Jonathan Handel, Entertainment/Technology Attorney & Labor Reporter, TroyGould and The Hollywood Reporter
Dom Bourne, Founder/President, Take 1 Transcription
Julian Evans, Vice President, Audioworks Film & Theatre
Jeff Edson, CEO, Assimilate Inc.
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we start with an update on the tectonic forces playing out between writers and agents that’s creating havoc in Hollywood.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel, entertainment labor reporter for the Hollywood Reporter updates us on the ongoing battle between the Writers Guild and talent agents. Writers are now firing their agents and both sides are heading to court. Jonathan has the details.
Larry Jordan: One of the hot subjects for media pros are automated transcripts, called ASR for automated speech recognition. Tonight we talk with Dom Bourne, founder and president of Take 1.tv, a full service transcription agency about the changes roiling his industry and what producers need to know to choose the right service for them.
Larry Jordan: We transition from text to sound to speak with Julian Evans, senior sound designer for Audioworks Film & Theater. This New York City based company specializes in sound design for theater and independent film. Listen as Julian explains how to work with a sound designer.
Larry Jordan: Assimilate is the developer of scratch, software that enables digital cinema and broadcast artists to generate dailies, conform, color correct and finish within a single user friendly and powerful solution. Tonight we talk with Jeff Edson, CEO of Assimilate about what their company does, how filmmakers can benefit, and their latest announcements at NAB.
Larry Jordan: 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: Welcome 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.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. It probably won’t surprise you that as an audio podcast, we have a deep interest in audio but we don’t get a chance to talk with audio folks as often as I would like, because there are just too many other subjects that we need to cover as well. However, this week we get to talk with Julian Evans, a senior sound designer and vice president for Audioworks Film & Theatre. What especially impressed me about his interview was that he didn’t focus on technology, or microphones or recording technique. He focused on how audio can enhance the story being told. I also really liked his focus on collaboration. As someone who enjoys working with teams, I enjoyed his point of view.
Larry Jordan: By the way, if you enjoy The Buzz, please give us a positive rating and review in the iTunes store. We appreciate your support to help us grow our audience.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is on assignment this week. He’ll return next Thursday.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan Handel is an entertainment and technology attorney of counsel at Troy Gould in Los Angeles, but right now he is the contributing editor on entertainment labor issues for the Hollywood Reporter and knee deep in the Writers Guild talent agency dispute. Hello Jonathan, welcome back.
Jonathan Handel: Thanks, it’s great to be back with you.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan, when last we spoke the writers were getting ready to fire their agents. That’s now happened, so where are we now?
Jonathan Handel: According to the Writers Guild, over 7,000 writers out of 8800 who had agents ten days ago, have fired their agents. That’s an overwhelming number of those members of the Guild, there’s about 14,500 members total, but only 8800 who had agents, have fired their agents. In addition, the Writers Guild and eight individual writers last week, at least it seems like it was last week, this has been quite a treadmill, have filed a lawsuit against the four major talent agencies alleging that packaging fees re an illegal kickback, an unfair business practice and a breach of fiduciary duty.
Jonathan Handel: So that’s the quick snapshot of where we stand. They’re trying to pressure the agencies on two fronts. One, by withdrawing their business relationship and the other by filing a lawsuit.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk about the lawsuit in a second, but let’s go back to the 7000 writers that fired their agents. This is the heart of staffing season for the fall shows. Is anybody getting any work?
Jonathan Handel: Well, we think so. We don’t know exactly but this is the heart of the staffing season for fall broadcast shows, that’s right. Ordinarily agents would be vigorously advocating on behalf of their clients to get staff, although the writers claim that agents do nothing for them which begs the question of why so many writers have written that they hope when this is all over, that they can get back with their agents and pay them ten percent for doing nothing. It’s a very scorched earth and a lot of invective on the part of the Writers Guild primarily to be honest and fair about it. The agencies have not called the Writers Guild a cartel or a mafia or a criminal enterprise but the Writers Guild has essentially used those words with regard to the agencies.
Jonathan Handel: Are people getting jobs? The Writers Guild set up a staffing submission system, an online portal where writers can submit themselves for up to three shows and they’ve asked writers to network with each other and to look out for each other, and they also now have started a weekly newsletter for feature writers, because not to forget that feature writers exist also and they need to get work. So how are people going to know about your pitches and your spec scripts?
