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Kylee Peña's Blog

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What’s the Deal with that Content-Aware Fill for Video Thing Adobe Showed Us?

Last month at Adobe MAX in Las Vegas, we saw Project Cloak for the first time. The research project and experiment is still in development, and it may or may not ever be in a Creative Cloud product, but it sure was captivating: draw a box, do some Adobe Sensei magic, and poof: that ugly lamp post is just gone. Logo on a t-shirt? GONE! Weirdo in the backgrond of your shot? Yep: EXTREMELY GONE.

If you’ve ever spent hours of your day rotoscoping something to remove it from a shot, you might share the sentiment: I need this. Are we playing God, or are we taking back precious hours of our time? Why not both!

To find out more about the research, technology, and thinking behind it, I talked to Research Engineer Geoffrey Oxholm.

Creative COW: What drove the development of Project Cloak? Was it knowing that people rotoscoped out stuff in a tedious way all the time? Or was it more like “we’ve done this in Photoshop, I wonder if we can do it on a moving image?” Was the genesis more about solving a problem, or more about experimentation?

Geoffrey: The Adobe Research team has strong partnerships (and friendships) with our colleagues on the product teams. We’ve known for ages that “video inpainting” (removing stuff from video) would be hugely impactful to our customers. One of our researchers published the seminal work on this topic as part of his PhD thesis back in 2004. Since then, it has been a problem that the academic community has been working on, but mostly coming up with solutions that have significant barriers to being ready for consumers (limited use-cases, running times, memory constraints). Recently, there have been some breakthroughs in related areas that inspired us to take a closer look.

How long are things like Project Cloak worked on before they get shown at MAX? I’m sure it must vary, but are people working on these things for months, years, or longer?

This problem has been actively researched for over a decade by the wider academic community. While I can’t speak to other Adobe MAX sneaks, the code that’s running behind Cloak was engineered over about 4 months.

Bye, haters.

What more can you tell me about how Project Cloak works under the hood that wasn’t addressed in the MAX presentation?

I can’t dive into a lot of detail, but we call the area you wish to remove the “hole”. The algorithm works by estimating the motion within the hole. We use dense tracking to keep track of what part of the video has seen the hole region either before, or after, the current frame. Using the motion estimation, we essentially shove the pixels through the hole, and record what the frames look like. If there are portions that are not seen in the video, then we fall back on Content-Aware-Fill to guess what the appearance looks like. There are some details around ensuring the appearance looks good across the whole video, but that’s the basic idea. In summary, with Adobe Sensei, Project Cloak uses an advanced algorithm to dramatically accelerate a time-consuming process, delivering results that previously would have required many hours of editing.

Last year there was a bit of backlash and increased interest in Sneaks thanks to VoCo, which was essentially Photoshop for Audio. In this political climate where there’s been a big focus on what’s fake and what’s real. How do you address people that may be concerned about that?

Our Vice President of Creativity, Mark Randall discussed this topic in detail in a blog post following our demo of VoCo last year.

These questions, this dilemma, is part of our legacy as tool builders. We’re deeply inspired by helping real people create amazing new things, works of art, the future, with our tools. Adobe shows projects like Cloak at MAX Sneaks before they’re ready to be out in the world because we welcome the conversations and feedback from the community. As responsible global citizens, we’re committed to thoughtful development of our tools.

As researchers, our life’s work is on magnifying creativity and opening up new avenues for expression. These are real problems that amazing creative people have, and helping them is what motivates us.

And of course: can we please have Cloak in After Effects? Please?

Glad to hear that you’re excited and eager to see Cloak in one of our shipping products.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 22, 2017 at 2:01:12 am

Sneaking on the Future of Creative Technology at Adobe MAX

Every year at MAX, we get to look into a crystal ball to see what tomorrow’s technology, especially as it relates to Adobe, may hold for us as technologists and creatives. MAX Sneaks are technology demonstrations and experiments that generally make waves beyond the walls of Adobe MAX itself. Like last year, when a form of “Photoshop for audio” called VoCo (which allows you to feed 20 minutes of audio into the software in order to be able to output any NEW dialog from that) was demonstrated — and ended up making interesting waves as a concept in the surge of “fake news” that emerged in 2016.

Since Sneaks are purely tech demos that don’t currently exist in any Adobe software — but may, someday, if demand and research progress align — the possible use cases haven’t been widely explored yet. And that’s part of why Adobe uses MAX as a platform to explore this future tech. This year 11 sneaks were offered up that covered automation of infographics and colorization, a new approach to working with digital color as paint, and content-aware fill for video and much more. I got a chance to take an early look at four of them and talk to the scientists and researchers involved.

Project Lincoln

Lincoln seeks to change the way designers are able to create charts and data visualizations, and if you've ever tried to make an infographic you're throwing a ticker tape parade. The origin of data visualization is Excel for charts, of course: we’ve all dealt with charts and pivot tables, and various other forms of data hell. There are a lot of infographics and charts that are created all the time for web and print and video, but they’re generally difficult and time-consuming unless you want them to be boring — there’s no obvious way to approach designing advanced charts like this because it’s really an advanced combination of programming and graphic design. There are exploratory tools and explanatory tools that exist for this, with just a little bit of cross over and not much more.

You can make this graphic with Lincoln in like 1 minute, wtf.

To tell a bigger story with data than a list of information or simple charts, you need a lot of time. Lincoln removes all that. You can bring in a spreadsheet — for example, of swimmers, their gender and country and the time they took to complete a swim — and Lincoln allows you to create visualizations of that data in a tactile way, binding it to the spreadsheet of information. Between binding information to different parameters and having access to assets that can be easily dropped in and anchored, an infographic emerges in minutes. Like, literally a few minutes for a huge visualization.

And since it’s still merely an experiment, the possible uses and applications are limitless. Interactivity, animations, everything.

Project Scribbler

Project Scribbler

Say you’re an artist and you’ve got an image in black and white you don’t have time to colorize. Maybe a portrait, or even an old photo of a grandparent. In Scribbler, you hit a button and Adobe Sensei will colorize the sketch instantly. To make this work, a neural network was trained to look at faces and people, and learned how to identify people and colorize them correctly, also accounting for different kinds of skin tones. There is some ability for users to choose different colors and make adjustments too.

It’s a really magical experience to hit a single button and see your photos come to life in a very convincing way. Textures can also be applied to the drawing and Scribbler will use those hints to colorize it as well.

Possibly even more useful on a day to day basis, drawings can be colorized instantly too — for sketches of cartoons or proofs of concept for clients. There are many use cases for art directors or illustrators who are creating spec work and want to move through the colorizing portion of their work very quickly, using it as a starting point. For me, I deeply enjoy seeing old photos of people who never had color photography come to life.

Project Cloak

So, you shoot a video on vacation and you get a great shot of your friend or an awesome building, but it’s got some annoying thing in it — a random person standing in the way, or a street lamp blocking the amazing architecture — you know, the worst thing that always happens. You could take a single frame into Photoshop and use Content Aware Fill to remove the offending image frame by frame if you want, but it super sucks when you play it one after another.

What if Content Aware Fill could work for video? Cloak does just that, and it’s nuts. In the Sneaks demo, a polygon was drawn around the object in After Effects. The mask was rendered separately and both the mask and video were input into Cloak as separate assets.

The net result? The offending item is FRICKING GONE. Weirdo people? Gone. Stains on shirts? Gone. Logos, awkward straps, even people who are originally the primary focus of the shot? All gone. Erase everyone and everything from your video. The technology demo literally did just that. You are a god with Cloak.

Playful Palette

When you’re oil painting, you can grab colors and mix them and have them all sitting in front of you in different ways. But digitally, you don’t have the same experience. You can’t blend the colors on a color wheel, or experiment with them any more than an eyedropper allows. Research teams explored these issues with many different artists and found how annoying this is to them.

Playful Palette brings traditional palette experiences to digital. For example, you can start with a skin tone in an oil painting and tap on it to add it to a digital palette dish. Then you can add a few other colors from your color wheel. But then? You can mix them together in different fluid ways — or even un-mix them. Once you’re happy with the mix, you can freeze it, select a color, and start painting. Swatches are created around the dish so you can always go back and grab the color again or adjust it for a new shade. And if you get to a point in your painting where you wish you had used a different color, instead of setting fire to the painting physically and starting over, you can actually adjust that color independently even though it’s been used already.

I'm a big fan of Physicspak.

