The In Production Blog

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Michelle Ciotta is the very definition of a jack-of-all-trades, though the female version (Jackie?). Now known as one of the up and coming go to editors for comedy in New York, she took quite a winding path to arrive where she is today.

 

Not initially interested in performing, she rapidly found herself being cast in sketch comedies and short films throughout school and college. Then, on a whim, after seeing a show at the PIT, she began to take some improv classes and as she puts it, “caught the bug”.

 

Fast forward a few years and she is now both an accomplished performer as well as editor. Some of her recent work has even made waves with the folks at NPR:

 

 

 

Michelle initially HATED editing but after accepting a job at a commercial production company, soon found herself becoming increasingly involved in every aspect of post-production. Throughout, she followed one simple plan: just keep learning. At every step, she took the time and whatever help was offered to add more and more tools to her skill set.

 

One of her biggest goals when editing, especially in comedy, is to match the tone and style of whatever the piece of mimicking. Be it through use of color, music or graphics, part of what Michelle’s work so in demand is her high attention to detail and the desire to only release her most accurate work.

 

On a recent Brunch Night assignment, she was tasked with re-producing the feel of a Bravo reality TV show, and as seen by the footage below, her eye was letter perfect:

 

 

In all, Michelle’s work is beginning to be seen everywhere and for very good reason.

 

To see more of her work, check out her website:

 

http://michelleciotta.com/

 

Follow her on twitter:

https://twitter.com/michelleinspace

 

And look for more of her work with UCB Comedy:

 

http://ucbcomedy.com/user/14792

 

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Vinita Nair occupies a very unique position in the American News Media. A daughter of Indian immigrants, she has risen from humble origins in the south and midwest, where she didn’t even want to get in to TV, to now anchoring CBS This Morning Saturday alongside Anthony Mason.

 

Starting out wanting to be a writer, a professor’s advice made her change course and get in to television journalism.  As her career rapidly progressed, she moved around from local news jobs in Illinois, Nebraska and Denver before eventually finding her way to ABC.

 

With ABC’s overnight news program, World News Now, she began to really make her mark, and in fact, during her tenure there, documented some of the bigger events in her own life as well as around the world:

 

 

 

 

Not that long after, she found herself with the opportunity to co-anchor CBS This Morning Saturday and has been there ever since. Along the way, she’s maintained her sense of humor, sense of self and an unwavering desire to continue learning. She’d much rather let her work speak for itself than be regarded as a pretty face and her track record firmly makes that case.

 

Though she admits to not really being in to social media, you can still follow her on twitter:

@VinitaCBS

 

And be sure to tune in every Saturday Morning at 7am EST on CBS to see what she has in store for you this week!

 

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A television remote site has often been compared to a small army invasion and that comparison makes a lot of sense. When that site is being run by a major network, the numbers and resources increase tenfold. And when that site has anything to do with politics, especially Presidential politics, it truly becomes an event on the scale of a major military operation.

 

I had the good fortune to be hired to work on the CBS Democratic Presidential Debate and along the way, took some photos and had some observations to make.

 

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It all starts out so innocently enough. Arriving at the venue, in this case, Drake University in Iowa, several large trucks unload all of our gear. Case after case, quite possibly over 200 in total gets placed in the compound which will very quickly become home base. Then, it begins. As everyone gets there, we all break off in to our groups based on what needs to get done.

 

Technicians ready cameras and all the cables from power to audio to video to internet. All of them must be run from one of the truck’s underbellies, which have thousands of input and output stations. Each truck acts as a literal motherboard for everything that will happen.

 

The carpenters and set design team begin to build the stage that will be used on debate night. Riggers and lighters set up all the framework to hang lights and fly in other needed pieces to get everything up and running.

 

The production team huddles up in the conference and press rooms and begins to script and construct how the debate will unfold.  All of their plans would shift radically after the tragic terrorist attacks on Friday, the day before the debate was scheduled. What was once going to be focused less on global issues became entirely moot.

 

All of this happens in the span of about 4 days. From zero to 100.

