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Sundance Impressions: Three Movies on Sunday

Yeah, it’s Tuesday. I lost a day to travel, as I returned to Los Angeles yesterday in a sold out flight filled with exhausted looking film fans and the occasional indie actor. Our scarves and new boots have seen winter, and we’re through with it.

On Sunday I took full advantage of the festival, attending three world premieres in three different places across Park City. Thankfully the relentless snow had stopped and the shuttle service was back on track, allowing me to actually make it to all these films.

I Think We’re Alone Now, directed by Reed Morano, was first up for me. The post-apocalyptic story was just the kind of movie I really enjoy — which can make it hard to review objectively. But I ain’t never said this blog was objective, so screw it: I was into this film. It tells the story of a man left behind after some kind of apocalyptic event has killed everyone where they sat, stood, or drove. And this man is perfectly okay with that because he wasn’t a people person anyway. The best and richest parts of the film are in his routines and the textures they carry on screen. He’s perfectly content with his solitary life in upstate New York. Then one day, a woman shows up — and she doesn’t want to leave.


The cast and crew of I Think We're Alone Now

The conflict of companionship and loneliness that follows this is a really interesting look at how we all cope with ourselves and our needs. And I really loved that the story doesn’t bother to explore why the apocalypse happened or how to rebuild society. This character doesn’t care about that. For him, life goes on. Until it doesn’t.

Seeing Reed Morano’s name in the credits as both director and director of photography is also pretty great. Pretty dang great, yep.

Next up was Search, whose editors I interviewed earlier this week. As I described previously, this is a screen movie that takes place on a computer. But not just one computer or screen — multiple screens. If you’ve seen screen movies before, you might have expectations. This isn’t like that. It’s got zooms, pans, edits, dissolves. It just happens that you’re looking at John Cho’s Mac’s desktop. Search is the story of the disappearance of a man’s daughter and his mission to get her back. While that’s anything but a new story, the way this film unfolds makes it feel new.


The cast and crew of Search

I think it was really smart of the filmmakers (director Aneesh Chaganty and his co-writer Sev Ohanian) to use a story that has some basic building blocks an audience will recognize as a jumping off point for exploring it in an entirely different direction. There are stretches of the film where we’re watching Cho break into his daughter’s Gmail or go through her Facebook friends, and it’s surprisingly riveting. The twists and turns feel earned and realistic. It’s a lot of fun, and it uses some of the modern conventions of internet usage in new and interesting ways. I’m curious how people who don’t use the internet all that much will react to it, and how some of the sight gags involved might play upon a second viewing. The performances in the film are especially good — particularly John Cho, who had to act at a GoPro alone for a majority of the film.

And last for the day was Rupert Everett’s directorial debut The Happy Prince which was — yeah I’m gonna say it — anything but happy. The film tells the story of the final years of Oscar Wilde’s life, picking up after he gets out of prison for homosexuality. Everett also wrote the film and stars as Wilde, and he really does disappear into the role (and into his fat suit) to explore a complicated and sad artist’s spiral into depression and many many bad choices. The other films I saw at Sundance felt like they were trying something new and using their indie status to be a little bit different. The Happy Prince felt more like A Regular Movie you’d see nominated for Oscars and stuff.

But that doesn’t take away from how good I think it actually was. The cinematography and direction was fantastic, and the editing choices were great. From start to finish, it felt like the logical progression of a man’s fall from grace and into exile in France. Realistically it probably won’t stick with me, but I enjoyed having seen it. To punctuate my Sundance experience with an exploration of how we destroy great artists in their time and only choose to celebrate them properly when it’s far too late was an interesting choice — Wilde was pardoned in 2017.


This wasn't pleasant.

Also, I had to stand in the ticket overflow line for like a half hour in 13 degree weather to see it, so I’m glad it wasn’t terrible.

That was the end of my on-the-ground Sundance experience, and by the end I was nearly crawling to my airport terminal. Had I spent the entire week at the festival I wouldn’t be nearly spent because I would have paced myself a little bit more. Packing the full experience into 4 days required a little more of me. But let’s be real: I am aging rapidly and walking 5 miles a day in the snow is not something I am capable of sustaining.



Although I have departed Park City, my Sundance coverage continues this week with a few more interviews from your favorite below the line crew. Going and experiencing the festival first-hand was a really special experience. Sharing that with some old friends and new acquaintances was even more special. It’s been a long time since I stayed up until 3AM with friends talking about life and movies. I don’t share a breakfast table with like-minded people arguing about Avid very often. I never see three movies in a single day unless I’m laying on a couch in my pajamas. I’m thankful for the experience of Sundance and the people I met while I was there.

(I’m also thankful it’s 65 degrees in Los Angeles. But I am also under blankets.)




Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 23, 2018 at 6:17:36 pm Sundance film festival, post production, film, television

Sundance Impressions: Snow and “The Sentence”

The threat (or promise, depending on your outlook) of snow delivered today in full force. So much so that I was taken off guard and missed an early screening due to basically being buried in a snow drift. I was born and raised in the midwest, and I started driving at age 16 with a very light front wheel drive vehicle in the dead of winter in a rural area. But it turns out once you live in LA for like, a minute, your natural instincts begin to disappear and you struggle to remain upright.

I was really proud of my snow boots though. Obviously I am not A Winter Sports Person (TM) so I didn’t own boots until last week. Breaking them in here was a risk and it seems to have paid off.


The Egyptian Theater

I read a few articles about preparing to come to Park City, but none of them really prepared me for the extent to which I would be both hot and cold simultaneously all the time. I am thankful I packed a lens cloth in my winter coat pocket to deal with the fogged lenses at every turn. But despite all my whining, it really is nice to play in some snow and be among the film people in such a nice city. (Everyone who lives here and volunteers at the festival is so.nice.)


