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Eye on Independent Films
Working In The Cloud
Studios and Soundstages
2013 Music & Sound Guide
By Mark R. Smith
|[Left] Bucolic scene in Calaveras County, California
[Top Right] Shooting the romantic mystery feature,
The Burning Plain, on the dramatic Oregon coast.
[Bottom Right] The feature, A Letter to Bill Gates,
on location in Spokane. Photo by: Jason Ganwich
It's been a hundred years since California began luring moviemakers to its sunny clime. Its film heritage, impressive infrastructure and varied landscape still make it the nation's number-one film and TV market. Neighbors Oregon and Washington are part of the West Coast action, too, with the former making significant strides and the latter holding strong despite its proximity to production-friendly Canada.
California: Land of Plenty?
In a state as expansive — and important to the production industry — as California, there's only one way to get the right information to the right people in an expeditious manner: form partnerships.
And that's what Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission, relies on to facilitate projects. The California Regional Film Office Partnership is a network of 50 local film offices spanning the Golden State and offering production companies access to locations and logistical support.
“No one can know every detail about every stretch of the 810 miles of coastline and the 163,707 square miles in our state,” Lemisch says. Approximately 315 sunny days per year add to California's well-known and often romanticized allure.
|Yosemite in winter||Driving through California’s Death Valley.
Photo by: Geoff Juckes
|San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.|
But the big news is that since “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger's term is over now, oddly enough, it's back to the future with former (and new) governor, Jerry Brown. But the question is, will the Brown administration keep in play the $500-million, five-year incentive package, which has created an economic impact of $2 billion in additional production spending during its first two fiscal years?
Ferrari Follows New Indie Path
L.A.-area indie filmmaker Alex Ferrari is making his latest play for mainstream success with the release of an 11-minute short, Red Princess Blues, starring Richard Tyson (Black Hawk Down), Rachel Grant (Die Another Day) and Academy Award nominee Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Shot in two days for less than $10,000 with the RED One camera, the film had an all-RED workflow with effects and post completed at Ferrari's post boutique, Numb Robot (www.numbrobot.com).
Center Stage at Hollywood Center Studios
Business at Hollywood Center Studios (www.hollywoodcenter.com) often revolves around Disney Channel programs, such as Wizards of Waverly Place and Sonny With a Chance. But president Tim Mahoney says the operation has branched out to other cable programs, such as TV Land's new sitcom, Retired at 35, and Nickelodeon's game show, Brain Surge.
Working with those clients required the studios to convert to HD. Also new is a dedicated 4,400-square-foot greenscreen stage (pictured) plus a virtual insert set used to broadcast online discussions after episodes of Showtime's The L Word aired last summer. "That facility will be used for Internet-based programming," says Mahoney who added that its equipment "can migrate to a larger stage" as well.
All told, Hollywood Center Studios house 11 soundstages ranging in size from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet. They also host spot shoots for advertisers such as L'OrÈal, Clairol and Old Navy. The full-service company offers complete lighting packages and Sony audio equipment.
Kaboom Gets Creative for Yahoo!
A recent four-spot branding campaign for Yahoo! designed for viewing in theater multiplex lobbies is a showcase project for San Francisco's kaboom productions (www.kaboomproductions.com). The company's directing team, sausage (John Benson and Ward Evans), developed the content and helmed the project which was presented on interactive, six-foot displays. The integrated live-action spots (see photo) were shot with Canon's EOS 5D Mark II and cut on Apple's Final Cut Pro HD; Monster Media programmed the interactivity.
"What's exciting about this project is that it is emblematic of the shifting roles within our industry and here at kaboom," founder/executive producer Lauren Schwartz explains. "We want to be a resource for whatever our clients need. In this case, it extended to developing the creative, as well as producing the spots. This was a perfect project for sausage leveraging their alter ego as freelance agency creatives."
Pendulum Swings Into Action
It's all in the animation at San Diego's Pendulum Studios (www.studiopendulum.com), which focuses on cinematic elements and trailers for such video games as Tron: Evolution for Disney Interactive and Propaganda Games of Vancouver (pictured); Red Faction: Armageddon for THQ; and Marvel's Iron Man 2 for Sega.