Other sneaks included Scene Stitch, which remove parts of a scene Content Aware Fill can't properly fill and replaces them with semantically appropriate objects from another library; Physicspak, which fills a space with graphics - like when you need a shape filled with certain types of graphics, it calculates the size and shape of all the filler graphics; Sonicscape, which allows a tactile and visual approach to arranging 360 audio inside 360 video; Sidewinder, which provides depth to 360 video; Quick3D, which searches for 3D models based on crude drawings; Puppetron, which applies machine learning to remixing images to apply styles to facial photographs; and Deepfill, which fills in gaps within incomplete images using synthesized image patches.

You can see videos of all the Sneaks on Adobe's blog.

After Sneaks, time to Bash.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 20, 2017 at 5:42:11 am adobe max, sneaks, future technology, project cloak

Day 1 at Adobe MAX: Things People Said

This is my first MAX, and I naively looked at the map and my schedule and said "ah, this will be easy. It's like a fraction of the size NAB is, so I won't die!"

MAX starts early, ends late, and now 11,000 steps later I feel I did not emotionally prepare.

But don't let me whining fool you: it was the bomb so far. I've got a couple of cool stories in the works and I'll definitely have some fascinating stuff to share later today after MAX Sneaks -- the session where Adobe shows off new tech in progress/shows us resistance is futile -- but for now, I wanted to tell you the best things people said.

Between Adobe Spark and Dimension offering new tools I didn't even know I needed, and the focus on immersive technology and machine learning through Adobe Sensei and the new VR tools in Premiere and After Effects, a lot of the conversation was focused on how to continually remove the technical barriers between humans and machines.

"Artificial intelligence will evolve and learn to harness the entire creative community, anticipating what you want to do so you an have the freedom to focus on creativity....When you put put art and science to work, magic can happen." -Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe

Because of the increased accessibility to tools, "user expectations have changed....We have a generation that has grown up on mobile devices. We're taking into consideration the expanding needs of design." -- Jamie Myrold, VP of Design, Adobe

Adobe Sensei will "amplify human creativity and intelligence." - Bryan Lamkin, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Digital Media, Adobe

"Is VR dead because AR is big? I hope VR is dead because it’s going to kill me." - Matt Lewis, Practical Magic (he was joking)

"I just started doing yoga and part of that is learning how the mind and body are two different entities and being a person is a collaboration of both. When you’re watching a film, you’re usually also kind of thinking about other things while your body is sitting there. In VR, you’re completely involved as a whole person. Because this is all contained in one environment, it becomes the ultimate teaching tool. What you teach is up to your imagination. From there it’s about making sure those tools are accessible, so you can teach many things to different kinds of people." - Olivia Peace, 2017 Sundance Ignite Fellow

"I want the story to connect with other humans. This is taking it to another level. It’s less about interpretation and more about feeling. We want one human to tell a story to another human with no technical barrier." - Stefano Corazza, Sr Director, Engineering, Adobe

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 19, 2017 at 3:54:50 pm adobe max, vr, ar, immersive

Yes, Adobe CC Video Apps Updated at MAX

[I'm at Adobe MAX this week. You can also follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates and/or breakfast-related observations.]

It might only be Halloween, but Christmas has come early for Premiere, After Effects, and other Adobe Creative Cloud video apps users.

At IBC, Adobe announced its next round of integrated workflows and performance enhancements. This morning at Adobe MAX, a creativity conference in Las Vegas, those updates were released into the wild.

If you’re only recently accepting that Final Cut Pro 7 is probably not going to keep working for you forever — especially considering Apple’s unsurprising recent announcement it won’t be supported in High Sierra — maybe it’s time to look at what Adobe Creative Cloud has to offer because some of the updates will seem a bit familiar. The rest of it – from VR to AI – could hardly have been fathomed the last time FCP7 was updated.

Today’s release includes announcements sprinkled throughout the year, including Motion Graphics templates from After Effects to Premiere, which allow ease of use of graphics packages for lower thirds and bumpers.

Virtual reality is now possible inside Premiere, with editors being able to work while wearing VR head-sets. VR mode in Premiere and VR Comp Editor in After Effects will allow VR producers and editors to take the next step forward in immersive storytelling, scrubbing the timeline through the headset or switching between different formats to make sure it’ll work no matter the platform. Audio editing in VR allows audio to be determined by orientation or position as well.

Character Animator 1.0 is now available, with many changes to its core functions including accurately matching mouth shape thanks to Adobe Sensei, Adobe’s artificial intellifence and machine learning platform. Sensei also drives auto-ducking in Audition, which automatically lowers soundtrack volume during spoken dialog.

“Adobe continues to lead the creative revolution, driving modernization and innovation that will accelerate the creative process across all platforms and devices,” said Bryan Lamkin, executive vice president and general manager, Digital Media at Adobe. “Today, we unveiled a new generation of Creative Cloud, with a wide spectrum of capabilities—from new experience design, 2D animation and 3D rendering apps to an all-new, cloud-based photography service. These tools enable creative professionals and enthusiasts to express themselves and reach their full creative potential anytime, anywhere, on any device.”

And maybe most important for us video nerds: the ability to open multiple projects and share projects with locking, as well as continued support for more formats in the timeline. Team Projects should become a solution for collaborative workflows that many users have been demanding for many months. Keyboard shortcut mapping has also been creatly improved with a visual shortcut editor.

Having multiple projects open means being able to have a more traditional, streamlined workflow: splitting acts up into projects, having multiple episodes available, or just being able to pull from a template project in a tab-based structure.

Project locking allows users to lock projects in order to alert others when a project is currently being edited so other users cannot overwrite edits. Users can assign read-only access to those that need it for viewing purposes only.

Both of those updates will be familiar to Avid and FCP7 users, as many Premiere users have been trying to find workarounds to edit this way for quite a while.

While many of these features have been in beta for a while and have had reviews hitting the internet in the months since, putting them to work in real working environments will be the real test in seeing how Premiere continues to take hold, especially in high level workflows in Hollywood. Premiere has already been hitting LA hard, being the NLE of choice for David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” series, Al Gore’s “An Iconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”, and the feature film “6 Below” among many others.

There will surely be more for Adobe fans from MAX this week as the creativity conference continues through Friday and includes MAX Sneaks, a session on futurist technology being worked on at Adobe. Follow along online with MAX keynotes:

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 18, 2017 at 2:00:52 pm adobe, premiere, after affects, max, fcp7, avid

Power Dynamics Below the Line in Hollywood (and everywhere else)

If you’re anywhere near Hollywood this week, you’ve got a hot take on Harvey Weinstein. I’ve only been here a few years, exclusively “below the line”, and I heard all the rumors too. I dreaded ever having even secondhand contact with the man and his company: a powerful star maker with the ability to squash any career he chose, a blatant chauvinist, and an indecent human being whose participation in the entertainment industry seemed immoveable.

So many of us, especially women, are or have been explicitly sexually abused, assaulted or harassed. Some of us have been raped – one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes. A lot of us have also never spoken of sexual violence. Some of us, myself included, have never publicly acknowledged being emotionally abused, gaslit and manipulated for years.

If you ask yourself why we don’t speak up immediately, look at the women who have come forward to talk about Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or — god help us — our president. Come forward when it happens and you’re lying and must show proof. Wait until you have strength in numbers to report and you’re a bandwagon attention seeker. Keep quiet forever and well I guess it wasn’t really what you said it was, drama queen. And often a lot of these accusations go nowhere. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits are waiting in a backlog right now.

And the men still win awards, accept paychecks, get elected to office. They continue to hold their power regardless of what they’ve done.

A lot of the conversation has been among above-the-line people over the last week: directors, actors, writers, and similarly visible individuals in the entertainment industry. Abuses by these kinds of people on below-the-line individuals — art department, editors, camera department, technicians, make-up artists — aren’t at all uncommon. But for those of us below-the-line, most of the abuse we face each day isn’t necessarily manifested in a villain like Harvey Weinstein who we can now shame and run out of town. Not everyone has been cornered by a man who tries to expose himself to us or asks us to take a bath with him (although good god, too many of us have).

But all women in our below-the-line workplaces – especially technical roles like in post production where we are vastly outnumbered – are affected by these same power dynamics. It’s the same gender power dynamic that would convince a man to try to force himself on you which exists to some degree in the mind of a man in charge of hiring or promoting you (or not), by nature of how our society is constructed around bias and stereotypes.

And in many ways this is even more damaging and dangerous: the villain isn’t the vile man with the “open secret” of abuse, he’s the Self-Described Nice Guy who thinks he’s doing nothing wrong.

The Self-Described Nice Guy* is different from the Abusive Monster. The Abusive Monster in these circumstances often knows explicitly what he’s doing is bad and just doesn’t care. He’s drunk on power, taking it out via sexual violence. He gropes, touches, rapes, suggests, intimidates. There’s no grey area to what he’s doing to everyday folk: it’s definitely bad and easily condemned once airing the dirty laundry is normal. Go away, Abusive Monster.