Main Street

I made a detour off Main Street to spend some time having brunch with Endcrawl at midday. Their service basically makes making end credits easy. I’m a really big fan of the entire idea of Endcrawl, in part because I’ve made credits that suck, and in part because it’s so accessible that indie filmmakers can and do use it. A third of the features in Sundance this year used Endcrawl, which is bananas. I talked to John “Pliny” Eremic briefly over mimosas and scones and asked him: why are end credits so damn hard?

He told me this: "You’re juggling hundreds, sometimes thousands of names. There are a lot of politics involved. There are endless revisions. There’s behind the scenes wrangling with who’s in and who’s out and fixing all the typos and all that. The process for that used to be email chains and it was very 1997. You only want to scroll at certain speeds that don’t jitter, judder, stutter, shimmer, shake — whatever you want to call it. That makes the runtime difficult.”

Yeah, that was also my experience.


Cocktails with Endcrawl

Later on, after tea with a DP (sharing that conversation soon) and coffee with an editor (that one too), I was thinking about the thing I realized makes Sundance really special for me. It isn’t just going to see a lot of movies, or going to see new movies. It’s experiencing movies alongside the filmmakers that made them, and celebrating that along with them. If you’ve ever made a short or a feature or any other expression of creativity and debuted it to a crowd of strangers in a theater or room of any size, you know the nervous excitement just before your art is unveiled. At Sundance, that feeling is on steroids.


Atticus Tea House



Which leads me to The Sentence.

The film is drawn from hundreds of hours of footage shot by director Rudy Valdez, as he tells the story of the incarceration of his sister Cindy and the aftermath of her 15 year sentence for conspiracy charges related to drug crimes her boyfriend committed before he was murdered. Cindy wasn’t involved in drugs. She made some poor decisions with who she spent time with, and she didn’t disclose her boyfriend’s crimes to the police at any point. But it’s clear in the film she is nothing but a kind person who wants to take care of her family.

And originally, the state agreed and threw out the case. But six years later, just six months before the statute of limitations would run out, she was convicted of her boyfriend’s crimes and given the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years just months after giving birth to her third daughter. From that point, Rudy copes with his sister’s situation, and turns from bystander to director to activist behind the camera over the course of nine years of her story.

From the opening scene of the film, the stakes are made clear: Cindy is taken from her family and all the little moments a young mom gets with her babies — first days of school, funny little games, silly faces, fighting — is taken away from her. The through line of the film is in the heart of her daughters on screen, being interviewed by Rudy as they play in their rooms or sit on their beds. Children are honest, and their perspectives are gut-wrenching. Even more gut-wrenchingly, we’re placed in the shoes of Cindy as we watch the three girls grow up on camera. The oldest, Autumn, begins the film is an adorable 5 year old. By the end she’s a teenager, and the visual of her growing face and the subtle deepening of her voice is heartbreaking.

Rudy describes himself as feeling he’s taken the “coward’s way out”, which I think is a sentiment to which a lot of us who cope with difficulties by documenting our lives in full can relate. But Rudy is the driving force of trying to change his sister’s fate, staying the course as a family is ripped apart by unchanging mandatory minimums and “the girlfriend problem”. And we learn Cindy is far from alone in her struggles as a mom ripped away from a healthy, productive family.

The film is intimate, often filling the frame with the subjects’ faces. Personal moments play out but never exploit. Everyone is just so earnest, trying their best. And Cindy never stops trying to keep the family together, consoling her siblings and parents and children at times over the phone, reminding them that she’s okay, interrupted periodically by an automated voice interjecting that the call is coming from a federal prison.

It was challenging and well-edited, an important story that has real world implications not just for Cindy and her family, but for many thousands of other families. It was a personal film, and I was glad to share the experience of seeing it on the big screen with Rudy.

But then the film ended, and the entire family I had just lived 9 years with over 90 minutes emerged from the audience and stood in front of us.


The subjects and crew from The Sentence

Seeing a narrative feature followed by a Q&A with the cast and crew is a special experience. Experiencing such a vulnerable story with the subjects themselves is on another level.

And that’s really what solidified in my head what makes Sundance worth doing as a film lover.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 21, 2018 at 5:08:26 am Sundance, post production

Bringing Cinema to a Computer Screen: Cutting "Search" for Sundance

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made -- and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a "below-the-line" crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers' visions to life. They're the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I'm telling their stories.

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On the feature film Search which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this week, editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick were tasked with some hefty new challenges: a film shot almost entirely on GoPro (with a little dash of iPhone and MiniDV) requiring thousands of layers of continuously rasterizing vector files -- which takes place entirely on a screen. Oh, and also Sundance deadlines.


John Cho in Search. Courtesy Sundance Institute.

Thriller Search, directed by Aneesh Chaganty and co-written by Aneesh and producer Sev Ohanian, isn't the first "screen" film -- that is, the first film to take place entirely on a computer screen. But Sev explains it is the first to bring a cinematic approach to the limited "screen" genre. "At first we were kind of hesitant about taking on this project because there was a skepticism we had about not wanting to make a movie that would feel or look like a gimmick. What we think makes Search a special movie, considering we have this crazy visual style on computer screens, is that we put the characters first. And even down to our opening sequence, which encapsulates 12 years of a family entirely from their home computer, the idea was to give audiences a cinematic, visceral experience no different than any kind of movie they'd see -- except that it happens on computer screens."


Aneesh Chaganty

Nick and Will's job? Will says it was "to figure out the execution of that, to make a movie told through computer screens that feels cinematic and not just what you feel when you sit at your computer screen."

Nick added that "as far as we know, I think we're one of the first if not the first "screen" films to cut and punch in [to a shot] which seems like such an obvious idea. Because we were doing that, it created all sorts of really challenging technical situations. That said, we think it creates a uniquely cinematic experience you haven't seen in any other "screen" movie."

