ASTC 2001 Interview of Woods

The American Society of Telecine Colorists, would like to thank Mark Woods for this interivew.  Mark, as a DP, can you tell us a little about yourself? Your background, your specialties and such?

Mark Woods:

First I would like to tell you how honored I am to be interviewed by your organization. Thank you. I am a 2nd generation Los Angeles person, and a 3rd generation filmmaker. My grandfather, Dwain Esper produced and directed the films Marijuana, Dope Dens of the Orient, Sex Maniac, Birth of a Baby, and distributed Reefer Madness. My grandmother, Hildegard Stade wrote a number of these films based on some of the experiences she had growing up in San Francisco at the turn of the century. She survived the San Francisco earthquake and also coped as a child with an opium smoking uncle in China Town. The two were quite a pair. My father was a still photographer who mainly shot weddings and portraits. The late Vilis Lapinkis, ASC, worked for him in the darkroom as his printer when I was a child. Vilis shot a beautiful portrait of my mother that I still have.

I began shooting stills in 1968 while a student at U. C. Berkeley. I integrated my stills studies with my major in Anthropology and spent nine months on Telegraph Ave., 1970-71 shooting ethnographic B & W photos on one block. The block was between Dwight and Haste.  Some of the stores were iconic, e.g., Cody’s Plaza/Bookstore, Shambala, Café Med, Shakespeare and Co,. etc. At the end of the nine months I had a show of the prints and picked up the University of California at Berkeley as my first big client. I continued to shoot some advertising stills in Berkeley until I moved back to Los Angeles to work with my grandfather buying and selling motion picture equipment. It was through my grandfather I had the good fortune to meet and work for Linn Dunn, ASC, at Film Effects of Hollywood. I worked for Linn for about a year as a gofer who answered the phone and did whatever they asked of me. I also worked with Winton Hoch, ASC, on a special effects piece Film Effects was shooting with Ann Margaret. I shot the advertising stills for that show. I don’t remember why I left, but I found work with Leon Bijou, father of Peter Bizou, BSC. Through Leon, who had also worked at Film Effects with Ron Dexter, I met and began working with Ron at Wakeford/Orloff. Ron is the man who devised, and shot, the expanding star field title sequence of the original Star Trek TV show. He told me that he did 22 passes on one piece of film at varying rates on one of his ball bearing dollies (now evolved into skate board dollies & skate board wheels for other dollies). It took him a week to shoot it.

While Ron became one of my mentors, other Directors of Photography also helped me learn my craft. A few are Woody Omens, ASC, John Hora, ASC, Caleb Deschenel, ASC, Allan Daviau, ASC, and Joe Hanwright. All of these men took time to talk to me about my work, give me advice, show me what they were doing by walking me though the sets they were lighting. This was an amazing time with Wakeford/Orloff. I was right in the middle of it since I the stage manager who had all of these great cameramen come to the stage and shoot. I also was responsible for the cameras the company owned and had to learn what they all wanted so I could make sure that they had it on set. I have to say that the camera packages were much simpler back then. Usually about 5 cases held the camera, lenses, magazines, motor (BNCR camera), and follow focus. The batteries were similar to what is used today. During this period of time I was shooting production stills, advertising stills taken on set, and behind the scenes stills. It was through these stills that many of the Cinematographers could see my skills in stills and, I guess, the potential I had as a Director of Photography. I have to tell you, stills are different from motion, oh boy are they ever different.

Ron was the person who encouraged me to leave Wakeford/Orloff and work as a Director of Photography. I took his advice and opened a still studio on the old Columbia lot, now the Sunset Gower Studios. I was there for two years shooting stills lit with tungsten light so I could practice my lighting in stills. At this time I met some of the principals at PSI, long gone now, but they sold me some of their old lights for the price they would get for the recycled metal. I had chicken coops, sky pans, kobola lights, fresnel lights, and a non-metered power box with 700 amps of power. This was a great time to learn and hang out with the current music groups who were passing through the stages rehearsing their tours. During this time I shot the lighting designs of the tour lighting designers on reversal film, and you know what that’s like. I developed a reputation of being able to capture their designs on film, and with that reputation the LDs would modify their designs for the film to get what they designed for the eye. It was fun and I still have some of the those designers as good friends, like Roger Ball who has been lighting Suzanne Sommers for almost 20 years. This was around 1978.