 

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CBS partnered with Twitter for this debate, which added some new wrinkles to the setup. Trying to successfully integrate the internet, especially the realtime elements that Twitter represents meant more than a few sudden changes and a lot of brand new ideas of how to channel everything through a main system in order for it all to be coordinated for the broadcast.

 

In a given hour, there would be several “Well, we’ve never tried this before but it should work” discussions. Some worked, some didn’t, but in the end, everything did end up performing smoothly.

 

As with every remote, there was plenty of snacks readily available. As I have written about before, the temptation to load up on sugar and comfort food is high as the hours are long and there are constantly new tasks and fires to put out. More than a few members of the crew readily admit that a diet may well be in order upon our return after the debate was over.

 

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As the debate approached, there was a definite uptick in people from the fringe appearing. Some demanding to be heard. Others to protest. One man gave me his personal manifesto for why HE should be included in the debate:

 

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By the end of that last day before the debate, a perimeter had been set up and people such as this gentleman now had a much harder time getting close enough to hand out his business cards.

 

Some could argue that putting up a barrier seems to fly in the face of democracy as it puts a gap between the people, the press and the candidates but especially in light of what happened in France, security was extremely heightened.

 

Around 4 hours before the debate started, Secret Service did a full security sweep. This basically means EVERYONE has to leave the compound as they take a thorough walk-through of the entire setup. They open any boxes, walk every length of cable and make note of anything that appears out of place. During this time, the crew usually has a large meal together and then spends the rest of the time milling around, waiting to get back in.

 

To pass our time, we, being in the television business, ran another cable line that enabled us to watch some college football. Anything to pass the time:

 

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Finally, the sweep ends and everyone is allowed back in. Thankfully, the entire night went off without much of a problem.

 

One tidbit I will share from my friend who mic’d each of the candidates: They were all talking a bit about their own fitness routines, from doing planks to walking on the treadmill right up until they were about to take the stage. Then, it became all about business.

 

After the debate ended, everyone made a beeline for what is known as “Spin Alley”, the area where surrogates and sometimes the candidates themselves talk to the press and say how they think they did. They almost always have a positive take on everything, hence the “Spin” name.

 

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After all that madness dies down, all that is left is to breakdown. Much like a rock band after a gig, this is not nearly  as energetic as the setup but happens much more swiftly. The setup took the better part of the week but the teardown is done all in the span of a day. Partially because the venue will be needed for classes the next day, partially because the gear is needed for the next event and mostly because everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

As the last truck is packed up and pulls away, it’s like school ending with some of the crew saying goodbye, promising to stay in touch but not sure when they’ll actually see each other again. Yet, the cycle continues, ever onward. What is certain is that everything will only get bigger, crazier and more expansive as the election season really ramps up.

2015 is officially the year of the “Practical Effect“, a return to the world of stunt work, creature creation and all forms craftsmen versus relying almost exclusively on CGI effects.

 

Between the insane visuals in Mad Max:

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To the never ending stuntwork of the age-less Tom Cruise:

Tom Cruise shooting the airplane stunt for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

 

 

To the rumors abound that the new Star Wars will be a throw back in terms of much less green screen:

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This is a welcome return to the lived-in nature of the sweeping epics and space operas of yesteryear. The CGI world has expanded by leaps and bounds, allowing literally anything in an artist’s imagination to take flight but therein also lies the great problem: The ability to suspend disbelief has become increasingly hard.

 

Part of the charm of the epic film and sci-fi thriller is the feeling that it you could still connect  to a part of it, even if its far in the future or in some distant galaxy. The universal nature of the story, the actors, the emotions and the scale of the world created gives the audience the entrance-point in to an otherwise fantastical world full of wonder and mystery.

 

By having a universe that still obeys say, the laws of gravity, by giving weight to the setting, to the characters and to their actions, it prevents the movie or TV show from feeling just like a video game that you’ve put a bunch of cheap codes in. Instead of rooting for the impossible by a superhero, you root harder for the actual human doing the nearly impossible but still just believable enough in a given situation.

