Director describes HBO special specs

The movie geeks among you might especially like this interview with Liam Lynch, director of Sarah’s HBO special, We Are Miracles (as well as her breakout special eight years ago, Jesus is Magic). Once you’re past his background, he gives chapter and verse of how he planned and shot Miracles.

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Liam Lynch, director of the Sarah Silverman HBO standup special We Are Miracles, has explored the realms of music, comedy and DIY filmmaking for nearly 20 years. The Ohio native was chosen from a demo song to be part of the first graduating class of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 1994. The school was partly financed by Paul McCartney—Lynch received instruction from the former Beatle and that band’s producer, George Martin. Since then he has written songs with Jack Black and directed videos for Tenacious D., created an enormous number of video podcasts and short films and directed Silverman’s special, Jesus Is Magic, in 2005.

You’ve done so many different kinds of projects. When did you learn how to direct?

Liam Lynch: I have yet to learn how to direct! I never went to director school. I started out in music and I had a top ten hit in England and Australia called “United States of Whatever” and it got me a lot of attention. I hung out with Jack Black for years playing video games. Eventually I wrote some songs with him for [his group with Kyle Glass] Tenacious D and I wrote songs with Jack for the movie School of Rock. I was also making video podcasts and shorts. I made some music videos for Tenacious D.

Talk about directing this special.

It has an opening and closing sequence, and then it’s all one standup show she did in the small room at the club Largo in Los Angeles. The size of the room made it different from other HBO comedy specials, [which take place] in these big theaters where the comic is on a stage six feet higher than the audience and there are 2,000 people in the room. Her audience was 39 people and she was on the same level with them. We dressed up the set with some red Christmas lights to build up the black walls and floor. We also brought in some warm colors and some stage objects and backlights to pop her hair from the background.

We had four RED EPIC cameras: one on either side of Sarah, a close-up camera and one on a small jib arm. Only the operators and assistants could fit in the room. I would sit in another room with the cinematographer, Rhet Bear. The operators were on headsets. I would direct the operators through Rhet. Sarah did two shows: one at 7 p.m. and one at 9. Then she went off and did a movie and I edited [the comedy special]. When she got back, I got notes from Sarah and HBO and other people involved and did another pass.

You edited yourself?

Yes. I cut in Apple Final Cut Pro 7. I don’t like FCP X. I hate iMovie and FCP X seems like a dressed up iMovie. I’ve been using Final Cut since 2000 and I think it’s rude what Apple did to so many professionals who rely on their software.

Did you have any trouble working in 7 at this point?

No. I transcoded everything to ProRes 1920 x 1080, which was the resolution we’d deliver in. I basically did it as a multicam edit. I lined the four cameras together based on the timecode. I didn’t change the order of the jokes but I did cut between the two different performances.

Why?

The crowds were very different. The first crowd laughed at everything edgy—they had more of a risqué attitude. The second crowd didn’t laugh that much at the risqué material but they died laughing at the plays on words and more punchline-y types of things. A lot of the editing was about cutting back and forth between the two audiences.

How did you approach the opening and closing segments?

We shot those outside, near the theater. David Mullen (ASC) shot them, also with RED cameras. I directed them like I do most things. I storyboard and usually do animatics in 3D too. I do everything myself on a lot of my projects—[Adobe] After Effects, [NewTek] LightWave, a whole lot of 2D and 3D tools. And I use [Smith Micro Software] Poser Pro for animatics and I have a 3D model collection that I use to figure out shots in advance. It saves so much time in communicating ideas.

For these scenes, I just did [freehand] drawings and scanned them into [Adobe] Photoshop. I cut them up and created storyboards that I then used to make a shot list that pretty much dictated our shooting order.

You sound more prepared than a lot of people who did go to director school.

I show up to any kind of shoot super-prepared. I’ve got to have the tools and confidence to be able to answer any questions. I’ve done all kinds of things, from video podcasts to some big music videos, and I’ve never directed a shoot where somebody doesn’t lean in and ask, “Are you sure you want to do it like that?” or “Do you want to be in that close?” There are always people who can make you doubt yourself, so I want to start out super-solid-sure about what I’m doing.

Do you have a preference between the music and the comedy filmmaking?

I get a lot of offers to do both kinds of things, often from the same people. Comedians want to be musicians and musicians want to do comedy, and I help both do both kinds of projects.

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One Response to Director describes HBO special specs

  1. Chantell says:

    AWESOME!!!

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