Larry Jordan: But it sounds like it’s almost too early to tell.
Jonathan Handel: In some ways it’s too early to tell, this has literally just happened. The mass termination letters were supposedly delivered just a couple of days ago and so it is quite early to tell how this sort of patchwork is going to work out.
Larry Jordan: You also wrote an interesting article earlier this week explaining how revenue sharing might work if the packaging fees were to be shared by the agents to the writers and here, historical precedent limits what the writers might expect. What’s the summary of this?
Jonathan Handel: The last offer that the agencies made to the writers, and the first time they’ve offered to share packaging fees, which are fees that are paid by the studios to the agencies, rather than the agencies collecting commissions from the writers, the offer that they made was to share one percent of packaging fees with the writers.
Larry Jordan: One percent?
Jonathan Handel: One percent. So that sounds insultingly low. It sounds like you’re calculating to drive the battle to the negotiating room. But here’s the thing, the agencies have to assume that any offer that they make to the writers, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, will come knocking as well at some point. And want a piece of this. So when you’re making an offer to one, you have to calculate in your head, “OK what about the others?” Now that sounds like everyone’s going to get an equal share, so if you offer one percent to the writers, you’ve got to offer one percent to the directors and one percent to the actors. Except it doesn’t work that way.
Jonathan Handel: In the residual system, when pots of money are shared on a percentage basis with the Guilds, it’s a one to one to three ratio. The actors get three times as much as the directors and writers. That’s because there are more actors on a given episode or a given movie than there are writers. There’s usually one or two, maybe three writers or directors. There’s usually only one director.
Jonathan Handel: So that one percent offer translates into five percent. You might say, “Well five percent, that’s still kind of low. There’s 100 percent to be dealt with.” Except, no there isn’t. If you offered 20 percent to the writers, you’d have to give, or assume you’d have to give, 20 percent to the director, and 60 percent, three times 20, to the actors. Well guess what? That eats up your entire 100 percent. So the playing field here is not 100 yards, it actually only runs from zero to 20 yards, and of course the agencies which have been receiving 100 percent of the packaging fees, the entirety of the packaging fees, they wouldn’t want to go more than halfsies with the guilds, if that. So moving the player down one yard towards the middle is actually not as trivial a move or as minor a move as it sounds at first glance. You don’t want to move that player any further than eight or nine yards, so moving one yard down, one yard towards the center, this is stretching my football analogy, it’s not a trivial move at all it turns out.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that happened last week is the Writers Guild sued the agents. What are the agents going to do in response?
Jonathan Handel: They sued specifically the four top agencies rather than the entire association of talent agents which is who they’ve been negotiating with and they sued over packaging fees. There’s another practice called affiliate production that the Writers Guild doesn’t like either, but they’ve shifted their focus more specifically to packaging fees. The agencies will have to file their own papers in response, may do that as early as this week. They have at most another several weeks to do so. And they will provide two things.
Jonathan Handel: They will provide affirmative defenses, in other words reasons why the Writers Guild claims are not valid, in their view. And they’ll also provide counter claims which is where the defendants, the agencies, actually become plaintiffs and the plaintiffs, the Writers Guild, become defendants and the agencies put out claims that they have, affirmatively against the Writers Guild.
Larry Jordan: One other thing before I let you go, two other guilds are casting very long shadows during this confrontation, the Directors Guild and the Actors Guild. What’s their take on all of this?
Jonathan Handel: So far, the Screen Actors Guild, SAG-AFTRA has issued a public statement supporting the Writers Guild in its efforts to obtain, what they said was a more fair share for their members. And the Directors Guild has said, “We are not instructing our members to fire their agents at the present time. There are important issues in our agreement with the agents that we are examining.” So there’s a bit of a hint there that it’s possible that the directors, maybe the screen actors as well, will enter the fray and turn this into a multi-front war.
Jonathan Handel: And finally, let’s not forget that negotiations with the studios start at the end of this year with all three guilds contracts expiring mid-year next year. I don’t think that the Writers Guild leadership, having mobilized the membership and taken a strong stand, is going to go quietly into those negotiations and say “Well you know, we’ve caused such a headache for the agents, we don’t really want to be a bother to you studios.” I think on the contrary, there is an increased possibility that we will see another writers’ strike next year like the one that we saw 12 years ago.