This cinematic experience is difficult to fully explain, but once you see it you get it: they cut a movie on a screen just like a movie shot any other way. This seems obvious in retrospect, but seriously -- never done before, and the extent to which it's difficult to explain even after seeing it in full is a good reason why. During the Q&A session following the Sundance world premiere, actor Debra Messing discussed how it was difficult to understand the script at first, it being full of stage directions for a mouse and when or where someone would click a button. But then she saw Chaganty's Seeds and understood immediately that something new and special was taking place. This kind of movie needed the right team.

And the USC-driven team has reaped the rewards at the festival. Aside from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize (awarded to a film featuring science or technology as a major theme), producer Ohanian picked up the Sundance Institute and Amazon Studios Narrative Feature Film Producer Award, honoring his role as a bold creative producer in an independent space. Oh, and the film has also landed one of the biggest deals at the festival: it sold for $5 million to Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions.


Nick Johnson

And the creative and technical processes were not without major challenges. From figuring out the visual language of the film to sorting out numerous render issues (and diving deep into tech support to help support their need to push the technical limits of Creative Cloud software), Nick and Will had their work cut out for them. And it was to be expected: Will, Nick, Sev and director Aneesh all met during their time in film school at USC in Los Angeles.


Will Merrick

It was at USC that Aneesh established himself as an ambitious filmmaker, directing the wildly popular shot-entirely-on-Google-Glass tear-jerker Seeds, which Sev produced. Sev produced numerous indies, including Fruitvale Station. Sev and Aneesh became writing partners and tapped classmates Will and Nick, who had been working on music videos and features, to cut Search. Sev added that "when the movie was coming together, we knew it was going to be a very different film experience than what we had ever done or most people had done. We knew we needed to put together the best team of editors. This movie could not have been possible had we not had these two guys who not only had to edit this movie, but learn and teach themselves how to do this while they were doing it under insane deadlines."


Sev Ohanian

Creative COW: When you were working out the story in the writing process and pre-production, how much planning about the constraints of the screen medium did you put into post production? Did you plan it tightly, or leave room to figure it out in the edit?

Sev Ohanian: We made the decision very early on to not make this film be an experiment. We wanted to avoid a situation where we would write and shoot the movie, and then figure it out in post. Our intention was that we would make a super-plan of what this film was going to look like before we ever shot anything. We wrote a really tight mystery thriller first. Seven weeks before we started principal photography with our actors John Cho and Debra Messing, we came up with this plan to start editing the movie first. So seven weeks before principal photography, Will and Nick were already editing an animatic of the movie.

The idea was that by the time we really started shooting the movie, we had screened that animatic version to our crew, and people had an idea of what we were trying to achieve. And most importantly, we could make sure the movie had artistic value. That was the idea of us planning and trying to avoid learning the movie in the edit -- so we could focus on the creative parts of the movie in post, not just the technical.

Nick Johnson: And the preparation even went earlier than seven weeks. When we first met with Aneesh, he described these meetings as "rehearsals with the editors". The script was already really incredible, and an unusual piece to read because of the format. Will and I went scene by scene with Aneesh just talking through mouse movements, how we would cover certain things, and what the acts were going to look like, so that by the time we started we could hit the ground running to make sure the animatic was done and ready to go before production started.


Aneesh, Will and Nick working together. Courtesy Sundance Institute

It's an interesting approach that you almost edited the movie backwards.

Nick: It was almost like making an animated film.

Was that difficult to wrap your minds around, editorially?

Will Merrick: Something that was weird was as an editor was that you never really start with a blank slate. On the first day when we came in, we had an empty timeline and had to start screen capping software. Nothing that made the final film was screencapped -- we animated all that later. But for [the animatic] we just sat down and started capturing Facebook, FaceTime, and Aneesh started taking pictures of his face. It really felt like we built it up from nothing.

Nick: Coming into it there weren't that many movies we were trying to emulate. There wasn't an existing template for what we were trying to do. Even in the "rehearsals" we had with Aneesh, I remember trying to understand like, okay what's the language? What are the rules of editing this? If we're in a close-up, can we cut to another close-up? Is it going to be disorienting? Because you're editing on a three dimensional plane. And it's not as obvious as you'd think. I remember early on thinking there'd be certain rules we needed to put in place because the audience would be disoriented. We ended up finding out this wasn't necessarily true.

Will: We broke pretty much every rule eventually.

Do you feel that people weren't as disoriented as you thought because they're so used to looking at screens and interacting with them?

Nick: I do think that's partly why. I also think it's because, at the end, we were just using traditional cinematic language. Audiences are used to those sorts of shots, that sort of editing. I think the thing we needed to get over was "so what, it takes place on a computer screen." We still had to treat it as a movie. We could have dissolves, we could cut from close-up to close-up. People are used to seeing that.


Nick and Will working together in Premiere Pro. Courtesy Sundance Institute.

Can you tell me about your technical workflow and how you worked together on that?

Will: We began by creating the animatic, but because we made it all layer by layer in Premiere, when the live action came in we would sit in the office and edit it into the animatic. That became our first editor assembly. From there we worked in Adobe Premiere -- we would build everything in a wide shot and put that in a nest, and we'd put the temp camera moves outside the nest. It made timing very hard. Every time we changed timing we'd have to go into the nest and move everything, come out of the nest, change the camera moves.

Nick: We had a transcode process to ProRes [for the live action footage] and kept all that [instead of conforming to camera originals]. [Search] was almost all shot on GoPros, so it's all H.264. We had an incredible assistant editor -- who posts a lot on Creative COW by the way, Angelo Lorenzo -- who did the transcoding.

Will: After all that was done, which was tedious and painstaking, we picture locked and sent the entire movie to After Effects where we replaced almost everything in the film with Illustrator files we made partially working with a VFX company called Neon Robotic, so everything would be infinitely scalable and we could make our real camera moves and punch ins.