"One thing that's unique about what we do is that we offer turnkey solutions for game cinematics, from storyboard and motion capture using our 5,000-square-foot, full performance stage through final delivery," says executive producer and co-owner Rob Taylor.
He and partner Michael McCormick use realtime engines such as Unreal for software that includes Autodesk Maya and MotionBuilder, eyeon Fusion and Pendulum's AlterEgo, a proprietary facial-performance system. "We are an animation and storytelling company, not a games company," Taylor stresses. "We used to work on the music video/film effects side and as directors, and we see this arena as the one where we can use all of our skills."
Birns & Sawyer Now a One-Stop Shop - Literally
Birns & Sawyer (www. birnsandsawyer.com) has always been a one-stop shop with customers able to buy or rent film and video cameras (camera tech Krissy Thorsen preps a film camera package in photo), lighting and grip equipment from the company. But its recent expansion means everything can literally happen under one roof.
The one-stop shop mandate has been around since Birns & Sawyer opened in 1954, says rental agent Jeff Jackson. "But the grip and lighting equipment was separate from the camera location until this fall," when the newly-remodeled location in central North Hollywood's NoHo Arts District opened.
One reason for the consolidation is that the size of equipment, such as video-capable HDSLR cameras and LED lighting, keeps shrinking. Birns & Sawyer offers everything from the ARRI ALEXA digital cinema camera and RED One cameras to high-end prosumer video cameras, notably the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D HDSLRs. Panasonic's new AF105 Micro Four Thirds camcorder and accessories are the latest offerings.
TEAK Lights a Bonfire for JanSport
TEAK Digital partner/executive producer Greg Martinez and director Annie Sloan liken The Bonfire Sessions, a JanSport event captured on video by the San Francisco-based company (www.teakdigital.com) to "a tour doc to highlight the brand." The event, whose location on the property of Bear Creek Studios near Seattle was revealed via alternative press sources, showcased a JanSport-sponsored concert by The Cave Singers.
"The challenge for TEAK," says Sloan, "was working in an uncontrolled environment, with no actors, and the band appearing as themselves with no studio lighting, in a docu-style show." TEAK used four Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D cameras for the shoot, which required considerable planning and choreography to fit the brand's image. The cut and color correction by editor Brian Zalewski, in Apple's Final Cut Pro HD, added a dreamy, adventurous quality to the final product.
Lemisch says that “it's too soon to tell” what the approach of the new administration will be regarding the business of making movies (i.e., incentive funding). “I look forward to working with the administration on keeping California's entertainment industry healthy and growing,” she remarks.
As it stands, California has a limited amount of funding “and a huge number of potential productions.” Current rules dictate a minimum spend of $10 million, though productions with budgets of greater than $75 million are not eligible. “I'd like to see our program extended and enhanced,” says Lemisch, “because it triggers an immediate increase in levels of production.”
She pointed to mid-budget titles in the program recently, such as The Social Network, You Again, Jackass 3D and Dinner for Schmucks and upcoming releases Burlesque, Drive and Faster. On the small screen are FX's Justified, which shoots in Santa Clarita and Terriers, which shot in San Diego.
While the state still gets “a handful of the larger-budget movies of more than $100 million,” such as the Iron Man franchise, Transformers 3 and the soon-to-be released The Green Hornet, Lemisch says that California still loses projects “of every size to other regions in this country” as well as to Canada, “which is still a main part of our competition.”
As always, the issue comes down to incentives although “many producers will tell you, over and over, that they would rather stay in California due to convenience, the crew base, the vendors and the ease of working here [because] the industry [is] entrenched here.
“Due to the limited funding,” however, “we were only able to accommodate half of the applicants” for incentives, Lemisch reports. Still, “all told, California's incentive program is working.”
Oregon Shows Results
The news in Oregon isn't so much bumping up the main film incentive program: It's the economic impact. The increase happened almost two years ago when what is known as the Oregon Production Investment Fund was boosted from $5 million to $7.5 million and produced $62 million in economic impact for 2009.
