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December 2014
Issue: July 1, 2006

A FOCUS ON INDIES

By: Randi Altman

For many, the first time they noticed Focus Features, the art house division of Universal Pictures, was with the release of successful films like Lost in Translation, Brokeback Mountain and The Constant Gardner. But this studio, operating since ‘02, has many more “little-big” films on the way, such Woody Allen’s Scoop and Hollywoodland, with Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody.

Focus distributes many titles and produces its own; many films run through its pipeline at the same time with the help of VP of post Jeff Roth. And with tight indie budgets, he needs to keep his workflows simple, even when working with DI technology or shooting digitally.

“If it’s a $20 million movie, I have to be very smart in terms of the workflow,” he says. “A lot of directors, DPs or editors might make one or maybe two films a year, where I’ll put my hands on 8 to 12, and as a result I gain a lot of knowledge from what other people have experienced. I also have to come up with a lot of different workflows to suit the different styles of each of the projects, but I can offer my knowledge to the directors and DPs and really hold their hands through these new technology processes.”

Often, it’s a DP’s or a director’s first DI film. “They don’t understand the differences of looking at something in HD or Rec. 709 versus 240 or the different color spaces.” Color space management is a big challenge for Roth, “especially with things like the Genesis camera and understanding what it’s actually capturing. In gamma, out of gamma? Or really getting that what we’re looking at on an HD monitor is not necessarily reflective of what we’ll see on film. You get involved in the color science.”

A new Focus production, Balls of Fury (2007), is being shot by Thomas A. Ackerman on the Genesis camera. Roth says there is a place for digital cinematography depending on the project, though he still loves film’s dynamic range and nuance. But he concedes that Panavision’s Genesis comes close. “It has a very beautiful looking image — we’ve tested it all the way through the pipeline, and you will not notice that it wasn’t shot on film.”

Balls of Fury, directed by Ben Garant, is being edited on Apple Final Cut Pro, another first for Focus. Avid is Roth’s NLE of choice, but Balls of Fury’s editor, John Refoua, had experience with Final Cut and they’re giving it a try. Roth says cutting in DVCPRO HD codec has its positives, especially where dailies are concerned.

He remains most comfortable with Avids. “Avid is 100 percent stable and robust and getting better every day.” Roth plans to work in Avid’s DNX and MXF codecs and will cut a film later this year on Adrenaline HD.