Filmmakers Cory Taylor and Darin Nellis recently turned to Burbank-based AlphaDogs to help post their new documentary JFK: A President Betrayed. The documentary, which will premiere Nov. 7 on DirecTV‘s Audience Channel, sheds new light on the pressures Kennedy faced during his presidency at the height of the Cold War. Without asserting liberal or conservative political agendas, the documentary focuses primarily on Kennedy’s leadership style and his quest for peace.
During the initial meeting with the filmmakers, AlphaDogs editor and colorist Sean Stack reviewed the technical requirements for delivery along with the varied video formats and aspect ratios in the edit timeline to determine a suitable workflow for the project.
“It was a relief to work with a team that brings a personal touch and interest to the project,” said Taylor. “The facility has a serious yet relaxed atmosphere that’s neither impersonal or factory-like. This was such a relief as postproduction often carries its own stresses and it was nice to work in a comfortable environment with people who give your project their full attention.”
Once the workflow was established, Stack then focused on setting the tone for the film. The process began by completing a first pass on color correction not only to determine problem color areas, but also to view how the images play on the screen to get a feel for the story. A key scene in JFK shows classified documents being sifted through in a dark library revealing new facts and information about events transpiring during the time of the Kennedy administration.
“This is where I found the look for what I wanted to do with the color grading by making the choice to surround subjects in the film with more shadows in the background, making them appear brighter in the foreground,” explained Stack. “In JFK it was important to not oversell the color work, but instead create a consistent look and feel to the story overall.”
“Sean is a talented and hard-working colorist. Certain images that previously lacked luster literally popped from the screen after Sean finished the color grading,” said Taylor. “This was particularly gratifying because we didn’t think it was possible to get as much out of those images as he did.”
In the locked picture, there was an original clip of a nighttime exterior shot of the White House where the American flag was seen flying at half-staff. Taylor was concerned that it would be inappropriate, but didn’t have any other options. “The one night we had a permit to film B-roll of the White House just happened to fall on a day when the president had ordered flags to half-staff,” Taylor explained. “Since this is a sacred tradition for honoring the fallen, we felt it would be disrespectful to use it in the film.” In postproduction, Stack was able to set the flag to full staff by isolating and masking off the flag within the scene, making it possible to move the Stars and Stripes to the top of the frame. Elements were then added to complete the missing section of the flagpole along with careful shading around the seams making it undetectable to the viewer that the waving flag had been moved from its original position.
“It might seem counterproductive to work so hard to have your work go unnoticed. It’s part of the creative process, coming up with solutions in post that get the desired look the client has for the project,” said Stack.
Extra time and attention were given to the details of the sound design due to the historical nature of the film. AlphaDogs audio engineer Curtis Fritsch brought archival footage to life using the facilities extensive sound library, taking time to carefully select specific sounds conducive to the environment and time period.
“It’s important to use historically accurate sounds,” explained Fritsch. “For instance, the camera flashbulbs of that time period have a very different sound and feel than present day cameras. Although a bit more time-consuming it was imperative that I conduct proper research to ensure the sounds used were as close to authentic as possible.” Extra care was taken to ensure that there would be no distractions from Morgan Freeman’s distinctive narration by background noises. Fritsch used the Izotope RX Declicker to remove small nuances, such as the rustling of pages and the acoustics of areas with breathy vocal quality.
“This attention to detail is one of the things that makes AlphaDogs such an exceptional post facility,” said Taylor. “Curtis is an inspired and adept mixer with a great ear. We recently had the pleasure of screening the film at a high-end studio theater and the audio mix was outstanding.”