(Whether he actually goes away or gets another powerful job is a whole ‘nother thing.)

The Self-Described Nice Guy is more pervasive and harder to avoid. The Self-Described Nice Guy’s implicit gender bias prevents him from making good judgements about what women are capable of in tech jobs. Nice Guy thinks his assumptions about women are progressive and helpful – women just want to have babies (no they don’t), they’re not as mathy (yes they are), they need my protection (no they don’t) – when in reality they’re backwards and harmful. The Nice Guy sees himself in young men and naturally wishes to mentor and promote a younger version of himself. The Nice Guy seeks to make hiring decisions through a meritocracy, ignoring privilege and artificial barriers that exist.

White male privilege by Swedish artist Emanu

He too is drunk on power, but he doesn’t know it until it’s threatened: he hears the word “diversity” and writes a 100 page memo on why women are biologically unsuited for this work. Thanks Nice Guy, people say, maybe we should listen to your insight.

But these wrongful assumptions and scientifically incorrect facts are actively keeping women from being successful in below-the-line technical jobs.

Only about 18% of picture editors and 3% of directors of photography in television and film are women, and that number hasn’t improved in 20 years and continues to drop off in other technical classifications. Expanding beyond the entertainment industry into adjacent fields where data is more widely collected, we see women graduating at increasing rates in engineering and computer science and leaving their jobs by mid-career. In fact, over 40% of female engineers leave by age thirty, and only a quarter of those leave for family purposes. The other reasons? A lack of promotional opportunities and mentorship – far more barriers to climbing the ladder than men -- yes, they also leave jobs because they're frustrated, but at a much lower rate.

And it’s not just the big picture stuff, like mentorship. Women die a death of a thousand cuts from Nice Guys during their career, eventually exiting when they’ve had too much. Things like being overtalked in meetings, having credit for their ideas co-opted, being passed over for a gig because they probably can’t lift a camera, being called a bitch or a prude depending on the circumstances, or being corrected on tone happen every single day. Being accused of making everything “a gender thing” when suggesting more inclusive language is common. Being laughed at for suggesting an organization seek a woman for a panel of experts. Being complimented on appearance but never job performance. Being accused of tokenism for hiring another woman.

Reed Morano, ASC -- Emmy winning director/woman able to lift a camera.

In a ten year pan-industry study, IZA Institute of of Labor Economics found that this gap didn’t exist because of skill or bargaining power or motivation. Men just valued women less than they valued men.

These acts are committed by Nice Guys who just want to keep things fair in the industry. They often consider themselves allies, but they don’t internalize the fact that the industry’s narrow path to success was built to sustain only people like them. And many women choose never to speak of it. When we come forward when it happens, we’re accused of embellishment and must show proof. If we wait until we have strength in numbers, we’re bandwagon feminists who get pushed in a room alone together, separated from the network of influence. And if we continue to keep quiet forever, we’re an example of how this problem obviously just doesn’t exist at all.

It’s all the same power dynamic as a physically, violently abusive person. It just happens in micro-interactions every single day instead.

While Abusive Monster usually knows his power, Self-Described Nice Guy often doesn’t because he’s just too nice to leverage something like gender dynamics, right? But when Self-Described Nice Guys refuse to listen to women, accept their male privilege, and ask how to help, their place in the power structure is solidified.

If Weinstein is to be a turning point for Hollywood, it needs to be a turning point from the bottom up too. I hope that being able to tell the world about the horrifying crimes against women that these powerful men commit becomes normal and drives these monsters out of the mainstream, and that accepting that women are generally telling the truth becomes normal. I want to believe that openly talking about gender power dynamics more and more will help level the playing field, so women who come forward can feel safe and find justice instead of being called sluts and accused of attention-seeking.

But the truth is that men still hold this power, and without true, committed allies willing to actively share it, this is just another week in Hollywood.

(*Women can be Nice Guys too.)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:15:39 pm gender, power, privilege, hollywood, film and television

An Oral History of My Illegal Internships

Whether by necessity or the evolution of a specific kind of culture, internships have emerged as a dominant “foot-in-the-door” for the post production industry. Among those internships, the unpaid variety tend to dominate in a way that is not seen in many other fields such as business and medicine. Sure, unpaid internships aren’t exclusive to post production; however, for some reason we’ve collectively decided that the single biggest way to prove one’s merit is by working in some capacity for free.

It’s almost as if everyone believes that because they suffered the difficulty of doing often humiliating or degrading work for free, everyone else should too.

In our industry, it seems like most people don’t understand the line between legal and illegal internships. The young people trying to get experience and move up the ladder need to know what’s legal, but they can’t really do anything about it. The people who really need to know these guidelines are the hiring managers and producers in charge of the intern experience — the people who can make a difference. It’s not that free work is altogether bad or off limits. It’s sometimes the right move for personal enrichment, donation of time, or just to learn some new skills. The issue is that we aren’t ensuring that up and coming talent are valued, either through being paid minimum wage or guaranteed an valuable educational experience.

I completed three internships while I attended Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis — IUPUI. I graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Science and a Certificate in Applied Computer Science. I worked nearly full time, lived off-campus, and had parents who were able to give me money for books and fees not covered by loans — who were also available to help me with my living expenses when I really needed it. I currently have $27,723.91 in federal student loan debt, which I deferred for the first few years of my career since my income was too low.

Tired, malnourished, and happy to be done.

Since I was an Indiana resident attending an Indiana school, I was able to get in-state rates with a small scholarship. I chose IUPUI both for cost and for proximity to Indianapolis businesses where I could intern or work. I no longer have records of exactly what I paid from 2005-2009, but the current rates for attendance are about $4,700 per semester in my program. That’s just shy of $37,000 for four years of a full course load, about $255 per credit hour.

I completed three internships while attending IUPUI. Two of them were illegal by today’s standards.

I was and am very lucky and privileged to have been able to have these experiences. Many people are not able to get through the door and in the room at all because they cannot afford to work for free. It was incredibly hard for me to balance all this, but I knew if things really got out of control I had some back-up with my parents bailing me out. As a result of my ability to spend 10-15 hours a week on these internships instead of working for actual money, I was able to stack my resume upon graduation in a way someone with equal skills but less parental support was unable to do.

That made a difference for me, as it does many other privileged people in this industry. As a result, opportunities for employment and career growth for those who had to prioritize other things are limited or removed entirely. Those people are approached with an attitude of “well, I guess they didn’t try hard enough or want it badly enough. I guess they’re just not as good.” (Infuriatingly, the people who proudly boast about the unpaid internships and free work they did when they were young are the first to criticize low or no pay freelance opportunities. Both of these things can devalue the industry in different ways.)

I want to stress that I’m going to discuss my experiences as an intern and a student from my own experience and perspective, using the the US Department of Labor’s 2010 “Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act” fact sheet as a yard stick. Maybe they weren’t illegal back then, but they sure are now. And today is what’s relevant. I want people to see what I was required to do and why it was wrong then and illegal now.

Before I describe my illegal internships, I want to give you some background on what the Department of Labor considers to legal or not. The DOL has a test in six parts which private sector internships must comply with. If the internship fails the test, then the internship is actually non-exempt employment and must be paid minimum wage plus overtime for time in excess of 40 hours in a week.

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If these conditions are met, then there is no employment arrangement under The Fair Labor Standards Act and no minimum wage or overtime payment is required. The more like an extension of an educational experience the internship is, the more likely it is to be considered a true internship.

A very important distinction in the work interns do: if the skills they’re learning are broadly applicable to other work environments with the primary benefit not being for the employer, that’s okay. On the other hand, if they’re performing productive work for the employer — filing, answering phones, clerical work — then although they may be getting some useful skills for the future, they are not excluded from the FSLA’s minimum wage requirements. If interns are doing productive work that would otherwise be completed by giving additional hours to or hiring an additional employee and are not under the constant and direct supervision of a regular employee of the company in a constant educational environment, they are not an intern.

Let me put it a different way: when you send an intern out to fetch lunch or finish your paperwork, you should be paying them for their time. If they are doing solo work on a deadline a regular employee would have otherwise been assigned to do, you should pay them for their time.

My first illegal internship was in 2007 at a small post house in Indianapolis that no longer exists, so I won’t even mention them by name. I spent about 4 months as an intern, about 12 hours a week. This was the internship I dreamed about when I moved to the city for school. I was able to connect with a real editor who let me shadow him during the internship and beyond. When I was out of school, he got me my first freelance job. We’re still in touch and he was a great and positive force early in my career. I spent time in the edit suite with him and his clients. I learned how to run a room. I also got my first hands-on experience with Avid and was able to fiddle around with it myself. I got introduced to the machine room and saw how patching worked. I went on shoots with real clients. I recut an old project and had a producer give me some feedback.

