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Hollywood’s Picture Head Conducts Round-the-Clock Effort to Prepare Doc for Debut

Independent films often have compressed post production schedules but even by those standards The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom was finished at lightning speed.

Documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker had just completed principal photography in Japan when she received an invitation to debut her film at the Toronto Film Festival. It was a great honor, but it meant that a completed film needed to be delivered in less than a month. It seemed impossible, but Walker and her production company, Supply & Demand Integrated, ultimately made the deadline with the help of Hollywood post house Picture Head, which provided DI color grading, finishing and sound mixing services, in a literal round-the-clock effort.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is Walker’s moving chronicle of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last April. Called a “visual poem about the ephemeral nature of life,” the film shows how survivors in the country’s hardest hit areas drew the courage to rebuild by the arrival of cherry blossom season.

“The cherry blossoms, which announce springtime, arrived on the heels of a horrible disaster,” notes Kira Carstensen, Supply & Demand Integrated executive producer/partner and the film’s producer. “It was beautiful to see the hope the trees gave to people who had lost everything—their homes, their jobs, their friends and their family members.” The film features an original soundtrack by Moby.

Upon Walker’s return to Los Angeles, a post team was quickly assembled. Japanese-born editor Aki Mizutani of Cutters, Los Angeles, was selected to edit the film. “Aki was in Japan when the earthquake struck,” Carstensen says. “She brought a lot of energy and desire to the project. She had felt bad leaving Japan and thought that this was one way she could give back and help the people of Japan.”

Final post work began at Picture Head barely a week before the film was due to be delivered to Toronto. Matthew Flint, Picture Head’s vice president, quickly assembled a post-production team to simultaneously begin the tasks of sound design, sound mixing, graphics production, conforming final picture and final DI color grading. Picture Head is virtually unique among Southern California post facilities in offering both sound and picture finishing services in one location.

“It was certainly a rigorous schedule and demanded a lot of concentrated resources,” says Flint, “but it was well worth the effort. It is a beautiful film and one that deserves to be seen. We were pleased to help get it on the screen.”

Despite the quick turnaround, Picture Head was able to give the film a studio quality finish. Color grading was performed in the facility’s DI theatre by veteran DI colorist Phil Azenzer on a Baselight system. Sound designer/re-recording mixer Mark Herscovitz mixed the film in 5.1 surround sound on a ProTools workstation. Picture Head’s graphics department, meanwhile, created the main title and end credits.

Conforming was done through a hybrid approach. “The film was shot with a Canon 5D, which lacks timecode,” explains Flint. “So, we first conformed the film on a Final Cut workstation and then passed it onto Baselight for final finishing.”

The last post session ran for 24 hours. “We started at 9 a.m. one day and I left the next morning at 9 a.m. with 30 DVD copies,” recalls Carstensen. “It was delivered just in time.”

Although 24-hour sessions are unusual, Picture Head’s workflow was designed for projects like The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom with tight budgets and complex needs. “We were able to give this film a great look and deploy a lot of resources to get it done quickly,” says Flint. “The filmmakers were able to monitor the mix in one room, walk to the DI theatre to see the grade, and also oversee graphics production and finishing. For many independent filmmakers, that is a very compelling solution.”