Jeff Flohr on Moving from DIT to DI Colorist with Assimilate Scratch
Jeff Flohr is an experienced New York City DIT — the first in New York to use Scratch Lab as his go-to dailies software for feature films and commercials. Flohr was brought on to the set of Sofia Coppola’s latest feature, The Bling Ring, by DP Harris Savides. Flohr ended up taking over the entire DI for the film as well — an challenging transition from DIT to DI artist — doing the conform, color-grading, compositing, and finishing in Scratch.
Savides was a hero of Flohr’s in film school and eventually Savides became his friend and mentor. From there, they had over a six-year history working together. Savides was one of the first DPs to explore digital filmmaking, quickly adapting to the new format with groundbreaking results. Flohr was in the position to learn first hand from Savides the intricacies and discipline involved to get the look just right.
Coppola’s The Bling Ring is inspired by actual events — a group of California teenagers followed the activities of different local celebrities on the Internet, then burglarize their homes while they were out of town. We asked Flohr about making the move to the DI suite, and how Scratch handled the footage and workflow for the Red Epic shoot.
StudioDaily: What role did you play in the production of The Bling Ring?
Jeff Flohr: Initially Harris brought me on as the DIT for the film, along with Chris Blauvelt as the Co-DP. During our camera tests, we decided that I would do the dailies as well. I worked with Scratch Lab on my Mac Pro for two months in L.A., and since 99 percent of the work was on location I did the dailies after wrap. Harris and Chris supervised the dailies for the first two weeks and I kept the look consistent from there on out.
Harris, Chris and I tested for three weeks until we developed the right formula for the look. We tested lots of combinations of different cameras, lenses, resolutions, and other techniques to beat up the image. Once we arrived at our formula, I used Lab to apply it to the dailies. Harris was adamant about controlling the image throughout the process, as well as working off the RAW files.
Tell us about your experiences with Scratch Lab.
Prior to Lab, I had worked with other dailies programs, which consisted of a hodge-podge of software and hardware specific to each camera system. Lab changed all that. I finally had a professional tool with all the needed functions working properly with all the formats under one hood. I was able to create dailies with proper file-naming conventions, render at high speeds, do high-level color correction, and work in and export to a large variety of formats.
Harris chose the Red Epic camera for the shoot. I had two deliverables for turn-around each morning — I created Avid DNx files for the editors and iPad dailies for Sofia. I also created h.264 files for an online database once a week for the investors’ review. My digital utility, Jeremy Cannon, did an amazing job organizing and sorting the files so I could start coloring and rendering immediately after wrap. I was also using a Red Rocket card so I had four times the usual render speed combined with the array of color-correction and r3d metadata handles offered in Lab. I could also readily organize and manage the massive amounts of data and the looks we applied.
Our footage was shot at various resolutions and then blown up to soften the look. I was able to apply some LUTs on set so that everyone was able to get a clear idea of how the final material could look. I would then load the LUTs into Lab for the dailies and go from there.
What challenges did you face for dailies?
First and foremost, super-long days and little sleep for two months. After shooting all day, it was back to my place to process the material. Scratch Lab helped me get what little sleep I did. I never got those late-night calls with problems and complaints. Lab really enabled a smooth dailies process – it delivered in all respects. It’s one of the few programs to support native r3d files, so I as able to do the dailies directly from the r3d files, which was exactly what Harris wanted.
Controlling the look and negative on set was the top priority with Harris. We only interfaced with an outside lab to screen dailies, which I thought was pretty impressive for a movie this size.
And then you did the full DI. How did that come about?
After the film wrapped and the edit was done, Sofia sent test clips from the movie to several labs to see what they could do and was never fully satisfied with the results. She seemed to be getting concerned, so I offered to look at the test clips and do a color grade in Lab to see if we could do better. I ended up showing her the grades and she seemed pleased.
Sadly, Harris passed away and Chris was shooting another film when it was time for the DI. And then, totally unexpected by me, Sofia asked me to do the color grading with her. I was hugely honored that she had confidence in me and I was excited to be working with her again.
I then had to think about how I was going to pull this off. So I called Sherif Sadek at Assimilate and got a copy of full Scratch, and I was up and running. Because I knew the Lab software so well, I had a short learning curve when making the transition. And having worked day-in and day-out for two months on the dailies, I knew the look Harris, Chris and Sofia envisioned for the film.
What were the challenges and workflow for the DI?
I was taking on the DI for my first big feature film by an acclaimed director and DPs. Aside from the obvious pressures, I did not have a team of people to share all the duties like a facility would — conform, roto, color, etc. There was much more than color-grading to be done, and it made for some very long days, but Scratch allowed me to make it happen.
Sofia and I worked together side-by-side on the color grading for several very long days. It helped that Sofia and I shared the same tastes, and her support and collaboration were invaluable.
The Scratch workflow was streamlined and fast and I also had amazing technical support from Sherif at Assimilate. It was cool to do the conform from the dailies I had created. I was able to conform all the dailies of live action – a significant amount of data – in 30 minutes, which was pretty sweet.
Initially I would do a pass on my Mac Pro out to my E250 monitor, but later go to a screening room to do a pass for projection. Then it was back to my Mac for the compositing, VFX plug-ins, de-noising, applying paint, audio sync, and finishing. All the functions were [in Scratch] rather than going into other programs. All the live-action material was graded in r3d format, except for the VFX and graphics elements, which were given to me in DPX format. These elements did not have timecode, so I used the split-screen mode along with the editor’s guide and dropped them in.
For Harris, and all of us, it was a matter of preserving the look of the film, never compromising the data by moving to another format like DPX. Because Harris wanted us to work only in the raw files, that’s exactly what we did. He would have loved that. I really wish he could have been there to time it with us and see the final result.
How does Scratch measure up as a DI tool? And any final thoughts on the entire production and post-production of the film?
I feel so fortunate to have worked with Sofia, Harris, and Chris. I learned so much from them. All the hard work we put into our testing and dailies process paid off when we got to the DI.
My goal was to make Sofia and Chris happy, and to honor Harris, and Scratch helped me accomplish that. I had one cohesive tool suite to do the dailies, full DI, and finishing. We had other stressful issues during the production, so having software that enabled a streamlined and fast workflow was a great help to me.