Larry Jordan: I think the prognosis for you getting less and less sleep over the next several months is pretty darned good.
Jonathan Handel: It’s proved out very well in that regard so far.
Larry Jordan: Jonathan, for people who want to keep track of where we stand with this and the rest of your writings, where can they go on the web?
Larry Jordan: That’s two websites, jhandel.com and thrlabor.com and Jonathan Handel is an entertainment labor reporter for the Hollywood Reporter, and Jonathan, as always, thanks for joining us today.
Jonathan Handel: Thanks very much Larry.
Announcer: Join the Digital Production Buzz at the 2019 NAB show in Las Vegas Nevada. Starting Monday April 8th, Larry Jordan and The Buzz team are taking their microphones on the road to cover the latest news and trends from the largest media show in the world. Every hour of every day, The Buzz is live on the trade show floor. Creating 27 new shows in four days. More than 100 interviews with key industry leaders. The Buzz has webcast directly from NAB for 11 years with legendary coverage that’s heard in more than 195 countries around the world. If you’re attending the show, visit us at booth SL10 527 and say hello, or join us live every day of the show at nabshowbuzz.com. Join us as The Buzz covers NAB 2019, live at nabshowbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Dom Bourne is the founder and president of Take 1. This is a UK based broadcast metadata and transcription service. But he’s also a keen technologist. He’s responsible for the company’s strategic partnerships, research and development and future proofing. Hello Dom, welcome back.
Dom Bourne: Thank you Larry, it’s good to be on the show.
Larry Jordan: Dom, as head of an international transcription firm, I want to talk with you today about the future of transcription, but before we do, give us a brief description of what Take 1 does.
Dom Bourne: Take 1 processes huge quantities of video files for its customers. They might be video production companies, they might be networks, they might be localization partners. And we have a head office in the UK through which all our servers are based and we receive video files from all over the globe, and we process those using a combination of technology but also good old fashioned humans to get the quality standards that our customers demand.
Larry Jordan: I’ve had the pleasure of working with you and your team for many years, five or six years at least. How has the process of creating transcripts evolved over the last five years?
Dom Bourne: Transcripts have evolved over the last five years in a number of interesting ways. Our customers are wanting to integrate transcription services tighter with their editing workflows, so we’re seeing a lot of customers wanting ScriptSync compatible transcripts for example, whereas five years ago, they would be very interested in just receiving a Word file. We’ve also noticed that customers want faster and of course cheaper transcripts, but that doesn’t always sit comfortably when they also want accuracy as well. The customer ideally wants fast, cheap and accurate but in the real world, you can’t always deliver all three in the way that the customer wants. If they want it superfast, they may have to accept the accuracy won’t be as high.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that you taught me, as we were chatting over the years, is that what customers want from transcripts has evolved. It used to be as you said, just a straight Word doc, but now they need closed captions, they need multiple languages. What all are you being asked to do these days?
Dom Bourne: For the most part transcripts are still being used as a curation method to distill high shooting ratios if you’re making a reality show. So that’s really an editing workflow use case, but there are a number of other use cases such as if you’re a video publisher, wanting to get your content out on the web, then you’re going to be interested in having captions to go along with your video to make sure it can be reached by wider audiences. We also have a different camp of customer who is interested in localizing their TV shows and for those types of clients, what they’re really interested in is a highly accurate blueprint which we can deliver, sometimes in XML or sometimes just as a text file, but either way it’s the cornerstone of the entire localization process and you can imagine they need accuracy up front because if they don’t get it, then by the time they’ve localized into 50 languages, they’ve got 50 problems.
Larry Jordan: We were talking last week with Jim Tierney who is the CEO of Digital Anarchy and has an automated transcription service called Transcriptive. Digital Heaven in the UK has got SpeedScriber and I can throw a rock and hit five or six others, which are using AI and machine language to be able to create transcripts automatically. What’s been the impact of this on your traditional transcription service?
Dom Bourne: I think ASR is making inroads into all sorts of areas in post-production and transcription is certainly one of those. A lot of these so called round trip services rely heavily on the same ASR engine, to deliver what you get back. One man band filmmakers and video producers who aren’t so bothered about high accuracy, these services are great because you can hit a button and you send your video up to a service in the cloud, and you get back a transcript very quickly.