Also available is the Green Light Labor Rebate for projects that spend more than $1 million. “With that, we've been able to land a couple of TV movies and basic cable TV shows with modest budgets, ranging from $1 million to $25 million,” says Vince Porter, executive director of the Oregon Governor's Office of Film & TV.
Oregon's incentives “offer the rare cash rebate instead of a tax credit,” Porter explains. Combined, both programs equate to a 20-percent rebate on Oregon's goods and services, and a 16.2-percent rebate on labor.
Timothy Hutton stars in TNT’s Leverage,
which shoots in metro Portland.
The impact of the package has been evident in the TNT series, Leverage, which will soon start production on its third season, the second shooting in metro Portland. “The producers have put 500 local hires on the payroll during the show's second year here,” Porter says. “That represents more than 200,000 man hours.”
And that's not all. The producers of Leverage are “committed [to Oregon] and Electric Entertainment, the production company, has been prepping to shoot the pilot of a one-hour 'dramedy,'” he reports.
A third TV program that's set to debut in January, Portlandia, is a sketch comedy show airing on the Independent Film Channel and produced by Lorne Michael's Broadway Video. The two main producers are Carrie Brownstein, a musician from the rock band Sleater-Kinney, and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen. The show presents a series of vignettes shot in and around Portland with cameos by the likes of Kyle McLachlen, Steve Buscemi, Selma Blair, director Gus Van Sant (whose new movie, Restless, shot in Oregon in late 2009, will soon hit the big screen) and singer/songwriter Amy Mann.
The NBC TV movie,A Walk in My Shoes,
shot in Portland last May.
A Walk in My Shoes, an NBC TV movie that's part of the network's Walmart Family Moments series, shot in Oregon last May. And Porter says “a second major feature” is coming. “This one is animated and is not only in production but will be the largest project ever in Oregon.”
The animation industry is growing fast in Oregon, due in large part to the suburban Portland studio Laika, which produced the Academy Award-nominated film, Coraline, directed by Henry Selick. Other noted animation shops include Bent Image Lab (see below), Fashion Buddah and Double Barrel Motion Lab.
The independent feature Meek’s Cutoff
shot in eastern Oregon.
The state also has attracted lower-budget indie films: The Wait, starring Zooey Deschanel and Jenna Malone, which shot in Central Oregon, Wake Before I Die, and Shiver, which is currently in production. House of Last Things, directed by Michael Bartlett, shot in late 2009 and recently completed post; Meek's Cutoff premiered in competition at the Venice International Film Festival this fall.
Porter also reports “a fair amount of car spots” that choose the scenic state. “We've even created a page called The Roads of Oregon on our website.”
Workshop Guests Asked to Picture This in 3D
Picture This Production Services & Stage (www.pixthis.com) recently hosted an in-depth stereo 3D workshop to introduce the Portland production community to 3D camera, projection and postproduction solutions. Panasonic's Bill Kupferle, stereographer Craig Adkins and Picture This president Perry Loveridge were on hand for extensive demos and displays on the company's soundstage.
"We are the first rental house in Oregon to acquire and rent the new Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D dual-lens camera with 3D accessories," says senior account executive Sari Loveridge. "We've been studying this format for two years now. Workshop participants were guided through how physical science combined with aesthetic choices and art direction can produce successful and compelling 3D video imagery."
Digital Foundry, located across the street from Picture This, gave an Apple Final Cut Pro 3D editing demo using the Dashwood Stereo3D Toolbox plug-in. Following a catered lunch at Picture This, participants got hands-on time with equipment and the opportunity for one-on-one sessions with the experts. "The workshop was a great success," Loveridge reports.
Funnelbox Gets Playful with Wacom
Two online branding videos for Wacom, a consumer computer peripherals manufacturer, are new and hot at Oregon City's funnelbox (www.funnelbox.com). The :45 videos, created for Wacom's Bamboo product line, update the company's marketing approach.
The content integrates a studio shoot with the RED camera in a loft near funnelbox headquarters with "some really playful" 3D graphics crafted with Autodesk Maya; Adobe After Effects was employed for 2D compositing and motion graphics. The graphics "depicted hand-drawn cartoons, sketches and doodles in the work spaces of users," says Robb Crocker, funnelbox CEO and senior creative director. The company partnered with inhouse cohabitant Klink, a creative motion graphics company, to complete the project. Crocker says funnelbox, which has 30 employees, was the eighth-fastest growing company in Oregon in 2009, according to the Portland Business Journal.
