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Choppers vs. Drones: The Battle for Cinematic Air Supremacy
For decades, helicopters ruled the sky as Hollywood's go-to vehicle for capturing spectacular aerial shots. But in recent years they've been challenged by drones. Who's winning? I try to find the answer in my latest article for Variety, in which I visit the set of the CBS series "S.W.A.T." as they film an action sequence where star Shemar Moore hangs out the side of a helicopter, and get a demo from leading drone maker DJI.
Also check out the accompanying video (above) that I shot, edited and narrated.
Could Georgia Be the New Hollywood for Young Acting Talent?
Growing up in Atlanta, Shannon Purser showed a passion for acting from an early age, appearing in plays in elementary and middle school, as well as at church. A decade earlier, it might’ve put her on a path to become a theater major in college and maybe one day pursue a professional career in Los Angeles or New York.
But in 2009, Georgia enacted a 30% film and TV tax credit, transforming the state from a show business also-ran, best known as the home of Tyler Perry and CNN, into one of the busiest production hubs in the world.
So when Purser appeared in a showcase with the Atlanta Workshop Players at the age of 16, she was able to attract the interest of Rick Estimond, VP of the local talent agency People Store, which sent her out on auditions, where she landed the role of Barb in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” before graduating from high school and, ultimately, snagging an Emmy nomination. And she did it all without leaving her home state.
Do Tight TV Schedules Put Stunt Performers in Danger?
It was supposed to be part of a routine fight scene. But when 33-year-old stuntman John Bernecker fell from a balcony on the Georgia set of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” on July 12, something went wrong. He missed the safety padding by inches, and his head hit the concrete 22 feet below. He died five hours later in an Atlanta hospital after being taken off life support.
The incident has renewed long-simmering concerns about set safety, especially as they pertain to television. Thanks to the increasing proliferation of original scripted programming on cable and streaming outlets, more and more shows are one-upping each other with movie-quality stunts. But they’re still shot on tight, small-screen schedules (typically nine days for a 60-minute episode), on budgets dwarfed by their big-screen counterparts.
“As safe as you try to make things, and as much as you try to control everything in your power, there’s always going to be a level of risk,” says stunt coordinator Norm Douglass, Emmy-nominated for Fox’s “Gotham.”
Showbiz Heavyweights Take Shots at the Big Leagues, But Not All Score
Sitting courtside, cheering your team on, rubbing shoulders with elite athletes and, hopefully, one day lifting that championship trophy high as the team bathes you in a champagne shower — it’s the kind of thrill you can’t get reciting lines in front of a green screen.
So it’s no surprise to find that an increasing number of celebrities are investing in major league teams, including the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies (Justin Timberlake), Philadelphia 76ers (Will & Jada Pinkett Smith) and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins (Jennifer Lopez, Gloria & Emilio Estefan, Serena & Venus Williams and Fergie). Rapper-actor Ice Cube has taken it a step further, teaming with manager Jeff Kwatinetz to launch their own three-on-three basketball league, Big3, featuring former NBA stars including Allen Iverson.
But veteran Hollywood producer Peter Guber has a word of caution for anyone considering an investment in a sports franchise ...
Oscar Contenders in Production Design Evoke Past, Present and Future
Production designers working on this season’s awards contenders ("La La Land," "The Handmaiden," "Passengers," "Moonlight," "Rules Don't Apply") drew on some unlikely sources to create eye-catching sets that not only provided a stage for the action, but also subtly reinforced the narrative.
Visual Effects Shop Makes Big Bangs for Netflix's 'Luke Cage'
When the writers of the new Netflix series “Luke Cage” included a scene in which the bad guys try to kill the hero by blowing up a building he’s in, they couldn’t have foreseen that it would take a VFX team a total of 130 worker days to make those quick keystrokes come to life.
How HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Keeps Its Characters' Costumes in Order
It’s hard enough for viewers to sort out the hundreds of characters on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Imagine what it’s like for the show’s costume supervisor, Sheena Wichary, who has to keep track of every stitch of clothing (including multiples of the same outfit) and their state of wear at any point in the narrative, across separate units shooting in geographically diverse locales such as Northern Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Morocco, and Croatia.
Wichary used to do things the old-fashioned way: poring over scripts with a ruler and a highlighter. But three seasons ago, she went high-tech with a cloud-based application for the web and smart devices that uses a software algorithm to automate the script-breakdown process. The program, called SyncOnSet, sorts out characters with “all the costume changes and our budget from episodes one to 10,” says Wichary. “This would ordinarily be a two-man job involving weeks of work.”
Variety's 10 Virtual Reality Innovators to Watch
Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are at the center of the tech-entertainment convergence, attracting billions in venture capital and producing near-hysterical levels of expectation. In spite of the new excitement and attention, the people innovating in these fields remain largely unknown to those in traditional showbiz circles and the public at large. With this in mind, we shine the Variety spotlight on 10 VR Innovators to Watch. These are VR and AR pros who are not just pushing the boundaries of gaming and storytelling, but also creating new software tools that will change the way people work and live.
''Alien: Covenant In Utero' Puts Virtual Reality Spin on Fox Franchise
'“Alien” fans have watched a long line of endoparasitoid extraterrestrials bloodily burst forth from the host bodies of unfortunate astronauts since the first entry in the franchise debuted in 1979.
Now, for the first time fans will be able to experience it from the creature’s perspective in “Alien: Covenant In Utero,” a two-minute 360-degree video debuting April 26 exclusively on Oculus.
Virtual Reality in Sports Poses Unique Challenges for Producers
“The average person thinks they’d love to stand on the sidelines to watch an NFL game,” says Cliff Plumer, president of Jaunt VR’s production arm, Jaunt Studio. “They’ll learn that it’s the worst place to stand. You can have an action all the way across the field, and it’ll seem very far away. So how you cover that for VR is much more challenging than traditional broadcast.”
Los Angeles' New Tech Scene Flourishes Downtown
In my article for Variety, find out why digital media companies like All Def Digital, Collab, Evite and Portal A have turned away from Venice, Santa Monica, Playa Vista and other high-rent Silicon Beach hot spots and set up shop in Downtown Los Angeles.
Also check out my companion video for the article, above.
How They Made "Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88"
If you want to find out which YouTubers get ripped to pieces by the undead in the new reality-competition series “Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88,” you’ll have to subscribe to YouTube Red and watch the show on the BlackBoxTV channel.
But if you have questions about how they cast it, where they shot it, the zombie to YouTuber ratio and the behind the scenes techniques employed by the producers to keep contestants and viewers on-edge, as well as plans for a sequel, you’ll find answers in the video above.
Go90's "The Runner" Series Explained
I visit the command center for Go90's "The Runner" and get the lowdown on the mobile-first reality competition series from host Matt Patrick (a.k.a. MatPat), executive producer/Pilgrim Media Group CEO Craig Piligian, and Chip Canter, GM of digital entertainment/Go90 for Verizon.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"/"War for Planet of the Apes" director Matt Reeves isn't a new newcomer to the upside-down simian-ruled world. As a child he was obsessed with the original franchise, launched in 1968 with "Planet of the Apes," starring Charlton Heston. "I had a best friend named Mark Sanderson," Reeves told Film School Rejects. "We'd call each other on the phone and say "Let's go play apes!' We would act out 'Planet of the Apes.' I made a Super 8 movie with the title 'Galactic Battles,'" mixing "Apes" with "Star Wars."
If you want the full story about Reeves' adolescent cinematic collaborations with Sanderson, J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Star Wars"), cinematographer Larry Fong and others, read my blog post "The Real Kids of 'Super 8.'"
What did it take to stage this year's Super Bowl halftime show by Lady Gaga? I don't know. But this piece I did about The Who's Super Bowl halftime show in 2010 will give you an idea.