The Spirit

I'm Back

Sorry for the long radio silence. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

In early April I traveled to Montreal to direct a Canadian Lysol commercial for Euro RSCG NY. If you live in Canada and have tried to view a web video recently, you may have already been forced to watch it. When I get my director’s cut done, I’ll post it. We shot on the Alexa, and it marked my first opportunity to direct for Bodega, a production company run by some old friends with whom I’m delighted to be working.

I then flew directly to Toronto to help my friend Scott Stewart with a very exciting new project. Scott was invited to direct the pilot of a new Syfy series called Defiance. The show, developed simultaneously with a Massively Multiplayer Online game from Trion Worlds, was so enormous in scope that Scott lobbied for me to be brought on as “Additional Units Producer.” Terminology in TV is a little different than in features, but the role was very similar to my second unit directing duties on The Spirit. For just over four weeks I shadowed Scott with my mini “splinter unit” crew, picking up inserts and sometimes even entire scenes of this epic show. Scott and his cinematographer Attila Szalay chose the Epic for the pilot, although one of our three camera bodies was a Scarlet. We almost never cared which was which. I met some amazing new friends, learned a ton, and, as you may have noticed, didn’t have much time for Twitter or blogging.

My sudden streak of back-to-back work overlapped with NAB and its aftermath, leaving some to speculate that my silence on certain camera and other filmmaking tech announcements held some portent. People were drawing all sorts of conclusions, none of which were true. Maybe I was testing a new camera and sworn to secrecy? Maybe I was snubbing certain tech intentionally?

The only accurate conclusion, and the one that seemed most obvious to me, was one at which no one arrived:

This is not a camera blog.

There are plenty of wonderful blogs out there that exhaustively and reliably cover every new camera, every new piece of filmmaking tech. You read them every day, and so do I. We can all be grateful for them. But I hope you see a difference between those sites and this one.

This difference must not be as obvious to some as it is to me. I’m always amused when I receive a kind message to the effect of “I can’t wait for you to review this new camera!” Looking back through the archives, I don’t believe I’ve ever “reviewed” a camera.

I do write a lot about cameras. I also write about screenwriting, post-production, and other filmmaking things. Sometimes I write about tasty beverages. This blog is not my work. It’s a reflection of my work. It’s me learning out loud. And I’m always thrilled and honored when you enjoy it.

Spirit Press: Film & Video

If you haven't heard enough about how I finally got to do that thing I was talking about, Debra Kaufman has written an excellent article for Film & Video called The Spirit Closes the Distance Between VFX and the DI.

The Spirit, directed by Frank Miller and based on the Will Eisner comic book series, points the way toward a new integration of digital production and post. That’s thanks to The Orphanage, a VFX/production company in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and its co-founder Stu Maschwitz, the movie’s second unit director and visual effects supervisor. “Every movie is a collaboration between visual effects artists and the DI artist, but they never meet and they never see each other’s work,” said Maschwitz. “They get approved in a vacuum. The colorist doesn’t get to pass any wisdom back to the VFX artist, and the VFX artist thinks, ‘We’ll color this in post.’ It’s an important collaboration that’s broken. We’re still scheduling the DI at the end of the process, approving visual effects shots before we’ve thought much about the digital intermediate."

With The Spirit, Maschwitz saw an opportunity. “I thought, here’s a chance to put my money where my mouth is,” he said. “Because of its principle creative, the movie is going to be a visual feast. I wanted to put into practice some ideas about how to better integrate those two really important processes: visual effects and DI.”

Spirit Press: Screen Daily

Are you sick of these yet? Here's an article on Screen Daily about, er, "The VFX genius behind The Spirit."

As for himself, meanwhile, Maschwitz, who is also an experienced commercials director, is developing his own screenplays and hoping for the chance to direct a feature. Making his second-unit directing debut on The Spirit, he enthuses, "was about as much fun as one can have within the confines of the law".

Spirit Press: Current TV

Gabriel Macht plays The Spirit. His brother, Ari, is a producer at Current TV. They decided to team up and interview me for a Current Tech piece on The Spirit's visual effects.

As the film's Second Unit Director, I would occasionally get to work with Gabriel, especially when stunts were involved. This meant that for the first few weeks of shooting, Gabriel came to associate me with being covered in mud, strapped into a harness, hung from wires, and slammed in the crotch with a giant wrench.

This video, I believe, is his revenge.