Dom Bourne: We have evaluated a lot of these engines, and whilst they’re improving over time, they’re not always delivering the product that our clients need, for example they don’t necessarily come back with accurate timecodes or accurate speaker labels. And for some clients that’s fine, because all they want to do is just do a keyword search, all they want to do is get a sense of what was discussed on an interview. They’re not that interested in a full transcript. But for sure, ASR and AI is everywhere now. It’s on our phones, it’s in our TVs, it’s in our NLE plugins, and I think it’s a very logical way of using that technology.
Larry Jordan: One of the comments Jim made which made me think of you is he said when the accuracy of automated speech transcription gets below 90 percent, it takes you longer to correct it than to do it right the first time. So when should people consider using automated transcripts, and when does human based transcription rise to the front?
Dom Bourne: Even with the automated systems, somebody’s got to do the cleanup. You can do it yourself if the vendor that you’re using has an interface for facilitating the cleanup process. But you’ve still got to sit there and do it. So it really comes down to personal choice. If you’re an individual who likes to hit the delete key and get a headache from going through a poorly transcribed interview and making it a polished interview, then be my guest. But if you want to send a file to Take 1 because ASR isn’t delivering the quality that you need, then there is no substitute for a professional service and I think there’s a reason why Take 1 is the go to transcriber of choice for The Buzz.
Larry Jordan: It is indeed, and by the way I want to thank you and your team for transcribing The Buzz each week. We are always grateful for your help and that help goes back many years, so thank you for that.
Dom Bourne: Not at all.
Larry Jordan: What do you see as the future of transcription, because it sounds like you’re painting a picture where automatic speech recognition is fast, but not accurate? And human based transcription is less fast but much more accurate and much more flexible. Have I painted the right picture?
Dom Bourne: I think you have, but as I said, ASR is improving all the time, and there are pockets of our organization where we deploy ASR where we see that it delivers operational efficiency. But you asked me about the future and what we’re seeing is an increasing number of workflows that use accurate transcripts as their starting point. For example, editing workflows, access services, localization, and compliance workflows just to name a few.
Dom Bourne: At Take 1 what we’re seeing is greater volumes of content being produced, and edited, and that relies heavily on transcription workflows. We’re seeing an increasing number of clients embracing cloud services and needing secure vendors. So for me, what I think the future holds is probably a blend of leveraging the best of breed ASR engines and technology with accurate eardrums and eyeballs who are capable of delivering a high grade product that really underpins a lot of those aforementioned workflows.
Larry Jordan: Are you thinking about migrating anything to the cloud?
Dom Bourne: Yes for sure, in fact that’s a very timely question because we have just launched the Take 1 Cloud which is our new transcription platform which is a customer facing platform. It’s already got some customers in Los Angeles which we’re very excited about, and the reason why it’s getting traction is because it’s a very secure place through which customers can upload their content and select their turnaround times for transcription. What we’re noticing is with a lot of our larger customers, particularly ones who are owned by big film studios, who have much tighter security requirements, this cloud system that we’ve launched, the Take 1 Cloud, is really hitting that sweet spot for them which allows files to be processed securely, but also effectively and easily through a nice, intuitive interface.
Larry Jordan: So what is it that gets you out of bed in a morning? What’s got you excited about the industry?
Dom Bourne: I go to the trade shows like everyone else. And I just love seeing how the new technology is being deployed in new and exciting ways. Whether that’s ASR transcription to speed up editing or whether that’s the latest camera codecs to compress files for faster moving around the planet. I just love all of this stuff and whenever I come across a good vendor, the first thing I do is tell my friends about it and Tweet about it. I have to say it was a real shame that I didn’t get out to NAB this year but I caught up with some of your interviews that you held on the show floor and they really filled in some blanks for me.
Larry Jordan: Thank you. For people that want more information about the services that Take 1 makes available, where can they go on the web?
Dom Bourne: Our website is www.take1.tv and all our services and products are available right there on the website.
Larry Jordan: That website is all one word, take1.tv, not .com, take1.tv and Dom Bourne is the founder and president of Take 1, and Dom, thanks for joining us today.
Dom Bourne: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Julian Evans is the vice president of Audioworks Film & Theatre. Over his ten year career, Julian has provided sound design and mixing services on more than 20 feature films, over 100 independent shorts, as well as off Broadway sound design with dozens of credits. Hello Julian, welcome.
Julian Evans: Hey Larry, thanks so much for having me.