Nick: The big thing we quickly learned, and we knew to some degree going in, was that we weren't able to screen record anything because we would need 16K monitors in order to capture that stuff. So almost everything you see in the movie, with the exception of the live action, has been drawn in Illustrator and animated in After Effects. We had to recreate, line for line, Facebook, iMessage, Finder windows -- and every click state would have "states" for when the mouse would click. And then we motion captured the mouse in everything. Everything you see is animated in After Effects.

Will: For color, we had all our live action footage within elements in the screen, sometimes more than one in a shot. And you can't color the screen itself because you'd mess up the white and black levels. We did color in After Effects, and we found this great colorist Zach Medow who does temp color on a lot of big movies. And because he does that, he knew how to work in After Effects, so he went in and used the Color Finesse Tool on all the live action element.

Nick: Which has to be one of the most tedious things a colorist could ever do.

Will: He had no real time playback whatsoever. He had to watch a reference and go back to color. Once he was done with that, we made an export from After Effects and put that through Da Vinci Resolve to put some extra vignetting and blurring in, and a little bit of contrast on the final film itself.

Nick: We tried for a long time to figure out how to get just the live action footage into Resolve. The reason we didn't is because we had so many layers, and layers upon layers. And sometimes the Finder window would cross in front of a piece of live action, and sometimes it would go behind. There was no good way to isolate that and then slot it back in. The online process would have been really difficult. A lot of this movie and its technical processes, I remember thinking "there's gotta be a better way to do this." But we exhausted every possibility and eventually it was like I guess we'll do it this way.


Behind the scenes, John Cho in Search. Courtesy Sundance Institute.

How did the constraint of the "screen" play to your advantage as editors?

Nick: For one, the most obvious thing is that unlike a normal movie where you have to live with how the footage is, we could rearrange anything. It's an animated movie, so if a certain action is taking too long, we could just create a button on a page and have it happen instantly. Cutting a "screen" movie gives you the advantage of making changes.

Will: It's a bit more first-person than a normal movie, which allows me to convey more things like the production design of the character's desktop through deeper character traits that are hard to convey through dialogue.

Nick: That was really fun too. There's a performance aspect to the mouse. You're constantly in the character's head. A lot of the mouse performances, you're performing as the main character. That was really fun, to almost be acting.

Because on the screen you can show the hesitation of the mouse, or something like that?

Nick: Exactly, that was one of the most fun parts of the movie for sure.

This film uses the technology inherent in our daily lives to tell a story. What does it say about the role technology has to play in our lives?

Will: There's a lot of films or like Black Mirror, warning us about technology and I think this film does that but it's also an affirmation about technology. Technology is good AND bad, it shows both sides.

Nick: In creating the movie, our intention was always to be as true to real life as possible. It was always the idea to be as true to our experience interacting n the internet as possible. Whether or not you read into the commentary, you think yeah this feels real and true to my experience. We were always careful to not be too heavy handed on any sort commentary.

You're featured in the "NEXT" section at Sundance, which is described as a set of films "distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling." Do you have thoughts about where else storytelling is going?

Nick: There are so many possibilities.

Will: Virtual reality is really interesting.

Nick: VR is one of the most exciting things to me. I do think there are some really interesting things you can do with "screen reality" movies too.

Will: I think the Lytro cameras will also change everything, at least about how movies are made. I think you'll start to see in the screen element, as the gimmick is worn out, there will be movies that incorporate screen scenes or moments, like how you see text bubbles popping up now. So if you have a live action movie and one scene is more conveniently told through a computer screen, maybe it'll just be told that way. Who knows where it'll go from there.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 20, 2018 at 7:59:18 am Sundance, post production, search, next, premiere pro

Sundance Impressions: Main Street, Friends, and Lizzie

Boarding my flight from LA, I knew I was in for an interesting trip when half the people around me were already wearing snow boots and hats. It was a chilly morning by Southern California standards, but my sweaty self was regretting even wearing a long sleeved shirt. (I really enjoy visiting cold places because I can walk outside and be comfortable. But I obviously don’t like living in them.)

Inside my press credentials, I was surprised and pleased to see a number for a hotline the festival created with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to report harassment, sexism, abuse, and discrimination. I hope other event organizers are taking notice (hello, NAB Show) because this is an obvious tool that should have been implemented years ago. It’s been an after-thought for so long, and it’s finally at the forefront.


The insert was inside all festival badges.

Wandering Main Street involved spotting actors I know whose names are on the tip of my tongue, people I worked with on projects in the past, and people I’ll probably work with in the future. And talking a lot about the threat of snow.

Adobe’s “Art of the Edit” panel this afternoon featured three Premiere-using editors discussing their craft and how it has and hasn’t changed. It’s striking to me how the number of self-taught, never-really-got-training editors are beginning to really take hold and outnumber the old guard. This is in large part thanks to accessible software like Premiere and After Effects. I think it won’t be terribly long before we have entire panels of established, experienced editors who don’t have a film-related anecdote. (I also think this is just fine.)


Adobe's panel on the art of the editor.

At the premiere of Lizzie I got my first taste of the Sundance screening experience: the ticket holder line, the sad glances from the waitlist line, and the buzz in the theater as a fresh, new movie begins. Lizzie is a psychological thriller based on the story of Lizzie Borden and the axe murder of the Borden family, directed by Craig William Macneill and edited by Abbi Jutkowitz, starring Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. Sevigny and Stewart are definitely at their best in the film with great characters and occasionally sharp dialogue, which is quiet, tense, and slow to build. But when it builds, it gets downright scary. It’s not surprising to add that Lizzie is pretty violent, and as I was thinking about my take on the film, I wondered if seeing a woman involved in this level of carnage (in a non-pulpy sense) was unconsciously affecting my opinion. It’s going to take a while before I really have a clear opinion, but I do know this: Lizzie ended up being a challenging and timely depiction of female rage.


The cast and crew of Lizzie in a Q&A after the screening.