The post house had won sports Emmys, which I enjoyed holding at the time.

But I also had major complaints with this internship which I brought up with my advisor, largely because the company was beginning to fold up while I was interning there. For the longest time I thought I was being over-dramatic. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really realized this was not only unethical, it is now truly illegal. I would fetch lunch frequently for people who disrespected me and whined when I got them the wrong thing. I was put in charge of making coffee and sending mail, walking to the post office somewhat regularly. I answered phones a lot and ran the front desk on the regular, which was hard because nobody introduced themselves to me. I didn’t have anyone sitting in the Avid suite with me and my book, explaining to me that the software was unstable and crashing and it wasn’t my fault. I was asked to ingest media for a project without supervision and scolded when I did it wrong. I spent weeks upon weeks in a storage room alone re-organizing a sound library and filing paperwork. When people were laid off, I cleaned out their offices. Eventually I started cutting small projects the laid off individuals would have worked on.

By today’s standards, this violates #1, #2, #3 and #4 on the DOL’s lil test. My university would likely argue it was not illegal because they provided the educational structure around it, so the internship was a proper extension of an educational experience they were providing for me. I think if you look hard at the DOL fact sheet and the educational environment that was offered, this argument wouldn’t hold up. IUPUI had what was essentially an “internship class” where you could earn college credit through the internship. The class was online with some light reading and a lot of forum posts about what you did and what you learned. Other than a site visit once during the experience, the university was hands-off. For the privilege of answering phones and writing forum posts to my advisor every day, struggling to describe how that skill would benefit me in life, I paid for three credit hours plus fees. By today’s standards, I would have paid at least $756 to be an unpaid intern.

I was lucky to have this internship. It created opportunities for me and gave me exposure to the kind of environment I needed at that time. It was key to getting my next internship. But it was hard to accomplish and at minimum, morally wrong for the employer and school to put me in this situation. But even so, how many other students were unable to participate in this before the company shut down?

My next internship was a legal unpaid internship at the Indiana State Museum. The museum is a non-profit organization which grants some leeway with internships as volunteer experiences that differ from private sector interns, but it doesn’t really matter. This internship was a true extension of my educational experience largely because I did not give any immediate benefit to the museum and yeah, definitely impeded its operations. I completed this internship for college credit again with IUPUI’s dubious “intern experience” course, but the true value of the experience came from the museum employee I worked with. She gave me real projects to do, offering guidance while also allowing me to work independently. Truthfully she could have finished them better and faster without me. I finished a couple neat audio projects that were featured in the museum (and took weeks longer than they should have) and a couple smaller videos that were featured on the museum’s new YouTube page.

I also got the opportunity to do research for upcoming exhibits’ video work and see how my hands-on experience would directly apply to months of public enjoyment. And I was given the museum’s resources and equipment to explore independently and create whatever I wanted. The experience was entirely for my benefit and the fact that the museum ended up using any of my work was an unexpected bonus for me. I had context, access, and patience with lots of feedback.

My third internship was by far the worst and most illegal. My senior year of college, I picked up an unpaid internship with an organization called NUVO Newsweekly, an alternative lifestyle magazine in Indianapolis. They wanted video production interns that could go to events to shoot and edit content for their YouTube page, promising that I’d work with a producer and get great experience in corresponding with that producer and learning more about editing while also building my portfolio. It seemed like a great way to build up my reel at the end of my college career, and my friend Katie was also able to get the same internship, so we went for it.

Oh, how great for Katie and me.

And then they threw in: oh yeah, you’re also part of the Street Team so we’ll have you do a little bit of promo stuff while you’re shooting. No big deal, we have a table with copies of NUVO and we direct people to it. Uh, okay.

We were regularly given a list of events happening in the city that we needed to choose to cover, a fixed number of them required per week. If we didn’t go to enough, we got in trouble. The up side to this was we got to see and experience many different sides of the city for free, attending concerts and events we never would have considered before. The downside was that the street team aspect was understated and the educational aspect was overstated.

This seems educational.

We went to our first event at a bar: an incredibly loud, incredibly late concert on a week night when both of us had work or school the next day. Nobody from NUVO greeted us, and I’m not sure anyone else in the leadership we worked with ended up attending. Our first field experience as interns was as two young women alone in a bar with video production equipment and no further direction on what to create. But we did it anyway, and quickly cut together a highlights video. The all-important producer collaboration and educational feedback experience amounted to “wow, great job! Upload it!”

We did more events. Roller derby, art shows, festivals, restaurant reviews, other local concerts. Turned out more content. Got more passive thumbs up. Look, I’ve seen these videos years later. They were fine and good, but they had room for improvement. We were not above guidance, but we WERE creating SEO-friendly, regular video content for free. We were being had.

An example of our perfect, no-notes work.

The likely highlight of the whole intern experience was being assigned to cover the end of Indy Wine Festival. We were told we needed to also break down the NUVO tent, table and materials, load it in the NUVO branded jeep, and drive the jeep back to headquarters. When we arrived, we realized the jeep was parked in the middle of the festival in a huge urban park — and it being the end of the day at a wine festival in June in the midwest, the lawn was littered with people who were passed out. We spent an hour figuring out how to take the tent down, googling to find instructions since none were provided. Then we drove through the lawn of the park, trying not to kill anyone.

What kind of insurance policy does this require?

Yeah. The twenty-two year old unpaid intern drove the enormous branded jeep through a park. A liability for sure, but I’m not certain for whom.

I ended up leaving the internship early, in part because I was unhappy with being used for free labor but also because I had transitioned into a full-time job and couldn’t balance going to night events anymore. My friend held on a little longer, having to actually confront the indignant producer and internship coordinator who felt they were giving us the experience of a lifetime. An internship should be a two-way communication, and instead they took her feedback as insubordination.

This internship violated numbers #2, #3, and #4 — massively #3. We were doing work that needed to be done by paid freelancers, not students and industry newcomers who were desperate for experience. At the very least, we deserved minimum wage and maybe a little more promised guidance, or a completely restructured intern experience.

I don’t know if NUVO still has unpaid interns that violate all these rules in the DOL’s test, but I sure hope not. It was incredibly disappointing to be involved in something that was such an obvious racket, taking advantage of young peoples’ passion and telling them they “get to” visit these places and put their work online.

And when it comes to these two illegal internships, that’s really what I feel: disappointment. For all the translatable skills I gained, I had to give up so much of myself. I was essentially working for no pay during a time in my life when giving up hours was incredibly precious and potentially threatening to my survival. I had to somehow make up ground to keep up on my rent and electric bills and gas at my full-time job. By the time I graduated, I was sick constantly and more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. And I got far less value for the experience than anyone should.

But I was still able to do it and lucky to have the opportunity. Many don’t have the privilege to make these sacrifices to their physical and financial well-being because they have children, no family support, or some other life circumstance to deal with instead. In an industry with a false narrative of “meritocracy” to rise up, we are not lending everyone the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at the beginning of their careers when important choices are made and experiences are had. Those who think they have risen up only because they were better are dismissing the societal, gender, racial, financial, geographical privilege they were granted. This doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not good at what they do and didn’t work hard. But the obstacles they had in their path were not the same as others with less privilege.

I described the total cost of my education -- being enrolled was a prerequisite for these internships -- to give you a sense of the actual dollars invested in this experience. My loan costs don't even begin to address the amounts my parents spent on books, car payments or other necessities they helped me with, or the rent, food, and gas I bought. Was this a good value for the educational experience I received?

Me on the set of a local indie having an amazing time on a frigid day with great people -- not all free work is bad.

I don’t put this forward to denegrate a specific school or business who bought into the internship racket: it’s not like ya’ll invented this mess, and it’s not like it’s an easy systemic fix. But I’m disappointed. I would hope that businesses with a stake in the community would recognize the importance of opening up opportunities for all, and how money and time plays into someone’s ability to do that. I would really hope that a school built on positive values and life experience would choose to advocate for paid internships — or ya know, just job placement in general — in lieu of pushing students into the system.

And I would really really hope that those people in the industry that benefitted from internships, either from gaining skills or getting a job, would recognize that no matter how well they managed to do, it would have been a better, more equal educational experience if they hadn’t been taken advantage of for free work. And by extension, that they would advocate for better, more equal educational opportunities for those coming up behind them instead of enforcing the status quo as a matter of paying ones’ dues.

