LOS ANGELES — Award-winning director of photography Jim Bagdonas has embraced remote collaboration, but notes that the secret sauce that makes the process work is personal relationships.
“People obsess about the new technology and how they can manipulate it,” he notes. “But at this stage and at this level, you assume people know how to use the equipment. It’s interpretation, not technology, that’s the key — and that’s an intangible art that relies on knowing the creatives you work with, trusting them and learning how to speak the same language of color.”
To close this gap between tools and talent, veteran post production executive Frank Bluestein launched a creative operation that blends next-generation technology with traditional levels of customer service and collaboration. Visual Data Creative Services (www.visualdatamedia.com), offers a full suite of post production disciplines to studios, producers, platforms and broadcasters. The new division of Visual Data Media Services launched last summer with two prestigious TV projects from Twentieth Century Fox Television: The CBS comedy series Life in Pieces, and the Emmy Award-winning Modern Family, for which Bagdonas is DP.
The appointment of VDCS to provide the post production and color-correction services — remotely — on the latest season of Modern Family reunited Bagdonas with VDCS’s top colorist, Russell Lynch. The two men had previously worked together on five seasons of the hit show, during which time they developed not only a close working relationship, but also their own color vocabulary.
“Jim and I have spent so much time together that he doesn’t need to be sitting next to me for me to know what’s in his mind,” Lynch says. “For example, if he says ‘blue’ in a certain context, I know instantly that he’s thinking light blue, not dark blue. That’s not something that technology, however state of the art, can do for you.”
And there’s no question that Bagdonas and Lynch are working with some of the industry’s top tools. The pair collaborate using the latest Da Vinci Resolve 12 color correcting software, which allows shows to be edited, color corrected, finished and delivered within one scalable, resolution-independent system. The recently-upgraded suite includes 80 new features for professional editing and color grading, from creative editing and multi-cam production to high-end finishing and color correction.
Bagdonas and Lynch’s almost telepathic understanding of each other’s color palettes has been invaluable over the past few months, as the two creatives work together — from different locations — to bring home the 24-episode seventh season of Modern Family.
“This is the first time we’ve worked remotely,” Lynch says, “and it’s been transformative in terms of speed and convenience. Instead of having to schedule a session and drive to the facility, all Jim — or the producer or director — has to do is walk into the production office next to the stage and look at a monitor to see exactly what’s going on. He can do that at any time of the day or at any point in the production process, right up to the end. If we need to drop a shot into the show at the last second, we can do it without flying blind in terms of quality, density and balance. That’s major.”
While Lynch says that configuring a remote set-up is not a major technological challenge, it is still tricky to do it right. Bagdonas cites an early issue on Modern Family with calibration between the on-set and off-site monitors.
“I told Russ the colors weren’t right my end, even though there appeared to be nothing technically wrong,” he says. “Again, it comes down to the relationship. Russ trusted that, if I said the color wasn’t right on my TV set, it wasn’t right. There was no discussion. He instantly came out and sorted it. For me, it’s that combination of talent, technology and service that sets VDCS apart.”
For Frank Bluestein, this is vindication of his ambition to “take the best technology and harness it to impeccable service to maximize the client’s creativity.” He adds, “We all have similar technology and several post houses are now offering remote services, although few in reality have perfected the set-up. It’s clear the equipment has to be right, and ours has been tested to the ‘nth degree to ensure that it’s as bulletproof as possible. But the real story here are the new possibilities that digital is opening up for collaboration between DPs, directors and colorists.”
Bagdonas agrees — but with one provision: “There’s no substitute for face-to-face communication. I’d advise any DP or director thinking of working remotely to sit down with the colorist first. Before you move forward, you have to be speaking the same language. It’s a learning curve and it doesn’t happen instantly. Remote doesn’t mean you can do away with the human aspect. Quite the opposite.”