At this time I closed my studio and loaded my lights into my step van and began to work as a Gaffer and build camera rigs. I did this for about two years and was very successful, but working under other Directors of Photography who weren’t as good as my early mentors was very frustrating and fueled my desire to shoot. My first job as a Director of Photography was with the director Dan Lindquist, who had previously been partnered with Sid Avery as Avery/Lindquist. He hired me based on the still portfolio and a job I showed him that I had gaffed. His statement was, “Kid, I don’t know if you can operate the camera, but you sure can light.”

Since my b.g. was commercials, commercials is what I shot. I tried in the worst way to do music videos since I’ve played guitar in bar bands since I was a teenager. But it never worked out. So I stayed in the commercial world. Early on I was shooting commercials for Shick Centers for addiction, price and items for a number of retail chains, then beauty commercials for Merle Norman, still lighting design for Speedo Swimwear, Cole of California, and Pendelton Women’s wear. I also began shooting for Louis Schwartzberg at Energy Productions doing stock footage assignments and also special effects commercials. We did a lot of forced perspective blending into models on set. We did green/blue screen, luminescence keys, and moves that people would swear were done with motion control. It was a lot of fun and very intense technically.

In the mid ‘80’s I began shooting food for Sizzler (2 years), Barbie for Mattel, Denny’s, Wenerschnitzel, Millie’s, Orchard Hardware, Ole’s, Builder’s Emporium, and image campaigns for TV stations, Lowe’s Hotels, Disney, Knotts Berry Farm, and many others. It was a fun time where I stayed very busy, but I really wanted to tell stories visually. I wanted to see a dolly move actually end up in the project, so I moved into low budget films. For the last ten years I’ve been shooting a combination of small movies and commercials. If you go to my website: you can check out some of the things I’ve been up too. I have to say that I love what I do and feel so fortunate to be able to make a living at something I care so much about.

What type of DP work do you prefer (Features, Commercials, Music Videos, etc.)?

Mark Woods:

I really don’t shoot enough music videos to include them in the work I do. Commercials I look at as a sprint while features are more like a marathon. It’s also a different state of mind and a bit of a different form of visual exposition, although I try to shoot my feature work with a commercial “gloss.” One of the reasons I’ve been successful in the longer format is the “Hollywood” look I can bring to a project – even with limited schedules. It’s also fun to arc the look and lighting with the arcs in the script and scenes. I enjoy working with directors on the visual exposition and actually seeing the shots as they are designed appear on screen. In commercials, most of the time, a dolly shot is shortened to just the hint of a movement that cuts to another angle or point the commercial has to make in the limited amount of time available.

Where do you see the role of "Film" in Movie and Commercial Production 10 years from now?

Mark Woods:

If I’m to believe what I read about convergence, a viewer will be able to click on objects on the viewing screen to buy them. I hope there is more to convergence than that! Commercials will probably become more amazing and possibly (with the cost of media buy time) become joint ventures by strategic partners who buy the time and give the viewer the opportunity to click on products to buy or get more information about the company. I’m sure that the colorists and compositing artists will be layering more and more spots so the objects can be isolated to enable the programmers to make windows where the images will appear so people can click on them for purchases.

Mark, you have developed a Testing Method to achieve better Densities for Film Stocks called Lab Aim Density (L.A.D.). Can you give us a brief summary of your Testing Method for our readers?

Mark Woods:

In the early ‘90’s I wanted to do a comparison of different film emulsions, but wanted to have a comparison that could be quantifiable. What I mean is that most tests that are done by many Directors of Photography are done where a scene is shot and a timer times it and the Cinematographer looks at it projected. A similar process is done with an electronic finish where a colorist times the footage, hopefully with the Director of Photography present. It struck me as problematic that there was this third party making a decision that would ultimately affect my perception of the film. So I set out to discover what the labs use for quality control. I discovered that the labs use a system of measuring the density of specifically exposed patches to control their developing and printing processes. John Pytlak suggested the system for the labs in the original paper published in the SMPTE Journal, October, 1976, "A Simplified Motion-Picture laboratory Control Method for Improved Color Duplication” by John P. Pytlak and Alfred W. Fleischer. What I did was to adapt the existing system in the labs to exposing a production negative in a specific manner that can be measured. With this system I am able to determine the specific Lab Aim Density (LAD) for a film, the Exposure Index (EI), and any color bias the film or lenses may have.