Aside from the bustle of Main Street and the thrill of seeing new films, it’s also worth mentioning that just getting away and being around friendly faces — particularly those in our shared condo, which is full of television and film editors — has been appreciated and necessary. Three of us took a break from the Sundance scene this evening and made dinner at home, sharing olives and tapenade and red wine next to the fire. I love the theme of the sharing of stories at the festival, especially when they’re our own.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.


Dinner with friends.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 20, 2018 at 7:49:44 am Sundance film festival, post production, film, television

Being a Post PA on a Sundance Indie Feature

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made -- and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a "below-the-line" crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers' visions to life. They're the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I'm telling their stories.

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A lot of assumptions are made about post production assistants, or "post PAs": that they simply fetch lunch, sort M&Ms by color, or other "small" tasks dolled out at the whim of a producer. But Briana Kay Stodden's career so far has been anything but minor. After jumping from rural Illinois to New York City, she has served as post PA on some of the most talked-about shows and movies of 2017 and 2018: Oscar contenderMudbound, Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, Golden Globe winner The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel -- and now making its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week, Private Life directed by Tamara Jenkins.

Briana graduated from Southern Illinois University with a BA in Cinema Studies and spent her college years working in news. Upon graduation, her partner Eric was offered a job at Light Iron in New York. They moved together, without so much as a quick visit to NYC before the relocation. "There was a lot of uncertainty in those first few months and being unemployed was scary for me but I had a few projects I did from home that kept my bills paid."


Briana Kay Stodden

Those side hustles involved producing an educational video series about working in post for the City of New York and mixing short films from her home studio: key aspects of her success as a PA in the competitive post production industry of New York. "I'm so grateful for my time as a Post PA because it helped me understand all of the different jobs available in post. Because of this, I was able to learn about myself and what I like and don't like. When I started my first Post PA job I was CERTAIN I wanted to be an editor -- but through my side projects, I discovered post sound is what really makes me want to get out bed in the morning.

Briana is moving up and out of the post PA role and into a 2nd assistant editor role at a documentary company where she hopes to return to her journalistic roots. But before she goes, she's got some great insight about the role of the post PA: how to succeed, how to be a good person, and how to think of yourself as anything but small.


Private Life, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Creative COW: How did you get into your first post PA job?

Briana Stodden: When I moved to New York, all of my previous work experience had been in news but I was eager to work in film. Finding a job here was extremely difficult at first because I was applying for post jobs but I didn't understand why I wasn't getting any callbacks. I had almost completely given up on trying to get a job in post and I started to look for jobs in news. 

Then one night, Eric came home and said an editor at Light Iron was needing some help organizing her edit room. I thought it would be a fun project to get me out of the apartment which was still full of unpacked boxes. Plus, I needed to get away from an inbox that continued to taunt me with no job offers. Little did I know, the editor turned out to be the amazing Susan E. Morse and what started out as a couple of weeks worth of helping her to set up her edit room turned in to my first official Post PA job. 

How do you continue to find jobs?

All of my Post PA jobs since have come by recommendations from assistant editors or post supervisors that I have worked with on various films. At first, I didn't know many people in the post industry but going to post gatherings such as those hosted by the Blue Collar Post Collective (BCPC) really helped me make friends and learn more about how the industry works. Some days, I still can't believe that this small-town Midwesterner has worked on shows like, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with director Amy Sherman-Palladino or Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It.

However, working as a Post PA on Private Life was one of the most fun and educational environments I've experienced in the industry thus far. I had already worked with the editor Brian A. Kates on the pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel so I had an idea of his workflow.

However, what I really enjoyed observing were the interactions between him and the director Tamara Jenkins. He also edited her previous film The Savages so from day one of watching them work, I was seeing two old friends collaborate to tell a beautiful story and it was everything you imagine filmmaking should be. No matter how difficult or challenging the workday might have become, it was always a good day because I was working with good and kind people and that is what really matters. 


Director Tamara Jenkins, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

What's a typical day for a post PA like? How can someone shine as a great PA?

It seems a lot of people think Post PAs just order lunch -- and on some days I admit ordering the lunch was so time-consuming it seemed that was all I got done that day. However, the Post PA's job is much more than that if you are willing to learn and do the work. 

If you get the chance to start a Post PA job while the film is still in production, you might get to help the assistant editor set up the editing room. I've found it really helps to get to know the post facility staff in the building where you work so can reach out to them when you have questions. I also like to walk around the neighborhood and learn where some great lunch, coffee, and drugstore options are so I can suggest them when they are needed. And I will already have some takeout menus collected. 

Additionally, if your assistant editor requires you to fill out the post crew's time cards or summarize the petty cash expenses throughout the job, it helps to get to know the production's accounting department. I've learned every film does things a little differently, so you can't assume that the paperwork procedures from one job to the next will be the same. The accountants love it when you ask questions early on and avoid simple mistakes later. (You should also show that you appreciate them by writing legibly on all paperwork and by bringing them donuts.) 

While the film is still shooting there is a lot of paperwork that has to be organized such as camera reports, editor's logs, and lined script pages. Every editor and assistant editor will have a different way of doing things so it's important to ask questions and revise your workflow as they require. 

During the director's cut, things start to slow down a little, but this is a great time to observe and learn from your assistant editor if they are able to show you some of their workflow. However, be respectful of their time and make sure you aren't distracting them while they are providing support for the editor or the director. 

Between paperwork, running errands, or ordering lunch, I found it was a good time to practice tutorials online or read up on developments in the industry. It's easy to forget sometimes but these film jobs usually only last about 6-8 months, and as a Post PA you have access to incredibly smart and talented people. Depending on the editing room setup, you might only get small windows of opportunity to ask questions or interact with the editor, assistant editor, or the director, so you want to be knowledgeable and prepared to take advantage of those moments. 

For example, I like to make lists of questions to ask should I get the chance. Those questions could be about something technical or something like, "On this film so far, what edit are you most proud of?" These kinds of questions open up a dialogue, and you will learn more from the stories around the lunch table than you ever will from surfing your Facebook or watching YouTube videos, so always be ready. You might not get all of your questions answered and that is okay, just stay engaged.