Larry Jordan: Well thank you for joining us because sound design is an area that I have always loved, and I’m looking forward to our conversation. But before we talk about design, how would you describe Audioworks Film & Theatre?
Julian Evans: We’re a relatively new collaborative company and what we do is primarily if not solely, sound design and mixing for independent narrative features, short films and live theatrical productions.
Larry Jordan: I hate to break it to you, but there’s a lot of other companies that do exactly the same thing. Why did Audioworks get started?
Julian Evans: We got started about two years ago. I had just partnered with my business partner Kip Kaplan and we were doing an eight episode, hour long episodes, New York City crime drama that needed a full audio post package. I’m coming from a world where I had been doing this sort of work for a long time independently, and needed a larger platform for larger projects such as this. The work kept coming in after that project was concluded, and we said, “Hey, this train’s got a lot of steam on it, let’s set this up in a way that it can continue to grow and build.” I guess what really I would say separates us is the attention to detail that projects get and honestly, my personal style of mixing and sound supervising is a big part of what makes us, us. They are really serious mixers that go toe to toe with the big audio post houses, not just in New York City, but across the country.
Larry Jordan: That’s very exciting. When you think about it, any creative role comes down to the creative person at the center of it, not necessarily the tools that they use.
Julian Evans: That’s right, and I think that as a sound designer, there are just plenty of examples like this whether it be the mike preamps or the equalizers or the compressors that people are using, and I think that in the musical world there is an argument to be made for that sort of outboard gear. But in the audio post world, in my opinion, it really does boil down to who’s using the gear, much more so than the gear itself.
Larry Jordan: Help me define a couple of terms. What’s the difference between sound design and sound effects and foley?
Julian Evans: Fantastic question. Foley sound effects are sounds that we record, a foley artist will record live to picture. And typically we do that because they are so specific and they’re attached to a character that the only way to really get the emotion into that particular sound is to perform it live.
Larry Jordan: Like footsteps?
Julian Evans: Like footsteps. Like cloth tracks, there’s a wide variety of foley props that would absolutely fall into that category. And depending on how big your foley stage is you can do more and more in that isolated environment. Whereas sound effects, we usually think of more as something that’s cut from a library, things that are impractical to record in a foley environment, or serves a better purpose being cut from a designed library. And then of course, sound design, usually something that is taken with a little bit more, I don’t want to say consideration, but it maybe sounds that are larger than life. It may be sounds that are emphasized in such a way that it’s really done by a sound designer at a work station, manipulating sounds, adding sounds, distorting sounds to create a desired effect.
Larry Jordan: If I were to summarize it, would I say that foley matches the picture, sound effects are used where it’s not specifically synced to picture and sound design is the entire environment of the sound?
Julian Evans: I think that you could absolutely say that. Yes. Sound design is really the umbrella under which they both fall.
Larry Jordan: Let’s talk about the creative person at the heart of it, the sound designer. How would you describe the role of a sound designer?
Julian Evans: The first and most important thing that I’m focused on when I’m starting a project as a sound designer, has nothing to do with sound but rather the story which is the reason why we’re all here. My specific role is to tell the story in the most creative clear best way using sound. But it really does come back to story, and I think that you see a lot of sound designers who are more sound engineers, and their craft is focused on sound for sound’s sake, as opposed to sound for the story’s sake. And that’s the way I really like to approach it.
Larry Jordan: I’ve always thought, and let’s shift to film because it’s easier for this analogy to work than theater, but in film picture tells the story but sound drives the emotions. Would you disagree with that?
Julian Evans: I would actually have to agree because unless you’re watching a silent film, if you turn the sound off on most any movie, the picture is not telling you the story anymore. Most of the story is told through sound in the form of dialog which I think we can all say, “Yes, but that’s just also text or script on a page.” Nonetheless, the impression that even dialog gives us can give us the sense of space in a room, you know? It can be the timbre of someone’s voice, and all of that really does have a role to play in the sound design of a piece.
Larry Jordan: What was it that first got you interested in sound design back when you were younger?
Julian Evans: Oh gosh, it was really a long winding road. I started off as a classical trumpet player, and from there I pivoted to classical composition and then I pivoted once more to sound design for theater, until finally I was in a college course at Carnegie Mellon and we were in a theatrical sound design course, watching a documentary on the audio post process of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s trilogy. And I was just completely blown away by this entire subversive world of sonic storytelling that I had been experiencing for years without knowing it. Just how powerful sound can be in the role of storytelling. I was pretty instantly hooked.