 

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Likewise, it allows for a great many master technicians and craftsmen and women to again flex their own imagination and creativity, to give us something we’ve never seen but is still entirely real. The power of CGI is indeed a wonder to behold. The problem is, it leads too many film-makers to use what can best be called “Magical thinking” which if used too many times, takes away any sense of real tension or stakes. If every character acts like a cartoon, the emotional weight is lost.

 

Granted, practical effects take more time and can be costly, but the tender love and care really shows on the screen. Audience members somehow, someway feel a deeper sense of immersion into what is being shown versus just another fully rendered graphic. This is not to say CGI has no place at all. Great CGI work is greatly important. My only argument is a better balance needs to be struck. Going all in one way or the other leads the project to be lacking either enough polish or enough tangible feel.

 

Here’s hoping this trend continues, and if judged by the most important bottom line of all, the box office, there’s a good chance it just might.

 

 

Photo Credits:

 

http://www.wired.com/2015/05/mad-max-fury-road/

 

http://www.thecredits.org/2015/07/10-new-photos-from-mission-impossible-rogue-nation-reveal-epic-stunts/

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/star-wars-7-jj-abrams-introduces-first-alien-character–and-its-practical-effects-not-cgi-9417788.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/star-wars-7-jj-abrams-introduces-first-alien-character–and-its-practical-effects-not-cgi-9417788.html

http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/special-fx-house-speaks-out-on-why-practical-fx-are-being-passed-up-for-cgi-747

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This episode’s guest is none other than film maker and critic Jack Gattanella!

 

Jack, a lifelong resident of Jersey, has always been interested in film. From a young age, when his passion was animation, Jack devoured everything in sight that had to do with cinema. Soon, as his teenage and then college years kicked in, Jack could be found writing and shooting in all of his spare time. Anything to continue creating and exploring his own imagination.

 

Jack can be found on set when he’s not working elsewhere and is able to do whatever job is required. From directing his own work to helping friends and collaborators with audio, producing or even acting (I can attest that he makes a fine and convincing zombie), Jack is a true team-player and someone always willing to lend a hand to get the work done.

 

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One of his most impressive works to date is the completion of his first feature film “Green Eyes”, which he wrote and directed and had its premiere in 2013. The film was screened at a wide variety of festivals and can now be found both in stores and online:

Green Eyes on Amazon

 

Jack also moonlights as a film critic, which enables him to combine his love of cinema with the behind the scenes know-how from a long time on set to give a unique perspective on what is currently hitting theaters or has already been released. Some of his work can be found at:

http://www.film-forward.com/

http://cinetarium.blogspot.com/?zx=5f6a3b48b0ea135d

 

Though unfailingly modest, it is quite clear that Jack is a force to be reckoned with in the independent film world so be sure to look out for whatever he has next!

For more information on Jack and to view some of his film work, check out his website:

http://www.whiplashfilm.com/

 

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Rebecca Vigil has a song in her heart and she is not afraid to use it. Hailing from all over the place (just ask her!) but eventually from LA, Rebecca is a seasoned comedian and improviser who has pioneer her own brand of in your face musical styled comedy.

 

Using just a backing band and the audience’s reactions and responses, she creates a musical journey for everyone to enjoy, oftentimes just from a few sentences and answers. Never one to back down from an awkward pause or heckler, Rebecca does the seemingly impossible, what Wayne Brady always seems to make look easy: create music in the moment.

 

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Having been a recent guest on Brunch Night with Jamie Leelo (Other friends of the show!), Rebecca took me on a timeline of her journey from a game show winner to a New York comedy vet.

 

Her latest project is a combination comedy and love story, which she and her partner are very excited to perform in the upcoming Fringe Festival and has received rave reviews from the Village Voice and New York Times. Further details, and to help fund their dreams can be found on their indiegogo page:

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/send-your-love-our-musical-to-fringenyc#/story

 

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For more information on Rebecca, including where you can see her perform, check out her website as well:

 

http://www.rebeccavigil.com/