Are there any odd tasks you've had to do as a PA?

Every job is unique and every post crew has different needs. It's important to find joy in any task even if it seems small and unimportant. Overall, the Post PA is there to help keep the editing room running smoothly and do whatever is needed to keep the editor, director, and the AE focusing on the film's creation. 

This could mean running to the store for cold medicine, special ordering Red Vines to make the director feel more at home, or assisting the post supervisor. Sometimes this extra effort seems thankless, but it will be noticed by the people who are watching and those are often the people who will ask you to do more work with them in the future. 

Did any of these out of the ordinary tasks come into play during Private Life?

I'm really proud of my work on Private Life but I felt especially useful to the director during one of the film's early screenings. Before the film was locked, Tamara expressed how helpful it would be if we could record the laughter in the theater during the screening to know if certain moments in the film were getting the reactions that she had intended. Thanks to my interest in sound mixing and to my previous work on personal film projects, I had my own field recording kit. Not only was I able to record the laughter from the screening, but I also captured the Q&A afterward and she was able to reference it as she finished the film.

What kind of challenges have you had to overcome as a PA?

An interesting challenge I had to overcome as a PA was learning how to read the room. Every job is different, and when tensions are high and deadlines are approaching it's hard to know how you can be useful. Your assistant editor or post supervisor can be your best allies during these moments, and it is best to ask what is expected of you if you are not sure. It might be the most helpful thing to just stand back, observe, and be ready when you are called upon.

What do you think are some of the most important assets a PA has?

In my opinion, being organized, dependable, and enthusiastic about your work are requirements for all jobs. But the most important asset for a PA is a great personality. In post, you have to work in small, cluttered offices for several hours a day. It's important for the editing room atmosphere to stay positive and kind. 

You and everyone around you are working hard, and sometimes you may want to vent your frustrations but resist that feeling if you can. Remember that talking negatively about someone might feel like friendship and trust-building, but you can't make a real connection that way. Your number one goal as a PA should be to leave a lasting, positive, and trustworthy impression on your co-workers. Besides, they will be the ones you run in to at all the post holiday gatherings.

What's some advice you have for people who are maybe about to get their first post PA gig?

Don't give up. When I go to post gatherings like the BCPC meet-ups, I often meet people who were just like me and trying desperately to get a job in the editing room but can't seem to get their foot in the door. 

What helped me finally break through this barrier was an overhaul on my résumé. When I got out of college I had what I thought was a perfect résumé: organized, easy to read, and full of all the editing related jobs that I had done. 

However, a wonderful AE took the time to show me ways to improve my résumé and showcase the duties specific to what a Post PA is required to do. It's a good idea to highlight your future career goals in a cover letter, but the people who are doing the hiring want to know that YOU know what your role is and that you will be focused on supporting the editing room without doing any actual editing. And don't worry, you will get your moment to shine and showcase your other skills after the job has started.  


Briana's home workspace.

What is the path upward in post production for a PA, and how can other people in the cutting room help PAs with that ascension?

Two words... Side. Hustle. The post industry is a little broken right now in that there aren't very many opportunities in the editing room for Post PAs to get actual editing experience which is needed to further their careers. All of my actual editing, AE, and audio experience have come from small non-union jobs that I've picked up in addition to working as a Post PA. These opportunities have come from other AEs with whom I've expressed my desire to learn, and they have graciously let me help out on their side hustles and gigs. While you are building your reputation and skills, focus on what you can do for other people who have more experience. Don't come to them with an attitude of "What can you teach me?" but rather "How can I help you?" This will make all the difference.

Two more words... Speak. Up. On Private Life we were all at lunch one day and the director asked me what my career goals were. I admitted that I was grateful for what I had learned working in edit rooms, but I have discovered I am more interested in post sound. She and Brian (the editor) got excited hearing this and then offered to let me come and sit in at the mix stage. It was incredible watching the film come together like that. In between the mixing sessions I was able to ask the sound engineers questions about their workflow which I have now applied to my home mixing sessions. I am so lucky that Tamara and Brian are the type of people who would invest in my interests like that. I will never forget their kindness. 

As you move on from your time spent as a PA, what final advice do you leave behind for future PAs?

If there is one thing I would like other aspiring Post PAs to know it's what you do matters. I am lucky to have worked with some incredibly kind and generous people. But some days it can be overwhelming when your job entails minding all the little things and it seems everyone around you is doing all the big things. 

Some people may knowingly or unknowingly make you feel small while you are doing the small things but remember you are enough. You deserve to be in the room. 

You won't learn everything you need to know from one job. Moving up in the industry will take time and this is YOUR time to determine what path you want to take. Choosing a different path than the one you thought you wanted does not mean you have failed, it's just part of the process. 

While I was interviewing foley artist Joanna Fang for the post educational video series that I produced last year, she inspired me by saying, "This industry asks you to be very good at a specific task. So go out there, find that task and don't be afraid if you fail." That's what I am striving to do. To summarize: I want to encourage you to be kind, work hard, and keep going.



Follow Me at Sundance Film Festival this Week

Tomorrow morning, I'm jetting off from sunny Burbank to snowy (frigid, icy, frozen) Park City, Utah to cover the 2018 Sundance Film Festival here on the COW. I've got furry snow boots, long underwear, and a handful of tickets that cover everything from the fest's most anticipated to most experimental offerings. And I've got my own angle.

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made -- and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a "below-the-line" crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers' visions to life. They're the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I'm telling their stories.

I'll be talking to directors and producers and writers of course, and I'll tell you all about the films I see and the scene that's set in Park City, but my goal is to bring you insight into the daily lives of the crew -- the ones with the 10 or 12 hour days, the ones who worked their way up through unpaid "for exposure" promises, and the ones who unwaveringly service someone else's story.