Larry Jordan: Our audience is mostly independent filmmakers across a wide variety of fields. What do you wish producers knew about sound design that they don’t?
Julian Evans: The biggest thing I wish that people would focus on is that the sound designer is always thought of as a post-production process. A lot of people think the sound designer comes on and just cleans up the dialog. What I really wish people would start doing, and this applies for the picture editorial too, is hiring your post-production staff during pre-production. It makes such an enormous difference when I am on board in a sound designer role and we haven’t even begun principal photography. We’re just going down the script and I can actually say, “Hey what might enhance the story in this scene a little bit,” is some music and now you have to plan for an establishing shot of whatever’s playing that music, because when you get to that point in post-production, it’s a little late and it’s a little confusing for an audience who doesn’t see some sort of radio or gramophone or speaker emanating this sound. Any little call to action to justify it. And it can make all the difference in a given scene.
Larry Jordan: Well in addition to bringing the sound designer in earlier, ideally in pre-production, how should we work with a sound designer? Do we just give them a blank slate and leave them alone? Or how intimately should we give them direction?
Julian Evans: Oh, as much direction as possible. One of the first things that I do after having received a set of deliverables, and this is of course after the picture is locked and we’ve begun the audio post process and we’re really starting to get hands on with the material. I will have a spotting session with the director. It’s meant for two purposes. On one hand, I’m trying to get a clear sense of what the sonic image is in the director’s mind.
Julian Evans: But there’s also a lot of collaboration that goes on during that session. There’s a lot of percolation of different ideas going on. There’s a lot of bouncing back and forth. A director has many times thrown out one idea and I can piggyback that with another idea or vice versa. And by the time that session is over, and for a feature film usually about two to three times the run time of the film, we’ve really come a long way in discovering what our sonic language is going to be, and what the work ahead looks like. Such that at that point as a supervising sound editor and sound designer, I can go to the rest of my audio post team with a very clear map of where we want to go, how we want to tell the story and how we get there.
Larry Jordan: What do you say to producers that say, “All we need do is just lay down some music and we’re done. We don’t really need a sound designer?”
Julian Evans: Well first of all I would never tell a producer they’re wrong. They sign the pay checks. But I would say that sometimes that does absolutely work. There are many sequences in say ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ that are solely music, and not only are they solely music, but for anyone who knows the story of the music in that film, it was […] music that Kubrick cut in much at the behest of the film studio. So there are absolutely moments where that does work, but I would say it’s not the rule with anything to do in filmmaking or creative arts in general. There is no rule, so if someone said to me, “This sequence works great, just music.” I hear them out. And I say that that’s a place where we have a discussion. Now if you said that about an entire film, I’m just not sure it’s a film that a lot of people would watch unless you’re really talking about a music video.
Larry Jordan: You’ve been doing sound design now for more than ten years. What is it that gets you excited and out of bed in a morning?
Julian Evans: It’s really the collaborators who I’m working with. Even more so than the stories I’m telling, the best ones are engaging and challenging and relevant. But really the collaborators, the directors I’m working with, the editors I’m working with. The people who push me to be even better in my role. It goes both ways you know? It’s a thrilling thing to be able to work in this industry with that kind of relationship.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to hire Audioworks to do sound design for their next project, whether it’s film or theater, where can they go on the web?
Julian Evans: Our website is www.audioworks.tv and we’re always here, and always ready.
Julian Evans: Larry, thank you so much. Excellent questions.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. 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 platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS 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. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Jeff Edson: And welcome back. Jeff Edson is the CEO of Assimilate. Founded in 2004, Assimilate develops software used for dailies, VFX review, digital intermediates, and finishing. They recently expanded to include 180, 360 degree immersive media as well. Hello Jeff, welcome.
Jeff Edson: Hi Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: It’s always fun. It’s been a while since we’ve had Assimilate on the show and I realized we need to get caught up. I gave a quick high level summary of the company but how would you describe Assimilate?
Jeff Edson: You actually did a very good job of describing it. We’re a software company that provides tools that are used from everything from dailies to the post-production and delivery that we really move quickly into the immersive world of 180, 360 for both post-production and production as well as live streaming a couple of years ago. That’s what we continue to drive forward.