The way I do this is to expose a 18% gray card (I use the Kodak Telecine Tool Kit gray card) at the recommended EI and in 1/3 stop increments to one stop above and one below that recommended EI. I also expose the film for Dmax (the maximum exposure density the negative can achieve) and for Dmin (this is clear processed film negative where the density measured is the base plus development fog). I ask the lab to process the negative normal and I read the resulting densities on a densitometer. By adding .70 to the Dmin density of the negative, the LAD of the film can be determined. For example is the density is Red .10, Green .50, and Blue 1.10, by adding .70 to each density you will come up with the LAD of Red .80, Green 1.20, and Blue 1.60. This is working LAD for all of Kodak negative films. Reversals are approximately 1.10: 1.06: 1.03. By achieving a LAD negative one can then print it until a LAD print is achieved. The printer lights that are used to make that LAD print are the lights that the Director of Photography can call out on the camera report to actually see the image s/he has photographed. The LAD gray patch should also fall at about 50% IRE in the electronic world.

Once I know the specific LAD for a film I can plot each of the color emulsions by doing a series of exposures at one-stop increments. The range of one-stop exposure increments is six stops above and six stops below the exposure indicated by the EI determined in the first part of the test. Once I do this, I can see if the color emulsions track parallel. Colorists have seen shadows shift and wondered why. If the color emulsions aren't parallel, there will be a color shift. Years ago I did a test/presentation with ICG Local 600, the ASC, and the ATAS. We did the telecine at Laser Pacific in Hollywood. I was talking with one of the colorists about this test and mentioned a particular film emulsion and how the colors didn’t track parallel. He then mentioned that the facility was experiencing some color shifts in the shadows and the complimentary color shifts in the highlights with the same film emulsion. They thought that it must be some mild electronic problem and developed a software solution. I told him that there actually was a bias in the film where the emulsion didn’t track parallel on the characteristic curve. My solution, when I used that film, was to light the shadows with the complimentary color to diminish the effect.

What kind of work or projects are you currently working on?

Mark Woods:

I shot one film this year (2001) and part of another. One was a contemporary very black humor film titled, “The Rose Technique.” The other was a Western with some current styles like 5285 (reversal film) cross processed as a negative that I integrated into the more normal Western sequences. It’s titled, “The Long Ride Home.” I also shot about a dozen commercials. It hasn’t been a stellar year for a lot of reasons we all know about, although I’m keeping busy enough to keep the wolves away. The only really good thing is that my golf swing is getting better and my handicap, such as it is, is dropping. I have a couple of features pending with some directors I really enjoy working with and I think one or more of those will come through. In the meantime the commercial production house I work with really likes the way I shoot.

Today, Would you consider shooting with HD Video instead of Film?

Mark Woods:

HD is really really good video. I used to do a ton of video commercials in the late ‘70’s. I shot hundreds of price and item shots for hardware stores, you know the special of the week. From that tabletop experience, and immediate feedback with the video monitor, my lighting improved like crazy. My heroes were film DPs, so I kept pushing the envelop on the look. What I discovered is that video is harder to make look good, but film can be very unforgiving if you don’t place your reflected values where you want them, and if you don’t understand color theory as it relates to film. I recently worked with an HD camera and it made really great pictures. The technicians working with me kept asking, “What film do you think that looks like?” And I said, “None. It’s a really great video image.” Film and video are apples and oranges. I look at the two as being different tools to use for visual expression.

Would it be a difficult transition for Film DP's?