In our current political climate, in Hollywood and everywhere else, learning more about each other and respecting one another's work and life has never been more important. The #MeToo movement has opened a dialogue we've never been able to have with each other before. Time's Up, the legal defense fund set up support those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace, is making the right moves toward keeping that dialogue happening and protecting those who want to have it.

But we can't forget our below-the-line crew in these conversations. For every actress who has been assaulted by a filthy producer, or every director coerced by a power-hungry executive, there are thousands of female crew members in production and post who are caught in a nuanced power struggle every day. Many of them are harassed, assaulted, and abused too. Most of them can't or won't ever speak up because they remain in a position where they would lose work, maybe forever.


Courtesy of Sundance Institute

#MeToo is going to shape a lot of Sundance coverage this year because it's going to change how we view the films in the festival. That will be challenging for some people who have old traumas reawakened, and offensive to others who view equality as a loss of power. But regardless of your opinion or your past experience, something has shifted and its affecting Hollywood -- and the best thing we can do is try talk to each other. A lot.

In the coming days I've got conversations to share with operators, assistants, producers, editors and many more. I'll be sharing what I see here on this blog, as well as shorter, quicker takes on my Twitter and Instagram feeds. Film and television editor Meaghan Wilbur will also be on the ground in Park City serving as a contributing editor and tweeting some #hottakes from the theaters.

Back to packing now -- is four scarves enough? I'm bringing four.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 18, 2018 at 11:27:47 pm Sundance film festival, post production, film, television

The Myths of Setting Goals in Post Production

If you work in post production, you’ve probably described yourself a number of ways. Curious. Goal-oriented. Driven. Ambitious. And as 2018 approaches, the urge to revisit your goals as a professional naturally rises. There’s not much to back up the usefulness of the idea of New Years resolutions, but we do them anyway. Humans love patterns and milestones because we’re weird and adorable, and my experience in post has led me to believe that my peers are even more gung-ho about that stuff. We make lists and charts and binders and we live for it.

For your career potential and your generally happiness as a person (or at least the parts linked to work), it’s important to continually check in with yourself. Are you growing in the ways you want? Are you heading in the right direction? Are you generally satisfied with your work life? If not, how can you reposition yourself in the coming year to be more closely aligned with what you really want? I think most serious and successful people in our industry have this sentiment ingrained in their head sooner or later: stasis is generally not good because too much is changing. The feeling is that if you aren’t learning, you’re being left behind in some way.

However, lately I’ve stumbled upon a lot of post production professionals who seem to be taking this much more deeply to heart than is useful. Hardly anything in our work life (or our personal life) is so black and white as an “if, then” statement: “if you don’t take that indie project, then you don’t care” — “if you aren’t learning, then you’re not trying” — “if you’re feeling burned out, then you don’t want it badly enough.”

I’ve always been goal-oriented. I love tangible achievement. I love working toward something. I REALLY love making a list and checking things off, especially if they relate to the big picture of life. But like, whoa: when you’re so narrowly focused on Achievement(TM), you could missing valuable experiences or making yourself unnecessarily unhappy. Goals are supposed to guide you toward fulfillment, but not at the expense of your day-to-day happiness and overall wellness. I see high-achieving, goal-oriented young professionals in our industry beginning to burn out far too early

MYTH 1: Every day is wasted if you aren’t learning new things at your current job.

Here’s a scenario from my life. I worked in corporate video for a few years, and I made it a goal to try to incorporate something new into each project I took on. I was the only video person in the company — in the marketing department of the company — so I didn’t have anyone to mentor me. I did a pretty good job at keeping myself engaged. But one summer, business was a little slow and there was less video work to do. Instead of producing and editing, I was creating and stuffing mailers to sell the training DVD I had authored to companies who might need it. I felt a growing anxiety every day: I was wasting away doing menial work instead of plugging away at the next Big Creative Project. I hated that place and hated the work. I felt like a fraud. I felt like my entire summer was wasted.

Your job might not be so drastically unengaging, but you might hate it all the same. The resent that can build as you work away on a project that isn’t creatively challenging you often becomes more of an issue than the lack of creative challenge itself. We all have to accept that not every day, week, or month at a job is going to engage us at the level we want to engage in order to ascend.

It is GOOD to realize your needs. It is GOOD to understand that you want more out of your work life. It is BAD to be miserable every single day about it. And it is BAD to become so anxious and unhappy about your lack of growth that you become unpleasant to yourself and everyone around you.

So I spent like three months doing envelope stuffing work. I was still getting paid the same, and that pay continued to allow me to use some of my nights and weekends on other kinds of creative work which I enjoyed a lot early in my career. It allowed me to spend time positioning myself better, because I needed that time. That position still went on my resume as several years as an editor.

A job is work, a means to an end. You are not defined by your job. Sometimes it’s easy to find a new one, sometimes not. Sometimes you’re in a financial position to leave it, often not. If your job pays you and is not abusing you, then you are objectively okay. Always remember: you are not your job, and you are in control of what happens in your life. Sometimes it’ll take time. Give yourself time.

MYTH 2: Radically redirecting your goals is a sign of being a flake.

I was so dead-set on heading one direction in this industry for so many years that when a newer, better opportunity to shift into something better aligned with who I had become popped up, I rejected it outright. I thought I was self-aware when in reality I was hyper-focused on a ten year plan I created when I was 20 years old. You know what’s great about ten year plans? Like basically nothing. When I created mine in 2007, I had no idea what the end of 2008 was going to bring to the US economy. When I was 15 years old and decided to be an editor, I had no idea that part of that path would include a series of jobs I had little interest in later on, and the work I shifted into didn’t even exist yet.

And don’t take this to mean that having goals, long-term or short-term, is bad. It’s really good. You should always have a goal, and most everyone in the industry does. It helps you pitch yourself to people, and it informs the specific decisions you make about your career today. Go read the blogs about goal-setting (including mine). But don’t be afraid to put it down the garbage disposal when you realize you’re better off heading a different direction.

