, you’re going to want a Nearline archive in case anything happens to your primary drive or shared storage.
Larry Jordan: Well that gets me to the last question I wanted to ask you about, which is this really cool company called We Make Movies; which is crowd community funded. What is this?
Sam Mestman: We are trying to change the way movies get made. We are located here in Hollywood and basically it’s a bunch of people who want to grow their careers and tell the stories that they want to tell. Basically, we’ve all sort of pitched in and we are now making movies that are completely 100% funded by the community and people are getting together and developing and producing their own projects.
Sam Mestman: We have our first pilot scheduled to come out in the Fall and we’ve shot more than 100 shorts and more than eight features have come out of the group and it’s just an unbelievable amount of content. Kind of a new model that we’re sort of building. We think there’s a better way to make content than the way that it’s getting made and we think there are a lot of voices that really aren’t being heard in Hollywood, that we are very interested in helping finding an audience.
Larry Jordan: Why you rather than Kickstarter or IndigoGoGo?
Sam Mestman: Because you only get to do a Kickstarter or an IndieGoGo once and then, all your friends and relatives get mad at you. Whereas, with this, basically it’s a community; so the goal is not to do a one off fundraiser, the goal is used to amass resources; people and talent and build and we have this concept of the rolling production fund; which is, any money that comes in past a certain amount of money, goes immediately into a fund that people are allowed to vote on and they select what gets made in the community.
Sam Mestman: There’s a contest that happens, that’s involved in that and it’s literally that money gets turned right over to the filmmaker and they get to go make stories that the community has selected.
Larry Jordan: Sam, what website can people go to, to learn more about what you’re doing?
Sam Mestman: wemakemovies.org.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one phrase, wemakemovies.org and Sam Mestman is the Founder of We Make Movies and CEO of LumaForge and an architect and frankly doesn’t get any sleep at all. Sam, thanks for joining us today.
Sam Mestman: Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: Take care; bye-bye. This has been an interesting show, taking a look at both documentaries and workflow and how the two of them are related and it’s wonderful to be back on the air after a couple of months, taking a vacation and getting ourselves reorganized for some really cool stuff we’ve got coming up a little bit later in the broadcast year. Our Producer is Cirina Catania; her Assistant is Debbie Price and we’ve got some really nice shows coming up. Be sure to visit our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com and sign up for our free weekly newsletter and discover the inside techniques and secrets and programm of the show.
Larry Jordan: My name is Larry Jordan and thank you for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2016 by Thalo LLC.