Getting Small Means Big Business at Bent Image Lab
An ongoing campaign for Koodo, a Canadian mobile phone company, has been huge at Portland's Bent Image Lab (www.bentimagelab.com) where executive producer Ray Di Carlo reports the company is working on the 10th spot in a series for Toronto agency Taxi.
The campaign, directed by Bent Image Lab's Rob Shaw, is based on the over-the-top antics of El Tabador, a Mexican wrestler who stands all of 4.5 inches tall (pictured). Bent Image Lab shot the live action on a RED One MX-2 in Toronto, cut the spot in Apple's Final Cut Pro HD and created El Tabador with Autodesk 3ds Max with V-Ray, Adobe After Effects and various proprietary software.
Other recent work includes "a couple of hundred" VFX shots for Hollywood and indie films, says Di Carlo, including the title sequence for Lance Black's What Wrong With Virginia.
Sweet Sixteen for Koerner Camera Systems
Its 16th year has been the best for Portland rental house Koerner Camera Systems (www.koernercamera.com), reports owner Michael Koerner.
That's due, in part, to Oregon's stepped-up tax incentive program, which has led to work on TNT's Leverage, among other projects. "That's a big deal for us," Koerner says of the show, which has ordered more RED One cameras in its second year shooting in Portland than it did last year (the show's first season was lensed in California). Another highlight was supplying an ArriCam LT package and Cooke primes plus an ARRI BL4S to the new Kelly Reichardt film, Meek's Cutoff, a period piece about a group of settlers negotiating the Oregon Trail (pictured).
Koerner, which also has an office in Seattle, currently has one ARRI ALEXA, with three more on order; a Phantom Flex to complement the company's Phantom HD camera is coming soon. But the marquee purchase this year will be high-end Leica Simulux prime lenses for the ALEXA, RED and 35mm cameras.
South of the (Northern) Border
In 2009, there was the Washington State Film Office, which offered location and production support to the community. And there was Washington Filmworks, the private, non-profit organization that managed the state film program and offered incentives.
Production company Anonymous Content
shooting a Campbell’s Chunky Soup
commercial in Washington.
Photo by: Andrew Clark
But then came the merger, and now it's just Washington Filmworks. “In most states, the incentives and the film office are presented within one entity,” says Amy Lillard, executive director. “So to delete [duplication] of effort, we merged.”
The result has been “streamlining the process for filmmakers,” says Lillard, which can only help when competing with a production behemoth like British Columbia on your northern doorstep. “The office had different services before. Producers would get permitting and location info at the state office, then information on production incentives from Filmworks,” which now has 52 film liaisons across the expansive state. Like many big cities, Seattle has its own film office; and the Olympic Peninsula has a film liaison in its convention and visitors bureau.
Lillard says that the new office raises $3.5 million annually and producers get a 30-percent return on their in-state spend for Washington-resident cast and crew, “plus anything spent on the ground, such as materials for sets, equipment and location fees.
LA’s A Catch 22 Production shoots
a commercial in Washington.
Photo by: Jim Boyd
“We started raising funds in 2006 before we launched the program, then incentives launched in February 2007,” she recalls. “However, the program sunsets next year and we're looking for more money.”
The good news is that 57 projects have been shot in the state since 2007, which she feels is what state legislators need to hear. “We don't know what to expect” as far as continuation of the program goes, she says. “To date, the money has come from businesses and tax liability in the state.”
The 57 projects include 20 to date in 2010: six features and 14 spot campaigns. Just more than $5 million (since funds roll over if they are not used the previous year) has been committed in rebates for an economic impact of $16.9 million for the current fiscal year.
During the past year, Washington State has hosted indie movies such as John Carpenter's The Ward, which shot in Spokane and premiered at Toronto Film Festival, and The Details which shot in Seattle and stars Toby McGuire and Laura Linney.