This industry is hard, and that’s fine. If it were easy, everyone one do it and no one would pay for it. I don’t need it to be easier. But why can’t we make it just a little bit more accessible for the next generation, and make the next generation’s industry a little more inclusive as a result?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 28, 2017 at 2:02:55 am internships, illegal, legal, university

A Letter to Incoming Female Freshmen in Media Programs

A lot of so-called “open letters” on the internet address the outgoing graduates of programs. And while they should bask in the glow of congratulations and good luck because they worked hard, they earned it, and they have some serious challenges on the horizon, this letter isn’t for them.

It’s for you: the young woman who is leaving high school behind and beginning your first year of college in the next few weeks. You have so much ahead of you.

Your already completed preparations have likely been as diverse as your other experiences. Maybe you’ve had to write personal statements and essays or collect recommendations. You’ve probably had to fill out the FAFSA, hoping you didn’t accidentally transpose a number or calculate an income incorrectly lest you be carted off to jail. Maybe you visited a few different colleges, alone or with a parent or grandma or sibling. If you did, you sat through silly skits by upperclassmen and walked through the library and student center and other buildings with extra shiny floors.

I graduated from high school in Indiana in 2005.

You’ve weighed the pros and cons of even attending college. You’ve had discussions about your future with all kinds of people. Maybe you have a clear path and strategy. Maybe you don’t. In either case, when your acceptance letter arrived, you felt a sting of excitement and fear. It’s happening. Change is scary. Student loans are scarier. But you’re doing it anyway.

Congratulations on making it through the paperwork and the decisions, and congratulations on your decision to attend college. It can seem controversial, especially for a media or film and television program where you can supposedly learn all you need at home and on the internet, but pursuing an education will never serve you negatively. I certainly got my own earful from people when I decided to pursue Media Arts and Science at Indiana University Indianapolis. But why, they said, why don’t you keep that as a hobby and go to nursing school?

I attended Indiana University in Indianapolis, working on a bachelors degree from the School of Informatics.

There are a lot of opinions about the usefulness of a media degree, and here’s mine: with so many media jobs being created inside corporations that hire through HR, a degree is becoming essential. For jobs in media hubs like Los Angeles and New York, even positions that were previously filled through apprenticing now require a bachelors degree. And if you leave media behind, your degree still counts for a lot.

But aside from checking the boxes on a job application, what you’re really going to get from your program can’t be measured by a piece of paper — even one with fancy script writing. You’re going to have a safe place to grow and explore and experiment with media technology. You’re going to have access to mentors. You’re going to develop friends who are more similar to you than you ever imagined. You’re going to be able to leverage important resources. You’re going to grow as a problem-solver, critical thinker, and life-long learner. You’ll learn theory and practical application and how to run this software or that camera, but most importantly: you’re going to learn how to learn.

I worked nearly full time through college at the Indianapolis Zoo, also doing part-time internships at a post house, a state museum, and a lifestyle magazine.

When your degree is on a wall (or in a box) and the information you learned about software and hardware becomes obsolete, you will still know how to learn. And that’s the key to an industry like ours (yes, it’s yours now too) that is a beautiful combination of art and technology: there is always something more to know, but there won’t always be someone telling you that you need to know it.

Now here’s the part that makes this letter for you and not so much for your male peers. Your experience in this industry as a woman is going to be different than men. You’re going to hear about the gender gap in post production technology. You’re going to read about harassment and pay gaps and the masculine culture that prevails on set. You’re going to read op-eds from female directors and producers that discuss their challenges and frustrations. In my decade in this industry, I have both written about and experienced these issues first hand.

But I tell you this because I want you to remember that there are many women in television, film and media jobs all over the world, and they are all rooting for you to succeed in the face of these challenges. I want you to know that I’m here for you, alongside thousands of other women holding a space for you. Even if the statistics look grim and the news stories are disheartening, remember: there is a place for you here. You deserve to be here. Even in an industry as flawed as ours, there is room for you to have a successful, engaging career.

Part of the fun of college: still having the freedom to explore and be silly.

And I tell you this so you’re prepared. Gender bias is real even if it’s almost entirely subconcious. There can be a hundred tiny needle jabs in a woman’s career in any industry where she is underrepresented — asking for fair pay, for fair promotions, fair treatment — and over years those needle jabs can add up to one painful departure. A depature she often believes is her own fault because she is not strong enough.

You never need to leave. If you work hard, the resistance you might face in your career is almost never of your own making. If you work hard, you deserve to be here. If you decide the media industry isn’t for you, either during college or some years after, that’s okay too. But if you want to be here, you deserve to stay and to do the work and be yourself while you do it.

Find a trusted network of both women and men you can rely on. Share with them your many victories, and confide in them your failures. It can be difficult to find your place and grow in our industry, but it’s easier when you know there is a societal bias at play in your career. It’s easier when you can say “it’s not me, it’s you.” While you should own up to your mistakes and learn from them, try not to absorb the negative outlook, the social commentary, or any feelings you don’t belong. Do you think the stories we tell in media are best told by a whole bunch of people who all think and act alike? Do you think stories like Moonlight and The Handmaid’s Tale and Master of None would exist in a world without underrepresented people pushing boundaries?

I graduated with degrees in video production and applied computer science in 2009.

Ask for what you want, but remember you are entitled to nothing. Speak up and make sure your voice is heard. Learn what you want to learn, tell the stories you want to tell. Remember that while no amount of “leaning in” will change a pervasive bias against you, no amount of bias can erase all the women like me who are already here waiting for you. While our grandmothers were explicitly told they had no place in these workplaces, and women like myself are sometimes implicitly unwelcome, your story will be entirely different. It’s exciting to see what lies ahead for you as the world continues to shift in your favor.

You will meet many life long friends in college who will continue to show up throughout your entire career.

You’ll have a lot of challenges during your time in school. The work will be hard. If you are supporting yourself, working full time on top of school is especially difficult. You may get taken advantage of at internships. You might need to choose to spend an extra year in college instead of “graduating on time”, a concept with little meaning in a modern world. You may have to continue to secure more loans to fund your education. You’ll eat garbage and learn to drink coffee. You’ll make errors, you’ll forget bills and assignments, and you’ll struggle in some courses.

But the highlights of your college career are going to vastly outweigh these negatives. You’ll spend all night working on a project and be so thrilled to see what you were able to create. You’ll laugh and cry with your peers as you create silly and important pieces of art. You’ll learn new techniques and skills you never dreamed of having. You will have so many opportunities to show your talents and ask so many questions. You’ll exhibit your work to curious outsiders who believe you may as well be magical. You’ll find your path in this industry. You’ll discover your capabilities as a media professional and the world will open up for you.

Many internships in college are opportunities to do things you never thought you'd get to do.

Enjoy your years in college. As difficult as they may be at times, whatever your experience, they are truly special. You’re emerging as a media professional and finding your independence. You aren’t defined by anything or anyone. Your career decisions are fluid and always changing. It’s your time to grow. You get what you put into your college experience. And you’ll get what you put into the career that follows.

You can have any job you want in this industry. You can change your mind about what job you want. You will take a number of jobs along the way to help you climb that ladder. If someone tries to push you back as you climb upward from a job as an assistant or a coordinator, push them back twice as hard. You can do anything you want, and you don’t have to do anything anyone says is a “requirement” — ‘cos guess what? The industry is changing faster than some established professionals might acknowledge to you since those existing structures benefit them. Break those structures into bits on the ground.

The women in this industry are here and waiting for you.

Women and men who support you in our industry are waiting to be your mentors and guides and employers — and maybe someday, your employees. We’re thrilled you’re here, and we want you to know you can always count on us for anything you might need. You are our equal. But it’s secretly a little selfish of us: when you’re here, in your media program and then in the industry after you graduate, your story and presence is visible to the young women following in your footsteps, coming to face the same challenges you faced. But those challenges will be diminished with time. And as that cycle repeats itself, the representation of women in media will thrive like it never has before.

The next generation of women in media are more supportive and confident than ever before.

Congratulations on your new start on the path to a degree, and good luck in your studies. Go to class, don’t drink too much, and don’t listen to anybody that makes you feel less than.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 9, 2017 at 11:20:08 pm college advice, media programs, incoming freshmen

Bridging the Gap to Opportunity: A Conversation with 3 First-Time NAB Show Attendees

Imagine this: you’re in your early twenties, at the start of your career in post production. You come from a working class family with no connections in the media industry, and you’ve had many challenges to overcome along the way. You’ve been working hard to maintain momentum by keeping your bosses happy at your day job — a day job that doesn’t pay you quite what it should — while taking on side projects and extracurriculars at night. You do all the right things, including networking and getting involved in your community.

