Solving Creative Problems Creatively
CreativeCOW presents Solving Creative Problems Creatively -- Cinematography Feature All rights reserved.

Vintage Corvette Didn't Get Wrecked by Bandito Brothers

The first time that I ever received any notoriety for anything I contributed to the world of post-production was on the film I met my partners on, Dust to Glory. It's a feature documentary co-edited by Scott Waugh and co-produced by Scott Waugh and Mouse McCoy in 2004, and released by IFC in 2005.

The poster for Dust to Glory. Courtesy Shane Hurlbut, Hurlbut Visuals.

This was right about at the birth of HD editorial, and we were really just trying to solve a problem. We had a ton of great footage, and we wanted to make sure that it made its way into the movie: fifty-five cameras shooting 35mm, Super 16mm, HDCAM, DVCAM, mini DV, and more.

What happened on that film sparked an ideology in us which became the foundation for the work ethic and the approach that we take as Bandito Brothers: very aggressive, hands on, always asking, what is the absolute best tool for the job? Let's use that tool, and then if we have problems, we're smart enough to figure them out.

This is exactly what happened when the Canon 5D Mk II came out. There were no established workflows when we started work on Act of Valor in 2008, and started shooting in the spring of 2009. (Directed by Waugh and McCoy, the cinematographer was Shane Hurlbut, ASC.)

Act of Valor is a full length feature film starring active duty US Navy SEALs who work to thwart a terrorist plot against America, shot on three continents in 35mm and HD using up to 15 5D cameras. That camera was built for our company. We're a bootstrap, super aggressive and super ambitious, and not this big company with a bunch of structure that hinders creativity.

Title graphic and above, shooting Act of Valor. Please click on image above for larger view.

My technology director, Mike McCarthy, was constantly testing the DSLR files, putting them in the theater, and looking at them on different monitors and seeing where things fell off. We shot a ton of footage in a RAW (read: flat) color profile, and then when we tried to color correct it, we realized that we were taking the wrong approach. In a RAW color profile, there wasn't enough information to hold on to. In further testing the 5D, we realized that it had the full range color, not just 16 to 235 like most 8-bit digital cameras.

We also saw that when we applied a base look while shooting, we could tweak it to our liking in color correction. This seems obvious now, but it certainly wasn't three years ago.

What we learned about using the 5D for feature film production wasn't just about that camera. It was about taking creative approaches to solving problems and constantly having high expectations.

Bandito Brothers' work on the BMW ad. Please click on image above for larger view.

If you're working for someone, it's not your job to convince them to work on your platform of choice. As a service company, it's your job to provide the services that they ask for. And as our company has grown, we have an increasing demand for work on both platforms.

The cross-platform mentality that we have adopted in order to "play nice with others" has been working well for us, because in our three primary client editing rooms, we have a Mac Pro and we have an HP Z800. We are mostly running Avid Media Composer on the Z800; infrequently, we will run Final Cut Pro. We rarely are conforming, finishing, or building our After Effects finishing projects on anything but the Z800.

Bandito Brothers' Jacob Rosenberg on the set of the independent feature Tinsel. Please click on image above for larger view.

Our computers are currently split approximately going with HP from the beginning is that the performance for the price makes it such a strong value.

The other thing is that, when we were starting out, there were no real time HD solutions on a Mac. They just didn't exist. Sure, you could playback a timeline with exact files, but there were no hardware accelerated solutions that had effects, titles, transitions, etc and could pipe it out the SDI without rendering. 2007 is not that long ago, but in terms of what I'm talking about with HD playback, it's like the dark ages.

So, for about 2 years of our business, we edited in HD, in Adobe Premiere pro, in real time, SDI in and out with Matrox hardware to a projector in a big room, and the client experience was really captivating. They weren't looking at this little box. It was the cornerstone of what I wanted the Bandito Brothers post experience to be like. It was just a matter of pragmatism at that point, knowing, "Okay, everyone wanted to come back because there's a great vibe in the room, and everything WORKS and it looks great."

Bandito Brothers "pipe-ramped" a Corvette into the air, flipping a few times before landing center-stage in a bullfighting ring. Please click image above for larger view.

Frame from the iconic spot, Mountain Dew "Keys." They had one take to get it right -- that is, only one car they could afford to destroy -- and they nailed it. Please click on image above for larger view.

As our business started expanding, though, we had editors coming in who needed to use a tool in the heart of the skillset, which is why we ended up buying Avid Media Composer. We wanted to be able to run it on the same systems we were using for Adobe Premiere Pro and the Creative Suite, which for us was the HP Z800.

Again it wasn't some master plan. It was sort of we fell 70-30, HP to Mac, but when we started our company in 2007, we were actually a Windows-only shop. It wasn't an issue of being anti-Mac. We could just get more computer for less money, with a lot more options for upgrading and expansion. Our reason for into seeing that HP workstations were the right financial decision that supported the infrastructure that we were creating. At the same time, though, we're letting clients drive our platform choices, and working with the platform that best solves a specific problem.

This extends to how we see service bureaus. If I need to do a lay back to HDCAM SR tape, I don't want to do that in my facility. I want to edit, and just kick out a file. The layback facility that we use -- and most of lay back facilities around town -- wants ProRes 4444, or they want an uncompressed MOV files, so today, we have 4 Mac towers, one iMac and a Mac mini.

I see Macs as really beautiful, really powerful machines, but I also see that they have certain performance and expansion limitations. Right now, the iMac + Thunderbolt configuration is seemingly more robust than the current Mac Pro towers, so go figure.

Scene from Act of Valor. Please click on image above for larger view.

We'll continue to base our business on HP workstations, and we'll continue to creatively meet every need our clients have, on whichever platform they prefer.

Act of Valor trailer

Photo Credits from Act of Valor images: Courtesy of Act of Valor Productions. Copyright 2011 Relativity Media, LLC. All rights reserved.