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SXSW Premiere "Thank You a Lot" Tells a Story of Austin's Music Scene
With Some Help from Local Talent and DaVinci Resolve By Lou Wallace Austin, TX may be known as the live music capital of the world, but it's also home to a thriving video production and film industry that promotes and champions local talent, with members sourcing expertise from within the tight knit community. Austin doesn't just keep it weird; it also keeps it local, which is exactly what Writer/Director Matt Muir and Producer Chris Ohlson did with their feature film "Thank You a Lot." Not only was the film shot in Austin, but Matt is also a graduate of the University of Texas along with the film's DP, Harrison Witt, who teaches courses in advanced cinematography and film production at the university.

When it came time to decide on post production for the film, it was only natural for Matt and Chris to turn to their longtime friends and collaborators at TBD Post, a post production house in downtown Austin. Since 2011, Post Supervisor Ted Griffis and Colorist Brandon Thomas have worked with a variety of agencies, production companies, and filmmakers on commercial campaigns, television series and feature films.

"I've known Matt and Chris for some time now both personally and professionally, and Harrison was actually one of my professors at the University of Texas, so I was very excited to work on the film," said Brandon. "TBD Post always strives to provide its customers with the best results possible, and on top of that, this project was a very personal one for me. I really needed to deliver, and there was no doubt in my mind that DaVinci Resolve would help."

While still a young company, TBD Post has no shortage of work. With six Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve stations spread across three devoted color suites and three assist stations, Brandon relies on Resolve because it is powerful, fast, affordable and scalable. Additionally, the post production house uses Blackmagic Design's DeckLink and UltraStudio capture and playback devices, UltraScope waveform monitoring software, SmartScope Duo 4K monitors and Teranex 2D Processors for standard and format conversions.

Telling Austin's Story
A fictional story familiar to the local Austin music scene, "Thank You a Lot" follows Jack Hand, a hustler and bottom rung music manager with a questionable reputation. His dwindling social circle is made up of his only remaining clients: a hip hop artist and an indie rock band. Jack's next best asset is his talented but estranged musician father, James Hand, a highly respected but reclusive songwriter whose legacy goes a long way in a music town like Austin. When Jack is forced by his management company to sign his musician father or lose his job and threaten the livelihood of his only friends, Jack hustles his way through a vibrant and diverse music scene as he struggles to keep his clients and create a bond with his estranged father. James Hand, a real life traditional country musician, singer and songwriter from Central Texas plays a fictionalized version of himself.

"It was a fun process," noted Brandon. "We initially graded the film for festival submissions, which was a more conservative, flatter pass where the whole film mostly lived in the same space. Then, we had the luxury of time to go back and explore different looks for the final pass. The film examines the seedy underbelly of the music world, so we wanted to make the final grade darker, grittier and dingier to really deliver on the look."

With scenes taking place in a variety of environments, from clubs and dive bars to corporate offices and auto shops, Brandon was tasked with enhancing the naturalistic look, often by making it dirtier.

"Many of the locations in the film are music venues that are typically dimly lit, but Harrison shot with plenty of room for us to work with, so we spent a good amount of time bringing those scenes down and really shaping the light. For scenes taking place in the corporate side of the industry, we made it look a bit slicker than the rest of the film, but Jack's office is still a bit drab. Just because it's not a dive bar doesn't mean it can't be just as seedy in its own way. We really enhanced the environments, such as clubs and bars, that aren't supposed to be spotless and clean. When we escape the city and go into the country, we let things play naturalistic, but we subdued the color palette quite a bit," said Brandon.

Intricate Color, Easy Delivery
According to Brandon, the post production schedule afforded them the time to really finesse the color, and he credits DaVinci Resolve's Power Windows, custom curves and support for OpenFX plug ins for helping achieve the specific looks. "Resolve's support for OpenFX plug ins let me use Sapphire to create subtle light flares to play up sunsets and lighten shots. We had vignettes on almost every shot that were very subtle, and Resolve allowed us to get as intricate as possible," he said.

While much of Brandon's work involved complex color work, he also used DaVinci Resolve for simple clean up and compositing. Using node sizing as a clone patch, Brandon was able to easily remove stray water bottles from a field, replacing them with grass.

"We could fix a lot of things right in Resolve without having to make it a VFX operation. We did several simple composites by creating a compound clip instead of sending the shot out, which saved us time," said Brandon. "We also used the Lightbox and split screen views constantly to compare scenes and shots to each other. These might seem like little things, but they make a lot of difference.

"We used Resolve as our online tool as well. We reconformed the film and timeline, tweaked edits, dropped in titles and end credits, and the VFX plates were originally rendered out from Resolve and then brought back in and dropped on top. It's very exciting that these online tools are there, and the delivery options are simple and effective," he concluded.

"What I love about working with TBD Post is their ability to solve problems, both technically and creatively. Both Ted and Brandon have that uncanny talent 'to find a way to get it done.' 'Thank You a Lot' was a labor of love for all that were involved," said Producer Chris Ohlson. "And it was really important for Matt and I to make sure we found a post partner, on board throughout the entire process, that could manage our media, do the reconform, oversee VFX and deliver a beautiful final grade. TBD Post did just that and delivered above and beyond every step of the way."  

Director Matt Muir added, "Ted and Brandon have an incredible technical knowledge set, but their sense of story, place and character is something you don't always find in a post house. For example, a key feature of our film was the idea that the story often moves from urban to rural settings, and TBD Post proactively designed a subtle visual change to communicate that these characters move from one world to another. It may seem like a simple detail to some, but that kind of artistic support from a post partner is invaluable to us."

"Thank You a Lot" premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival to rave reviews.  The film was acquired by Gravitas Ventures and will see a VOD and digital platform release in June 2014. For more information, please visit http://www.thankyoualotthemovie.com/  

About TBD Post
TBD Post is a post production house in downtown Austin, Texas that specializes in color grading, finishing and creative editorial. Our mission is to enhance the vision of storytellers, from set to screen. www.tbdpost.com / 1+512.772.1552

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Lou Wallace is the founder and CEO of Digital Media Online. During his career he has been publisher and Editor-in-Chief of numerious publications in the digital media market.

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