One day you get a notification: a technical paper you wrote as one of those late night extracurriculars has been accepted at an enormous industry conference! You’re invited to present it to your peers at the conference. Well, not really your peers so much as the kind of established industry professionals who have been interviewing and hiring you at this early stage. But at this conference, they’d be your peers. This opportunity would open many doors and grant you incalculable credibility. It’s career-changing.

But wait, back to reality. The conference is on the opposite side of the country. You don’t get paid time off, and you're in the middle of crunch time anyway. You work paycheck-to-paycheck, paying insanely high rent and endless student loans. You don’t have family to ask for a loan, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You have to turn down the opportunity.

A situation not so different from this is what led Blue Collar Post Collective co-founder Katie Hinsen to spearhead the creation of the Professional Development Accessibility Program, or PDAP. The program is aimed at helping emerging talent in the film and television post production industry further develop their skills by providing financial assistance to attend valuable industry conferences, trade shows and development opportunities. The Professional Development Accessibility Program helps to create a bridge between the industry and the diverse membership of the Blue Collar Post Collective, breaking down the financial barriers to prevent people from taking their careers to the next level. Bringing new faces to major events helps remind the wider industry that all professionals, including low income earners, have voices that are of equal value and importance to the post community.

PDAP was originally announced by Hinsen while she attended NAB in 2016, and the first three NAB recipients attended in 2017: Nolan Jennings, Tara Pennington, and Eugene Vernikov. They were selected by a committee who sorted through the applications for BCPC and received airfare, hotel and passes to NAB, including additional passes donated by the National Association of Broadcasters and Future Media Concepts.

PDAP recipients (L-R) Eugene Vernikov, Nolan Jennings, and Tara Pennington at the BCPC meet-up.

Nolan Jennings is an Assistant Editor working in dramatic television in Los Angeles. He wants to continue to work toward editing drama. He came into post production through serving as an executive assistant on a game show and realized he wanted to have a more creative role. While writing didn’t work out the way he would have wanted, his role on the game show involved running notes from the producers to editors. This exposed him to a combination of writing and creativity that could become a career. During the day when the editing bays were empty, he spent all his down time learning Avid through recutting old episodes. From there, he was able to find a post PA position and continue moving forward. Interestingly, Nolan was homeschooled as a child, which led to an ability to learn independently more efficiently — well suited for post production.

Tara Pennington is an Editor at Studio71 where she works on many different projects simultaneously, including marketing promotions, a digital series or a trailer. She knew she wanted to be an editor and managed to get a start while she was still living in Orlando. She moved to Los Angeles seven years ago and found her way into being an Assistant Editor for a company producing sports programming. Her dream is to continue to work toward editing features and scripted television. In addition to film school, Tara also attended School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She’s also a single mom raising a five year old boy.

Eugene Vernivok is a New York based Flame Assistant at Black Hole VFX. He’d like to continue his path into Flame and also branch out into directing. Unlike many people in the VFX industry who focus on one aspect of their craft, Eugene is well-versed in lighting, camera, and compositing.

I talked to the three recipients about their first-time experience at NAB and how PDAP granted them an opportunity they never would have gotten otherwise.

Kylee: How did you find out about the Professional Development Accessibility Fund and opportunities BCPC was offering through it?

Nolan: I found out about BCPC through a co-worker, and through going to meet-ups and events, learned about PDAP. I did not hesitate to apply, I’d always wanted to go to NAB, and jumped at the chance.

Tara: I found out through Blue Collar Post Collective on Facebook. I was excited to apply! I wasn’t sure if my income would meet the requirements, but I knew I couldn’t afford to go on my own so I decided to go for it! I really wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to propel my career forward.

Eugene: I've been with BCPC since the beginning! I was super happy to see it develop enough to be able to have a program such as PDAP launch! The only thing that made me even slightly hesitant to apply was just the minuscule chance that I would be chosen. But it ended up happening and I'm eternally thankful for that! 

A panel with the editorial team from Logan led by moderator Norman Hollyn.

What was your first impression of NAB when you arrived in Vegas?

Nolan: I thought the juxtaposition of tech nerds and gawking, half drunk Vegas gamblers was quite entertaining. Mind you, this was only in the hotel. Once I actually got to the convention center I was blown away by the scale of the place, the talent concentrated there, and how puny I felt in front of giant screens projecting the highest quality content on earth. I wish I was being hyperbolic, but NAB really is that impressive.

Tara: It was so huge! It was the day before the show floor opened, so it was frenetic but still contained. My first thought was that I wished I could be there for the whole week so I could experience everything.

Eugene: "This is Massive! That was the first thought. But I remember thinking I really like that it’s so big you can be there for the full three days and not get bored! Great experience! You can learn from the sessions. See the talented industry giants talk about their work and how they went about using technology and techniques to get the project done right. Its immersive and super eye opening. 

PDAPers attended Blackmagic Design's Monday morning press conference.

What made the NAB experience valuable to you personally?

Nolan: NAB made me realize that there are thousands of people with very similar interests to mine and there are thousands of people who are much more talented, more intelligent, and more passionate than me out there. It was incredibly humbling in the best way possible. It was not intimidating because all of those people were incredibly open and willing to talk to me, as if they’d known me for years. It was absolutely inspiring, like drinking one massive coffee that will sustain your professional curiosities for an entire year. Until the next NAB comes.

Tara: It was valuable for so many reasons. Some of it was the classes, the panels, but a lot of it was being able to meet people, talk with people. It was great to have Nolan and Eugene there, it made it easier to plan my day knowing we could do some things together or meet up for lunch. BCPC and Twitter were invaluable tools to know where to find people to talk to, and to be in on conversations happening around the conference on various subjects. I made some lasting connections and friendships that I know will follow me through my career. I was able to shake hands with people who have mentored me without knowing it through online tutorials and blogs.

Eugene: It helped me understand the technology that will be prevalent in the industry for tomorrow and the days beyond. It was a great help in meeting key industry people. It also allows you to share and discuss what we see with fellow BCPC members on the trip.  

Tara and Nolan looking at the Post Production World grid.

What classes in Post Production World did you attend that will have an impact on your career?

Nolan: I spent a lot of time in the Motion Graphics and HTML animations classes because I felt those could augment my existing skill sets. Which was a great idea. I came away with so many ideas on how to change my current workflows or how to implement new tools. I would recommend reaching outside your comfort zone and knowledge base, but only to the extent that it will have a tangible effect on your current skill set. There’s no point in spending tons of time in the VR/AR classes if you’re not going to be able to implement any of those lessons in a real world setting.

Tara: The Documentary Editing course for sure, as well as the panels giving a glimpse behind the scenes of the creation or post process.

Eugene: I attended them for After Effects. It was really great to see how some of the most successful commercial productions were able to masterfully embellish their spots with graphics. That was really great to see. I also attended the Autodesk Master Classes that were somewhat separate from the main show. Those were great. We learned about brand new SMPTE standards for HDR workflows, prototypical architecture being built into the Flame and 360 environment workflows. Really Impressive stuff. 

Getting some knowledge with Jason Levine today! #TeamAdobe #NABShow #bcpcnab

— Tara Pennington (@tarapenn83) April 25, 2017

Twitter was a vital tool at NAB!

What other kinds of valuable experiences did NAB have to offer, between classes and the show floor?

Nolan: I loved the Jungle Book presentation, hosted by Rob Legato. The way that movie was shot was incredible, and points to some fascinating implications for the future of movie production. I did not spend as much time on the show floor as the other PDAP recipients did. However, I did love the Adobe products and Blackmagic Resolve presentations.

Tara: The panel on Inclusiveness and Diversity was amazing, with wonderful powerful women who are part of shifting our industry into a hopeful new direction, advocating powerfully for change. Meeting the post team for Logan was pretty amazing as well. I love it when the layers of mystery are taken away and the process is revealed. It really makes me feel energized knowing that I could do what they do with just a bit more knowledge and experience of a particular workflow. It humanizes the process.

Tara hanging out with editors Monica Daniel and Adam Bedford at Adobe's party.

Eugene: Anything with Virtual Environment was my favorite. They've figured out a way to use Real-Time Rendering as a tool for interaction with the virtual environment. That, along with some new news coming from the people at Lytro Camera, was most exciting. Lytro has made a camera that records light fields instead of light particles. It is essentially a camera that collects enough data that, when manipulated via software, the footage can be altered to have different focus lengths, different shaped bokeh, not to mention a way to make an alpha out of 2D footage which eliminates the need for green screen keying. They cleverly named it Depth Screen. 

Tara: And I loved the show floor. It was a crazy, confusing mess sometimes, but it was really great to see future tech revealed and knowing what’s next for our industry. It was valuable to remind myself to stay on top of each of the new things. Any edge possible, knowing new technology or software, is something that will help me move my career forward. I also was able to meet some of the reps and people behind software or plugins that I use all of the time, and see some live demos too!

