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November 2014
Issue: July 1, 2009

SHOOTING DIGITAL: 'SOUTHLAND'

By: Daniel Restuccio
GLENDALE, CA — John Wells' new crime drama, Southland, is one of the latest primetime series to shoot with the Red camera.
Recently picked up for a second season, the first season's six episodes were posted at Hollywood Intermediate (www.hwdintermediate.com), which created a custom workflow that redefines the expectations for digital dailies, final conform and color correction in the age of the Red camera.
"The questions we had to answer," says David Waters, Hollywood Intermediate  (HI) founder/CEO, "were, 'How do you take Red files and turn them into dailies quickly? How do you take picture and audio and make one file and bring it into an Avid natively without going to tape? How do you give them wide audio, native with full tracks with each clip? How do you give them original timecode from picture and original timecode from audio in a master Avid clip with a one to one match back to both?'"
Waters and Jim Delany founded Hollywood Intermediate in 2003. The long-time friends wanted a facility that was a pure independent boutique. "We saw an opportunity that the true future of the medium was to innovate in a digital realm," says Waters.
With that vision they designed their infrastructure to be more file-based than videotape based. Their proprietary workflow centers on the efficient management and tracking of files from one format to another. "Just about every employee here can work with command line code," Waters adds proudly.
HI honed its Red post workflow working a number of feature films, such as Lindsay Lohan's Labor Pains and Overnight, and on the HD Lifetime pilot for The Amazing Mrs. Novak.
The core of their approach is the handling of data files with custom automation to streamline repetitive tasks and speed up workflow efficiency. HI's team of programmers wrote code for Red Cine that better controls the conversion of the R3D files into 2K DPX files, and various plug-in tools for the Filmlight Baselight color corrector.
THE WORKFLOW
Dailies colorist Randy Coonfield brings the DPX files into the Hollywood Intermediate Filmlight Baselight to time the Southland dailies. He uses two references: the previously established "look" of the show and TIFF files that director of photography Jimmy Muro sends from the day's shoot. Muro worked on the first couple episodes with final colorist Julius Friede, establishing a gritty, high-contrast, desaturated look for the show.
"The whole point was to get a more modern look so it would not look like Law & Order or other cop shows," reports Coonfield. "The efficiency of the process allows me to spend as much time as I feel I need and still meet the demands of the schedule. The end product is not just close to final color, it is final color. This is something I've never been able to accomplish on previous shows."
What walks out the door every day during shooting is an entire digital spectrum of post assets. Hard drives are sent to Southland editors Kevin Casey and Russ Denove, who are based at LA Center Studios. Standard def DVDs are sent to producers and execs at Warner Bros. "We upload Windows Media files on to the DAX Solutions system for Warner Bros. and also to NBC's in-house desktop dailies solution," says Greg Ciaccio, VP of business development at Hollywood Intermediate. "We also send Apple Pro-Res HD files to DP Jimmy Muro and LTO4 archives are made as well."
On the editors' hard drives are Avid bins with DNxHD MXF files and all the production audio, which can run up to eight tracks. Sound editorial is next to picture editorial and shares the same Avid Unity system at LA Center Studios. The assistant editor just loads the files from the hard drive to the Unity and the editors are ready to go. The show is offlined on an Avid Nitris.
After an episode gets its final edit, it bounces back to HI for conforming and final color correction. The unique part of this process is that the Baselight can hold the show in multiple tracks in different file formats. So on one track the Avid EDL is conformed to the DNxHD files and sits on top of a track in sync with the original 4K R3D files. At any point during color correction you can opt to go to those files if you need to finesse a shot a bit more than the DNxHD files can provide.
"Final color correction is more like a trim pass," says Friede. They always have the original R3D files, he continues, to go back to if there's a detail in the sky that they want to have.
For Southland's second season, Ciaccio says they are enhancing the system to provide improved native handling of the Red RAW files to eliminate the transcoding to DPX. "We should see improved quality and time savings for Red as well as projects shot on other digital cameras, such as the Arri D21," he concludes.