The great thing about this industry is that it’s so easy to evolve. There are so many new opportunities for technology and storytelling emerging all the time. It’s impossible to know what we’ll be capable of in a year or two. Who would have predicted the rise of OTT video? Or VR? Or the ubiquity of screens through iPads and iPhones? Plus, we learn new things about our industry and ourselves all the time.

Being able to assess and radically redirect your goals as needed is a skill many of us don’t have, because hardly anyone is taught how to evolve as a professional. At least in my experience, previous generations have valued finding a path early and sticking with it for 40 years until retirement. But the reality is that it’s incredibly common (and becoming even more common) to change careers a couple times in your life.

Our industry is so vast that a complete change in direction can (and often does) happen even within its boundaries. This is really cool. Embrace it.

MYTH 3: Staying with one company long-term is bad.

I recently heard from a young woman that she was considering leaving her job because she had simply been there too long, and that seemed like a bad idea to her. She was still being challenged and groomed for promotion, and she liked her workplace, but after a few years she was feeling restless. She was worried she wasn’t “putting herself out there” more, or was missing valuable experiences that come from job-hopping. It was almost like people wouldn’t take her seriously if she had three years at one single facility on her resume.

Over the last decade, our industry (and many industries in general) have shifted toward the “gig economy” where everything is short term, and there’s a lot of it. It seems like this has become so much the norm that young people who do experience more traditional workplaces — ones where they go every day, get promoted, and have ownership in the company itself — are being caught off guard. So much of the conversation among post production professionals also revolves around New York and Los Angeles and film and television, where (in the US at least) the jobs are generally long-term freelance. People are going from project to project, in different kinds of situations with different sorts of teams. The insight and testimonials from people like that are useful and fascinating, but they don’t directly apply to the huge number of other opportunities in post production in those cities and elsewhere.

Staying with one company for the long term? It’s not bad at all if you’re still getting what you want out of your every day life. Sometimes people seek complacency, and sometimes people seek active growth. If what you want is the latter and your company of three years is still offering that to you, you’re in a good situation. (If you’re sick of looking at the same people and you want a change of pace and scenery, I certainly can’t argue with that though.)

MYTH 4: If you aren’t using a large chunk of your free time to further your career, you aren’t serious.

One of the most annoying things that is parroted in our industry is the idea that you need to be actively learning and using all your free time to funnel knowledge and experiences into your career. I bought into this to an extent when I was younger. Although I enjoyed saying “yes” to every possible side gig (paid or not) that came up, there was a nagging part of me that also guilted me into doing it. If I wasn’t cutting some short film, what was I going to be doing? Hanging out with a friend in the hot tub? Watching TV? Going for a run? How does that help my career?

Side gigs and night work are something we all do, and we tend to do more of it earlier in our career. And that’s totally fine. But don’t buy into the idea that you have to attend every single networking event, screening, mixer, and panel in order to grow as a professional. What you really need to do in order to be a successful, long-term post production worker? Learn to say NO. Learn to bring balance to your life whenever possible. And learn that the people around you who are going at it 24/7, seemingly running circles around you? They aren’t more serious than you. They just have different priorities — and to be honest, those priorities will make for a less sustainable future. Working ‘round the clock is unhealthy no matter how much you enjoy the job.

The hours are already long in our industry. When you do have free time, it has a tremendous value. You must assess the best way to use it. Sometimes that will be a night gig. Sometimes that will be laying in bed. Both are valid career choices in moderation.

MYTH 5: If you need to take a break from the industry, you’ve failed.

The post production industry is really hard. There are points in the year that are especially rough. If you’ve had a difficult or slow year, with a lot of extra expenses or decrease in clients, it can be hard to weather the tough times. Early in your career, it can be especially difficult: you don’t make that much money to begin with, so the time you have in between freelance jobs or to look actively for something better is very minimal. And for anyone else regardless of pay or success: burn-out is a real thing that happens to a lot of people and must be actively managed.

Weathering the storms and surviving day-to-day — whether that’s literally making enough money to eat or just being able to be happy enough with work not to let it seep into your personal life — is a difficult and important aspect of our industry. The work can fluctuate in frequency or difficulty, deeply affecting your emotions or your bank account. Your most important priority always needs to be taking care of yourself. For some people that might mean hanging out longer at a gig that isn’t really allowing them to grow, and accepting that as a valid choice. For others, it might be a break entirely from the industry to get financially stable. And for someone else, it could mean going back to school to add new skills or redirect entirely.

“Taking a break” from your career comes in many different forms, and mostly all of them can come across as “giving up” to oneself. But that is rarely the case for anyone, and it’s hardly ever the reality. If you go to grad school for a while or work a desk job or stick around being compacent somewhere, there is no reason you can’t pick your career back up when you feel ready and able to move forward. Too many people in the industry feel they have to move forward endlessly — by choosing a period of self-care that involves pressing the pause button, you are moving forward in your strategic thinking that involves a long-term career.

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Look, what I’m trying to say is don’t buy into this idea that you have to be this ruthlessly ambitious ladder climbing insatiable person in order to succeed in post production. If you’re constantly keeping your eyes on some distant, abstract prize, you miss all the little experiences along the way that really make you who you are as a person — as a whole person who isn’t just defined by their work life. It’s incredibly cheesy to say it’s about the journey and not the destination, but fight me, I’m saying it anyway. Don’t let yourself get swept up in the idea you are not “enough” because that means something completely different to everyone. You need time to learn and grow as an individual, and to meet lots of different people. A diversity of experiences in every way will make you a better storyteller or problem-solver.

Take some time to yourself. Think about where you are and where you want to be. Talk to a peer and a mentor to see if you’re making good decisions. Make small, incremental changes if that’s what it takes. Make a huge, sweeping change if that’s what suits you. But don’t spiral into unhappiness because you aren’t “there” yet. You’ll get there. I promise.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 19, 2017 at 10:35:27 pm

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

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