Eugene: The show floor is huge! You get to see the technology that you've both heard about and also never heard about demonstrated for you. Not to mention product releases, new product applications and you get to meet the professionals that help design, manufacture, and distribute these products. You also get to chat with them about the issues of the industry and that provides very helpful insights into where the industry might be in the future.

The show floor also grants the opportunity to see BCPC members up close while they demo their work, like Mae Manning showing her stuff at BorisFX.

You mentioned the social aspect of NAB, of meeting people and building relationships. Did you attend any events that were strictly social?

Nolan: Yes, I had a lot of fun at the Adobe Party, where I and the other PDAP recipients had the chance to meet the editing team from Logan, which was a real treat.

Tara: I went to our BCPC meet up of course, then the Adobe Party the next night which was my favorite. Also attended the Supermeet! It was great to relax after a full day, and even see panelists/presenters and get to talk with them in a more relaxed setting.  

Eugene: I attended the Supermeet, The Adobe party and the BCPC meetup. The Adobe party and BCPC meet-up were casual social events that allowed the social wiggle room to be able to talk to influential industry pros.

Tara hanging out at O'Shea's in Vegas during NAB.

What tangible things did you get out of NAB that you wouldn't have if you never attended?

Nolan: I would point to the lessons I learned in Post Production World. I applied those mograph and animation lessons the day I got back to Los Angeles and my work improved immediately.

Tara: I think it gave me confidence and perspective. Also knowledge. I learned so much! Oh, and a lot of new contacts that I know will help me, whether with knowledge or a job, or just someone to talk shop with and run ideas by.

Eugene: As a Flame assistant it allowed me to discuss the future of hardware and how companies are trying to make their products more professional and pro-friendly. This will shape how I use Flame in the future. It helps me decide whether to stay on the path I’m at or whether another choice is better based on the future of the software or hardware. Still going down the Flame path for now. 

Eugene relaxing between networking opportunities at Senor Frogs.

Why is it important for conferences like NAB to be accessible to all kinds of people?

Nolan: These experiences, if properly taken advantage of, can skyrocket an individual’s knowledge base and awareness of the industry in which they’re working. It’s important that people who can stand to benefit the most from that sort of leg up can actually attend.

Tara: NAB is a melting pot of knowledge and experience. Money shouldn’t have to separate the ability of some over others to attain that advantage.

Eugene: That way, everyone has a chance to progress and align their goals. The things you learn at  NAB are eye opening. So especially if you're not sure where you wanna be you might see a new technology being presented, or an amazing filmmaker give an inspiring presentation on how they achieved their film, or an industry pro talk about the state of the industry and that can easily be transformative and inspiring for young professionals in the industry and make choices based on the information they can get at NAB. It’s an inspiring place in general. 

What would you tell someone who is considering applying for a PDAP opportunity in the future, especially if they're hesitant to apply?

Nolan: I would remind them that the only way to grow is by pushing yourself into unknown territories, and also that you have friends and mentors in your life, you just haven’t met them yet.

Tara: I would say go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Eugene: The application takes literally a minute and if you've made your rounds at the BCPC meet ups and people know you're genuinely interested in the industry then its totally worth it for a fun. informational opportunity to represent this amazing organization. Not to mention help your fellow BCPC peeps gain some knowledge as well. The giving back is probably the most rewarding thing I've experienced at BCPC.

The first Red Epic Camera back from Space! @GoingPostalShow #NASA #NABShow

— Monica Daniel (@Monica_Edits) April 26, 2017

Community mentors like editor Monica Daniel helped give NAB some perspective through posting on social media and helping out PDAP recipients on the ground.

What’s the next step for you?

Nolan: I plan to start cutting independent projects in my spare time, and begin to build a resume and a reel that will allow me to go after editing jobs on the sort of shows I’m working on now.

Tara: I look forward to applying my experience to the job I have now, and I will continue to build on that base in order to achieve my goals. I look forward to meeting with the people I got to know while I was there, and I hope to be an advocate for diversity and change for the better in the world of post production.

Dody Dorn speaking at the Supermeet.

Eugene: Funny enough I had a phone interview on my way to Vegas and when I came back I had an offer to be a flame assistant for a company that was better suited to me and I work there now! With Felix, a fellow BCPC Member! I would really like to take the time and master Flame. And If I can work on weekends and shoot some films with close friends of mine. 

Did you have any unique experiences in Vegas that you wouldn't find elsewhere?

Nolan: NAB itself is one big unique experience. I have not seen that sort of environment replicated anywhere else. Also slot machines in the airport terminal. Had not seen that before.

Tara: I definitely don’t think I could attend a class on VR, attend a press conference for Blackmagic Design, and go to a party where I could mingle and talk with company executives and the editing team of Logan. Oh, and I also was able to attend a live interview at the Supermeet with Dody Dorn, one of my editing heroes!

Eugene: Just the amount of people you can meet and the caliber of professionals is unique to NAB. I've never seen so many important people in one place. And you'll be able to find someone somewhere there! 

The BCPC crowd at NAB.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:53:13 pm nab show, financial assistance

Blind Resume Evaluations Don’t Make Your Company More Inclusive

Whenever I’m involved in a discussion on inclusive hiring practices, whether it’s a panel or a forum discussion or a one-on-one conversation, there is always someone who urges me (or the audience) to simply take the names off resumes for initial screening to prevent any conscious or subconscious assumptions.

“It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works — now the hiring manager has no idea if they’re hiring Joe, Jane, José, or Jamal. They can see the person for who they are!”

The idea is that hiring managers are not calling back candidates based on an unconscious bias they don’t know they have linked to names because of their gender or ethnicity. And there’s been data to back this up. People with African-American sounding names have to send 15 resumes before they get a response, compared to just 10 for white sounding names. Easy to pronounce names are favored over difficult names. Women are less likely to be brought in for interviews on STEM jobs than men. Even in faculty mentoring at colleges, Asian sounding names got far fewer responses to requests for mentorship than white names.

There’s loads of research to back up this claim of unconscious bias in hiring practices. The solution seems pretty simple and actionable. Just take the names off.

My response to this suggestion: that’s stupid, don’t do that.

Taking names off resumes may work as a blunt force instrument in getting women or people of color into the interview chair. It also may not, and it may set these people up for failure in a way that increases the unconscious bias in the eyes of the interviewer. Your organization’s lack of diversity is not going to be solved by tricking someone into hiring a black person.

There are two big problems with this “blind recruiting” hiring practice. The first is that it doesn’t take into account the broad societal advantages or disadvantages that different types of people may have had that affect their resume. The idea of privilege deserves a more nuanced discussion than I’m going to offer here, so I’m going to simplify my argument a lot to make a point.

To focus on one little narrow part of this, look at the wage gap in our country. White women make 78 cents for every dollar that men do. But how about women of color? Black women make 64 cents on the dollar compared to white men, and hispanic women make 54 cents. As a result, one could draw a conclusion that the sons and daughters of those women might not have the same opportunities as a white person.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying that all people of color are disadvantaged poor people, and I am not saying that all white people have every opportunity granted they may ever need. I’m just looking at statistics and I’m thinking that these statistics might mean that a 19 year old white kid at college is more likely to be able to spend time on extracurriculars through financial support from their parents because their white moms and dads are more likely to make more money compared to other races for doing the exact same work.

A conclusion I can draw from this is that a white kid’s resume is more likely to be padded with extra stuff that edges out their competition. They were able to do that one extra internship, or be president of that club, and that looks good under their work experience and education compared to a black kid who had to work part time to get through school. So when we are assessing resumes blindly, we are not giving the applicant the context they deserve in their evaluation. Does that internship really set that one person apart? Does the person who worked part-time instead not bring something unique to the table from their experience as well? These are discussions worth having with candidates who present an interesting picture. Our evaluations of people as potential employees needs to evolve.

The other big problem with blind evaluations is it’s not just a name that can give an indication of a person’s gender or race. A candidate might lead their school’s NAACP chapter. Or be a member of Women in Film. Or a Planned Parenthood volunteer. Or you know, whatever other deserving organizations might have certain attachments to them. The solution to this must be to erase those things too. How about the applicant’s city too? Let’s erase that in case it’s a traditionally black neighborhood. Pretty soon we’re scrubbing resumes of all the unique things that add up to make a whole person.

Wouldn’t you say we’re already erasing minorities and women enough?

Fewer than 20% of editors in Hollywood are women. Until recently, fewer than 40 active ACE members were people of color. Considering the film industry is an intersection of tech and creativity, it's worth noting that Silicon Valley has been fighting against revealing their diversity numbers.