Larry Jordan: The company intro said that it was founded in 2004. Why was the company founded?
Jeff Edson: It’s an interesting story. It goes back to the six degrees of separation of things. It was started by a friend of mine who used to work for me, and that’s Mazini who happened to get connected to a gentleman by the name of Gert Weesmer who had done a number of products in a prior life. They came up with an idea, they contacted me, we got together and we connected with a good friend of mine who helped to start the company and 2004 just happened to be the year.
Larry Jordan: It’s knowing the right people at the right time and having the right idea.
Jeff Edson: Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: We’ve talked about the fact that you look at several different markets. Dailies, visual effects review, digital intermediates and finishing. A lot of these features overlap with say DaVinci Resolve. Why would filmmakers want to work with Assimilate rather than another product?
Jeff Edson: Each one of the products that are out there in the market place such as Resolve or Scratch has their pluses and their strengths, and they’re not so much my strength. A lot of the core strength for Scratch has been its interactivity and flexibility. Resolve does a great job for what its targeted at and focused at and Blackmagic’s done a great job in continuing to drive that. But we continue to deliver very strong in areas that are tangential to where they exist and where they’ve been.
Larry Jordan: Give me an example of some typical customers and more specifically, how the product’s being used in the market.
Jeff Edson: Sure. There’s a customer […] in LA, a large visual effects house. They do a lot of television shows and […] films that we all know and love and they use Scratch extensively for doing all their VFX review and the dailies VFX reviews as part of their digital pipeline interacting with all the positives they’ve got off their clients. […] VFX side of life. We’ve got a number of customers that are using Scratch loosely for dailies, Radar, out of Salt Lake City, Local Hero out of Santa Monica use Scratch exclusively for dailies on a lot of large films and other products as well. Then we’ve got color and companies around the world that use Scratch for doing color and […] in finishing. […] the company that really made a name for themselves in delivering high quality immersive content for real time productions […] so they do a lot of real time broadcasts of concerts and venues like that. […] very broad spectrum of user base.
Larry Jordan: You’ve used the term and I’ve used it too, VFX review. What are they reviewing? Are you doing technical analysis of the shots or what?
Jeff Edson: If you look at the typical workflow they’ll get plates in from their client and then they’ve got visual effect composites and what not they’ve got to put into the various shots. What they need to do is while they’re doing that they need to have a rough match of what the look that has been defined on set and what they expect it to look, finishing going to be to try to make sure that the composite and the animations that they’re putting into the shots that they’ve got, will actually match from a color standpoint, from a fidelity standpoint when they deliver them back up to the client.
Larry Jordan: With dailies, same question. Are we simply copying files from camera cards to hard disks, or are we doing more than that?
Jeff Edson: Certainly data management is a very key part of dailies. If you look at dailies, it’s a data management, ingesting audio sync, color management, look management as well as them being able to do transfer for deliverables. So it’s quite a long pipeline to an extent to connect into the post world to try to make sure that the look and what they’re going for on set will then match to the process that they go through into the final post-production side to deliverable.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Well I don’t want to let you go before we talk about the new stuff. I know that you were at NAB and I remember several press releases crossing my desk, so share with us what you announced at NAB.
Jeff Edson: At NAB we announced support for a number of new formats. We wanted to think of the dailies world, it all starts with the camera and if you don’t support the camera format as the cameras evolve, then dailies is a pretty tough job. So we announced support for the Apple ProRes RAW, Apple announced ProRes RAW a year ago. The eco system has started to evolve and there was a number of us that now support for ProRes RAW for the back end being able to fill a workflow now where people can shoot in alpha ProRes RAW and deliver it through the pipeline. We also now support for the latest Blackmagic RAW support, RAW format as well as we now support for RED collaboration with Nvidia to be able to bring GPU supported coloration for being able to play back their 8K […] footage in real time. Then we also then showed a preview of our next release which is Scratch 9.1 which has a number of new features for dealing with now the multitude of color spaces and color management to go through the dailies process on into the finishing role as well. So we had a preview of 9.1 with a number of new features we’ve got there, as well as then a number of new RAW formats that came out and RED finally delivered [..].
Larry Jordan: It used to be that we would have to worry simply about whether the codec was supported, but now within a codec, we’ve got all these different color spaces to work with. The permutations must drive you nuts.