Mark Woods:

I think the biggest transition for film DPs will be getting use to the camera itself. As of now the Panavision 35mm Millennium is the only video camera with true optics where you can actually see through the lens and view a little monitor. And we know that the 35mm Millennium isn’t a video camera at all. For DPs accustomed to looking through the lens to evaluate their lighting, it’s going to be a little tougher to adapt. That said, there is always the monitor, but in the electronic realm, monitors don’t all agree. It’s not a perfect world, even on the film side where film projection is about 60 years behind the times, the resolution of the camera negative still isn’t carried through to the show print stage much less the answer print stage. Regardless of the tool used to capture the image, a DP’s work will be evaluated by his or her artistry.

Do you work with a favorite Colorist(s)?

Mark Woods:

Jeez, what a question!! I have to tell you that with 20 years of shooting I’ve worked with some great guys. Remember Action Video? There were some great guys there. At Complete Post I did an archival project for TCM with Sparkele that went really well. I’ve done video mastering at FotoKem with my good friend Greg Peskay. You should talk with him if you want insight about how I shoot. At Hollywood Digital Scott Klien is a joy to work with and always has a great guitar to jam with while we’re coloring the film. I’ve worked at POP, The Post Group, Encore, and how can I not mention Company 3, Digital Domain, and Laser Pacific. I’ve had wonderful experiences at all these facilities and others that are lost in the haze of time. Quite honestly, by shooting my LAD Test and then transferring it I’ve been able to determine the different IRE’s that different parts of a scene should transfer. Since I shot a lot of video in my transition to predominately a film DP, I learned about all of that. It served me well when I would go into a TC bay and look at the scopes and understand the process. I must say that all of the guys I’ve worked with have been extremely helpful and gracious in sharing their knowledge with me about the magic they were doing. I’ve only had two bad experiences and those will remain nameless since I’ve worked with both since then and they understand that I really did shoot the image that way and, regardless of what their opinion was at the time, that’s really what the director and I wanted. I’m actually pretty good friends with one of them now.

What are the "special characteristics" and talents that attract you to a particular Colorist?

Mark Woods:

The characteristics I enjoy in colorists are:
S/he’s excited about visual expression. Is technically as good at what s/he does as I am at what I do. Takes the spirit of what I shot and tries to take it to the next level with their skill and available tools. Doesn’t try to remake my work into something it isn’t. And in that same spirit, recognizes that what I shot may not be to his/her own liking, but tries to put his/her own biases aside to bring the images to life in the way the director and I envisioned them. Must have a sense of humor and not take the business and themselves to seriously.

How much Telecine supervising do you do? Do you prefer to supervise the transfer sessions?

Mark Woods:

I used to do a lot of TC supervising years ago. The agencies discovered that they could save time if I was in the bay. Also, since I test the stocks extensively, I rarely need to be “saved.” I color correct in camera and on set as much as possible since the film will have the best acuity, color balance, and artistic representation.

What Telecine Equipment do you prefer to work with (ex. DaVinci, Pogle, Spirit, Ursa Gold, Cintel, etc.)?

Mark Woods:

I have to say that I’ve been a Spirit fan since it came out. That and the DaVinci, but Greg Peskay at FotoKem has done some amazing work with the Pogle. You know, it’s really the colorist. I guess the old saw about it’s not the tools but the person using them is more true than ever. I’ve had great results on all these systems, although the older Ranks had a noise problem in the highlights that was really annoying. I’m looking forward to transferring film into 2K files for commercials (basically HiDef rez) and 4K for Digital Intermediates. From what I’ve seen, it’s wonderful though I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been posting in the traditional film manner on my recent pictures. Although the commercials are shot on 35mm, they’re all transferred in standard def in a digital format. Since it’s film origination the film can be retransferred in any electronic format.

Do you feel that Feature Colorists should be given credit for their work on final feature transfers?

Mark Woods:

On the pictures I’ve worked the colorist is always given a credit for the video mastering. Why would you not? Also, the film timer is given a credit. As you know the credits run for at least 3 minutes so a good music single can be sold to the public (that’s a joke). But with the credits running as long as they do, all the people connected to the image should get their due credit.

Thanks again Mark, ASTC.

Mark Woods can be reached by email at: 

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