When you scrub away the things that make up a person’s life and trick a hiring manager into speaking with them and you get them hired into your organization, it sounds like a win anyway. Your company’s “diverse hires” go up and that little box on your org’s website about demographics looks better. But here’s the thing you’re missing: having a diverse team is great for business, but creating an inclusive environment for them is how they will continue to succeed.

Erasing a person’s identity and using cheap tricks like blind recruiting does not make your organization inclusive. The unconscious bias that would have kept them out of the first interview because of their name remains part of the company’s culture. As a result, these people are entering an environment that is not prepared to help them climb the ladder and stay in the employment pipeline. And because of that, many of them will face more challenges than their white, male counter-parts.

Each minority group has its own set of challenges that spring from assumptions and stereotypes and society expectations. Needing to push through those challenges on top of actually doing one’s job — and doing it well, because if you’re the only latino man or woman in the room you’re conspicuous and held to a higher standard — can be exhausting. Sometimes these work environments are even outright hostile. Without addressing the root of why there is unconscious bias against different kinds of names, you aren’t really changing your company culture for the better.

Plus, there’s no evidence this blind recruiting method actually works.

Sure, in some companies it might be true that you get enough “diverse” people in the door with blind recruiting and they stick around long enough to change the company culture with their mere presence. But that’s fairly unlikely, especially in the fast-paced world of post production where many people move through positions quickly anyway. Our industry has been dominated by white men for the entirety of its modern existence, and that’s not because men are more qualified. It’s because they’re now considered the default, often the path of least resistance. Particularly in post where people are hiring quickly, the least resistance can be really important. Change sucks and things are well enough, so why bother thinking differently?

Here’s why you should bother. Patagonia (the outdoor company) wanted to give new moms an opportunity to stay with their company. A lot of companies tend to think “I’m not going to hire women in their late 20s and early 30s because they’re just going to have babies and leave anyway.” Patagonia’s solution was to look at what women need at work — on-site child care and paid parental leave — and give it to them. They didn’t do it because they wanted to retain top talent or because they were losing too many people, but they did it because it was the right thing to do.

As a result, Patagonia has retained 100% of new moms over the last five years at their company. 50% of managers are women, and 50% of senior leaders are women. Retaining employees costs a company less and allows people to climb the ladder in a company they know well. Work-life balance is prioritized by the younger generations who are choosing companies to work for based on those benefits. A diverse workforce is proven to increase a company’s profitability.

But above all else, it’s the right thing to do.

Inclusive hiring practices are not easy, because they are born from inclusive work environments. The idea of blind recruiting has been so embraced by so many because it’s actionable and tweetable and makes a great slide at a conference. But making an inclusive work environment is the right thing to do, and judging resumes after they are scrubbed of anything “extra” is the wrong thing to do. Instead of making the doorway alone more accessible to different kinds of people, you need to make sure the actual room is a place where people are going to want to stay. And that means talking about this stuff a lot, listening even more, and making changes to the way your company works on a fundamental level, in a way that works for your company.

In a few weeks, I’ll be on a panel at the NAB Show in Post Production World about Creating Inclusive Work Environments, Monday April 24 at 5PM. If you’ll be at PPW, I invite you to attend this session. If you’re not, I would love to discuss inclusiveness at your convenience.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 27, 2017 at 12:17:21 pm resume, evaluations, hiring, sexism, racism

NAB For Free: How BCPC is Eliminating Financial Barriers for Trade Shows

My first time attending the NAB Show (the National Association of Broadcasters, the largest trade show our industry has all year) I stayed in Las Vegas for a week and came away feeling connected. All the people I’d met through the internet ended up being real people with interesting stories and useful advice. My network expanded, my knowledge base increased, and my self-confidence grew. It was a turning point early in my career — a next step from being a young staff editor in central Indiana to getting where I wanted to go. And it was subsidized by my full-time job. Otherwise, I never could have made it. Who knows where I’d be now.

There are a lot of young people (or mid-level career changing people) out there right now in the situation I found myself in. I had a job and experience, but I didn’t have the income to support making a move for myself, whether it was going to a large trade show, investing in an educational workshop, or traveling to a conference.

At my first NAB Show looking young and fresh.

I managed to talk my employer into sending me to NAB, but a lot of people can’t make that happen. Instead of being able to take the next step that will make them more valuable and visible to employers, they might get stuck trying to find another way. And these financial barriers tend to affect young people, women and people of color the most — the exact kinds of people a trade show like NAB NEEDS in attendance not only to push innovation and long-term sustainability in our industry, but because it's the right thing to do.

That’s why Blue Collar Post Collective — a nonprofit organization that supports emerging talent in post production — created the Professional Development Accessibility Program which funds attendance to events like NAB Show for low-income post professionals. Donations throughout the year from the BCPC community get funneled into a fund which sends applicants to professional programs for free. Right now they’re taking applications through the end of the month for people who would like to attend NAB.

PDAP applicants must be residing in the US, working full-time primarily in post production (including freelancers and interns who don’t have another source of income outside the industry, but not students), and making less than or equal to the median income for their city. The application can be found on the BCPC website.

A program like this almost seems too good to be true (or too impossible to really work) so I asked BCPC board member and previous co-president Katie Hinsen to tell me more. And if you think you aren’t experienced enough or important enough to be considered to attend NAB, read this blog post twice.

Katie Hinsen, Blue Collar Post Collective

What is PDAP? How does this work?

Katie Hinsen: The Professional Development Accessibility Program is a program that we run through the Blue Collar Post Collective to help our lower-income colleagues in the post industry have equal access to important trade shows, conferences, events and professional development opportunities.

The idea came after a member of our community had a paper accepted into a major industry conference. However, as he was working at the time as an intern at a major post house in New York, he couldn't afford to attend the conference to which he had been invited to speak. With travel, accommodation and conference passes, many people who don't have the support of their employer, aren't seen as "decision makers" or don't have the money to spend, are excluded from opportunities that could be incredibly valuable to them.

For the young man who wasn't able to present his paper, he might have missed out on a huge break in his career. Furthermore, the conference attendees missed out on seeing more of the true diversity that exists in our industry. I was so upset that this happened, I vowed to find a way to make sure it never happens again, so I started the PDAP program. 

Katie at NAB Show in 2016.

What’s the catch though? Where do these funds come from and what does someone have to do in return? 

The BCPC is unique in that it is a community run entirely by volunteers who work full-time in the post industry, and are focused solely on supporting each other. We raise funds by "passing the hat around" the community throughout the year. We also have "friends and family" of the BCPC throughout our industry's vendors. These are companies who share our core values and want to support us with donations. Everything we do, we try to do for free or for very little so that we can commit almost every cent we get to providing as many opportunities as possible to those who need them the most. 

We don't ask for anything in return from PDAP recipients. Those of us who have ever attended a big industry event will know that everyone has their own journey and you have to go for yourself if you want to really get something out of it. We have a committee of people who select both the recipients and the events worth supporting people to attend, and both are chosen based on how much of an impact that person will get out of that opportunity. 

BCPC NAB Meet-Up in 2016

Why is it important for someone to attend a trade show like NAB? 

Every time I go to a big industry event like NAB, I feel like my brain is going to explode from everything I learn. I get to see and play with a wide range of toys, experience a broadening of my horizons, and be part of the wider industry community. What's more, I get to meet the vendors face to face. I get to see who they are, and they get to see who I am, as someone who uses their products every day. I feel like I got more out of the experience the earlier I was in my career. 

But even more importantly, PDAP brings more diversity to these events. Too often, representation of our profession at major events is limited to those who are seen as being in positions of influence, those who are considered more "valuable". That tends to tip the demographics of attendees older, and toward management and senior level. When I look across the show floor I don't feel like there's a true representation of our industry there because I see far too few Assistants, PAs, Machine Room, Sound Editors and VFX Artists. 

What does giving away funds accomplish for BCPC? What’s the point of making sure one more person attends NAB?

Sending a handful of people who fall below the median income for our industry to NAB in 2017 isn't going to change the world, but it might change their worlds. And it might change the perception of users to a few vendors. It might give a voice to a few more people.

I hope that this program will grow and inspire other organizations, workplaces and even the event organizers themselves to be more inclusive and consider the value of attendance to a wider range of people. I hope that it empowers more people to even consider that they could attend a major industry event, and to submit papers or volunteer to speak on a panel. By putting it out there that the barrier of cost can be overcome by the support of the community, I hope that major industry events are perceived as something that can and should be for everyone who contributes to the work we do. 

Women in post production meeting after BCPC in Vegas.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 14, 2017 at 11:54:40 amComments (4) nab show, accessibility

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