Jeff Edson: In effect that was one of the big changes in evolution made partly in 9.1 is being able to build a model that allows you to manage that much more straightforward from […] to all the various other color spaces as well as gamma selections etc. It really is no longer just pick this codec and this gamma goes on a MagDeck and then goes on a PC and you’re done with it. It really is a selection of a myriad of options.
Larry Jordan: And as we start to expand into greater and greater resolution, the files just simply get bigger and bigger. In addition to more and more options. I’m planning on buying stock in a storage company pretty soon I think.
Jeff Edson: It really is amazing that we started this company in 2004, storage it was important because of VPX playback and what not it was all about […]. But storage was no the decline of interests and if you look at it now, the word has become a key part of the system and network that really has made a significant comeback in this world from the standpoint of requirements.
Larry Jordan: Back in 2004 we thought that HD was about as big as anything was going to get. And we’re still having problems getting our arms wrapped around HD and now HD is like cold chicken. Nobody cares any more.
Jeff Edson: Exactly. My kids don’t even want to watch it in HD.
Larry Jordan: How is Scratch priced?
Jeff Edson: We basically cover the entire bases. We have a subscription model that can go from month to month subscription to an annual subscription. We also offer a perpetual license as well because there are some people that perpetual license is really the model that they want to go with. We really cover everything from a lot of people in the DIP and the dailies world, they just want the product for the length of the project they’re working on and then turn it off and come back, then go again when the next project comes on. So we apply the flexibility of month to month as well as an annual for people that have a little more insight into what their world is. In the post-production world that tends to be the case. And then we also still offer a perpetual license for those that would like to have.
Larry Jordan: For a single person who just wants to get introduced to Assimilate, what are they looking at in terms of price?
Jeff Edson: We have a product called PlayPro which is sort of an entry level product that starts at $19 a month. Full blown Scratch is $89 a month and Scratch VR which is every feature that we’ve got on the planet right now, is $115 a month. So the entire kitchen sink starts at $115 a month.
Larry Jordan: That’s pretty amazing. For people that want more information about the products that Assimilate offers, where can they go on the web?
Jeff Edson: Our address is www.assimilateinc.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, assimilateinc.com, and Jeff Edson is the CEO of Assimilate, and Jeff thanks for spending your time with us this evening. This has been a fun conversation.
Jeff Edson: Larry, it’s a pleasure. I really appreciate the time.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Jeff Edson: Thank you, you too.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking. We’ve all heard the phrase content is king. It has a nice sound, but content is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Yesterday as I was teaching my university class, I had an experience that expands on this idea. We were screening a student film that had a very interesting story but it was marred by multiple technical glitches. All of which revolved around not understanding how to use video editing software and worse, not allowing enough time to carefully review the project before submitting it.
Larry Jordan: After waiting too long to start, my students were in such a hurry to meet the deadline, that they’d just assumed that their final edit didn’t have any flaws. They assumed they didn’t need to review their final work. And they were wrong. Suddenly fingers started pointing as the errors mounted up.
Larry Jordan: Aside from the lesson of starting sooner, which every student needs to discover on their own, this brought home to me a much bigger point. Storytelling is more than just telling a great story. It’s also important to have a clear understanding of how to use technology to tell that story. It’s an active balance between tools and tales. Both are necessary in order to capture the attention of an audience, then hold that attention until the end of your story.
Larry Jordan: Our classroom experience taught me that I need to focus my students on three key things. First, how to tell the story. Second, how to use software and hardware to tell that story using moving images. And third, how to plan your schedule to allow sufficient time for both creativity and review.
Larry Jordan: Those who focus on just teaching story or just teaching technology are doing their students a disservice. Because effective visual programs leverage the synergy between story and tools to become more than just one of those elements alone. And this balancing act requires sufficient time for planning, creativity and review all without missing deadlines. Plus teaching students to actually see what’s on the screen in front of them.
Larry Jordan: What I’ve discovered is that students get tripped up not by a lack of creativity, but by a lack of proper planning and logistics. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week, Jonathan Handel with the Hollywood Reporter, Dom Bourne with Take 1.tv, Julian Evans with Audioworks Film & Theatre, and Jeff Edson with Assimilate Inc.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday morning.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Transcripts are provided by Take 1.tv. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Paulina Borowski, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2019 by Thalo LLC.