While there isn't much happening on the TV programming front, numerous commercials have lensed in Washington, including 14 spots/campaigns for advertisers such as Chevrolet, Target and Microsoft.
The Details, starring Toby McGuire and
Laura Linney, shot at Lake Washington, Seattle.
Photo by: Jan Cook
With that information in hand and mind, Lillard is preparing to approach the politicians. “We're building our economic-impact case. Our metrics are jobs and dollars.
“We offer a cash-rebate program, so once funds are allocated, they're guaranteed to a production, promptly,” she notes. “It's cash back in 30 days. That's the reality of what we do.”
As for crew, “we've haven't had a problem crewing up for productions,” she says, “and the more productions that come through, the more our crew base gradually increases.”
Getting those points across to the powers that be is often the challenge. “It's always an education when we go to [the state capital of] Olympia, but we tell the legislators that the Canadian market is different than ours,” Lillard says. “They target huge Hollywood movies, and we're after the $2 million to $10 million market.”
NXNW Heads East for Two-Spot Montana Campaign
Spokane-based North By Northwest Productions (NXNW; www.nxnw.net) headed for points east to shoot a two-spot campaign, from agency Partners Creative, outside Missoula for the Montana Department of Transportation.
"Sober Friend" and "Smart" focus on discouraging drunk driving and illustrate other options for people who are hitting the road, such as traveling via horseback (see photo) or using a smart phone to note one's alcoholic intake first. Both commercials were lensed with the RED One and cut in Final Cut Pro HD, with Adobe Photoshop and After Effects elements added to the second spot.
Producer/partner Matt Jaime reports that about 60 percent of the company's work comes from outside of Washington, which makes sense because NXNW runs a second full-service facility in Boise. Now in its 20th year, NXNW focuses on spot and long-form markets and also produces four or five independent features annually.
ALEXA's Popular at Oppenheimer
A rental house "that also manufactures accessories," such as carry handles and yoke mounts, and has served the industry for three decades, Seattle's Oppenheimer Cine Rental (www.oppenheimercamera.com) offers ARRI, Sony, Panasonic and RED One cameras, plus "all of the top lenses," says managing director Marty Oppenheimer (pictured).
The most recent acquisition was an ARRI ALEXA that was immediately rented into 2011, followed by a second camera which arrived in December - hence the additional five cameras on order. Oppenheimer also rents lighting and grip equipment, including Tyler helicopter mounts and Mako heads for boats, for shows like Discovery's Deadliest Catch.
Recent clients include Crossroads Films for Chevy spots, Damon Live Action for Toyota spots and indie production companies North By Northwest and Bad Apple Films. Although business "could always be better, we're happy," Oppenheimer reports. "The state's incentives have helped us, since they apply to the spot market [with a $150,000 minimum spend], too."
Bad Animals Gets 'Real' in Alaska
Among noteworthy projects at Seattle audio house Bad Animals (www.badanimals.com) is the National Geographic reality series Alaska State Troopers, which principal and sound mixer Dave Howe deems "a Yukon version of Cops."
The show focuses on their often unusual day-to-day experiences. "They're always looking for poachers," Howe says. "They all use planes and boats, as well as squad cars. One officer can canvass up to 50,000 square miles in their territory. Also, numerous concealed weapons are around with a frontier mentality to go with them. Many of the people that they pull over are armed."
Bad Animals works with Seattle-based PSG Films on the series. "We receive OMF files from Final Cut Pro HD and deliver 5.1 surround and stereo mixes via Pro Tools HD," explains Howe. "We also add Foley, record and edit the narration and clean up the dialogue - as well as pop in the occasional bleep."
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FirstCom Music 2013 Credit Reel
A blue sky sprawls between ridges frosted in deep evergreen, framing Alder Gulch much as when Native American tribes traversed this landscape 800 years ago. The town of Virginia City sprang up virtually overnight in the summer of 1863; within one year, it was the largest city in the Inland Northwest, with an estimated 10,000 residents. These days, few people continue seeking gold in Alder Gulch. But for filmmakers seeking ready-made Old West locations, the towns of Virginia City and Nevada City offer one more chance to strike it rich.
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