“ClearView Flex improved by leap and bounds during the crisis. More facilities started using it. Without it, I’m not sure where we’d be”
Influential documentarian Ken Burns has made many landmark films in his four-decade career including the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge, The American Civil War and The Vietnam War. His latest work is 'Hemingway', a three-part, six hour series made for PBS with producer-director, Lynn Novick, exploring the life and work of the legendary writer.
Like all of Ken’s work, it is produced by Florentine Films, the production company he set up in Walpole, New Hampshire, with fellow filmmakers Elaine Mayes, Lawrence Hott and Roger Sherman. Each member works independently, but releases content under the shared banner of Florentine Films.
“We’ll never run out of stories,” said Daniel White, post-production supervisor, Florentine Films. “We’ll have half a dozen in the hopper at various stages of production. I’ll be leapfrogging from film to film to film. There’s always something going on.”
In February 2020, Daniel was working on a restoration of Ken’s marathon 1994 documentary 'Baseball' when Covid started to shut things down.
“We had to very quickly figure out a solution to be able to continue colouring remotely with Technicolor PostWorks, New York. Right away we tested ClearView but it just wasn’t quite ready for what we needed. Within a month Sohonet had ramped it up including with 5.1 audio and we tested it again.”
- Daniel White, post-production supervisor, Florentine Films
Daniel sent LG C9 55-inch monitors to PostWorks for it to calibrate to professional standard. The facility shipped them to the homes of Florentine’s post team who, in the meantime, had equipped themselves with the latest version of Apple TV and upgraded to the fastest local internet speeds.
“With ClearView, everyone who works at Florentine Films was working remotely on the project,” said Daniel. “Suddenly, we were able to stream directly from the post house to do colour and titling sessions. We were pretty impressed at being able to do it remotely. Usually, we’d send our editors and producers in and out of the edit facility to sit with the online editor. The travel would be expensive and disruptive to our families.”
While Daniel was in his basement office in Keene, New Hampshire, colourist Jack Lewars was at home in Brooklyn. “We were streaming remotely and doing colour grades,” said Daniel. “It looked terrific and worked smoothly - essentially like a Netflix stream.”
A similar workflow applied to the show’s sound mix. Re-recording mixer Joshua Berger had a ClearView box at his stage at Harbor Picture Company in Manhattan streamed to Hemingway’s sound editors who were remote at home.
“We had one of our dialogue editors in Ithaca, New York listening to streams played out of Harbor in Manhattan. When we did our mix playbacks we had picture and sound coming through in sync and at cinematic quality via ClearView Flex. We pay a lot of attention to detail on both the picture and sound side and being able to accomplish all of this hundreds of miles away from our mixer and colourist was remarkable.”
The pandemic made access to the archive of Hemingway’s manuscripts, correspondence, scrapbooks and photographs housed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston a little tricky. As a result, some of this material requiring a 4K scan came in at the last minute but still the project finished on time and on budget.
“ClearView Flex improved by leap and bounds during the crisis. More facilities started using it. Without it, I’m not sure where we’d be.”
Daniel has already moved onto other Ken’s projects on subjects as diverse as Muhammad Ali, the American Buffalo and the holocaust. Even as the pandemic eases the most immediate concerns of working in a facility, remote solutions have opened up a flexible work environment that won’t be reversed.
“Now that we have these tools in the future we won’t need to travel as much,” commented Daniel. “If we’re setting looks it would be nice to sit in the room with your colourist directly or to point to something on a screen to your online editor. Many people will want to do their final review in the facility too. But for two thirds of the process, including titles or graphics sessions, you can do it from the comfort of your couch."
The regular workflow for Daniel and the production team is to have Zoom open on one screen to chat and while sound and picture is streamed from the sound house or finishing facility.
“I can tell the online editor at PostWorks to ‘pause right there’ or ‘can you back up five seconds’ or ‘let’s look at that graphic again’. I can ask the colourist to darken this or that area or make that parchment paper a little bit warmer." said Daniel. “By contrast, for all of us to schedule something where we all had to be in Manhattan at the same time and figure out hotels and travel and food took a lot of time and expense. Just being able to text each other ‘let’s do a Zoom at 11am tomorrow’ and set up a ClearView session very quickly has more than paid for itself in just one person’s travel costs alone.”