Taking Woodstock: Small Family Drama, Precise HD Editing
Director Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock gives us a twist on the Woodstock legend by focusing on relative unknown Tiber, a then 34-year-old local who helped broker the concert deal by landing the last-minute legal permits to hold the event.
Mention the word “Woodstock” and iconic images from the 1969 concert come to mind. Jimi Hendrix playing the national anthem; Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome”; and the unwieldy crowd with its drugged-out hippies, bandana-wearing teenagers, and half-clad revelers playing in the mud. And remember Elliot Tiber? Maybe not. Director Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock gives us a twist on the Woodstock legend by focusing on relative unknown Tiber, a then 34-year-old local who helped broker the concert deal by landing the last-minute legal permits to hold the event. Tiber was the man who introduced concert producer Michael Lang to farm owner Max Yasgur. The rest, as they say, is rock-and-roll history.
Based on Tiber’s memoirs, Taking Woodstock takes place just beyond the borders of the mega-cultural event, a few miles from the concert site. “It’s really a humorous little family drama with 500,000 extras,” says editor Tim Squyres about the film, which follows Tiber’s trials as he faces conflicts with the concert producers, the townspeople, his friends, and his family, who owned a local motel.
The split screens added a level of fun … We used Picture-in-Picture in Media Composer to cut those scenes.
Woodstock as Backdrop
The film was shot using a variety of film gauges, including Super 35mm, 16mm, Super 16mm, and 65mm. “The different gauges helped to reproduce the authentic look of the Woodstock event and of the Woodstock documentary [that so many people are familiar with],” says first assistant editor Mike Fay. “We originally intended to use stock footage of crowds, but we shot them all instead. Media Composer handled all of the different gauges beautifully.”
Squyres edited the first assembly at his home using Media Composer software on a MacBook Pro laptop. Footage was telecined to HDCAM and digitized to the Avid DNxHD 36 format, which offers compact storage of crisp HD images and was essential for laptop-based HD editing. Avid DNxHD 115 was used occasionally for detailed wide shots, often for crowd scenes.
After the rough cut was complete, Squyres and Fay each used a Media Composer Nitris DX system connected to a 50-inch plasma monitor in their editing suites, while second assistant editor Fred Northrup used Media Composer software for prepping media. All three systems were connected to an Avid Unity MediaNetwork shared-storage solution with 4 TB of storage for simultaneous sharing of projects and media. Multiple Pro Tools|HD and Pro Tools LE systems were used for sound editing, sound effects, music editing, dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, and mixing. The easy interoperability between the picture editing and sound systems helped streamline the overall post workflow.
A Digital Trip
The film plays homage to the classic Woodstock documentary through its use of split-screens, which helped ground the film in the late 1960s. “The split screens added a level of fun,” says Squyres. “We used them in the opening credits – and then we used them again when chaos starts at the concert. We used Picture-in-Picture in Media Composer to cut those scenes.”
The music offered another quick entrée into the era and the characters’ lives. While the main character, played by Demetri Martin, never quite makes it to the concert, he does travel through the outskirts of the venue. The music, the performers, and the crowd were running background elements in the film.
“One of the biggest challenges was getting the ambience of the music in the background, but having it still be recognizable,” says co-supervising sound editor Phil Stockton of New York-based C5 Editorial. “There was also a lot of Foley work – people were walking past; cars were backing up slowly. There was one long shot with the main character traveling through the crowd, riding on the back of a motorcycle. We go by all of these people – nuns, people selling drugs, campers with their counselor, people doing a political play. We panned by each to make it feel like you were passing by.”
The more we could do ahead of time in Pro Tools, the less time we had to spend in the final mix at a higher rate.
An acid-trip scene with three characters in a Volkswagen van used a variety of audio and video effects to create the feeling of a hallucination. The original material, shot in 65mm, provided an optical depth and granularity that could be manipulated using CG effects to produce a surreal quality. The Media Composer software’s audio capabilities, particularly routing levels and panning, were used to mimic the characters’ drug-induced point of view. “We would selectively take sounds and quickly move them to the right, and then snap them back to the left - all in a couple of frames,” says Squyres.
For the final sound design, various Pro Tools plug-ins added a dynamic feel to the scene. “We used lots of Waves plug-ins like Enigma, which has various filters that can tweak and delay time and resonance to make everything sound very spaced out and weird. We also used [Waves] Mondo Mod, [Bomb Factory’s] Moogerfooger and Digidesign’s ReVibe,” says assistant sound editor Larry Wineland.
Another sound challenge involved group ADR to match lines of dialogue to the lips of hawkers stepping out of the crowd to speak. “We had young people came in to do ADR, but they didn’t live in the hippy era and didn’t know the jargon,” says Stockton. He played some scenes from the Woodstock documentary for them to study, which helped them with their lines.
Co-supervising sound editor Eugene Gearty pre-mixed the ADR on his Pro Tools|HD system to handle the balancing, pans, and other treatments. “The more we could do ahead of time in Pro Tools, the less time we had to spend in the final mix at a higher rate,” says Stockton about the mid-budget film.
The editors output Avid DNxHD media with all the temp effects to HDCAM tape for full theater screenings and previews. “This is the best way I’ve done screenings,” says Squyres. “It’s fast and the image quality is great.”
The result was a different perspective on the Woodstock phenomenon that may surprise viewers. Whatever people think about the Woodstock concert, this is a cool take on a personal interest story,” says Wineland. “It’s about one guy and what he did to make the concert happen. It was a huge event – really out of everyone’s hands at some point, like a big ball rolling down hill. But once the concert happens, it was really joyful and fun - even lighthearted. I think the film really shows that.
Use an integrated digital audio, video, and shared-storage workflow to handle the post work of a mid-budget Hollywood film with sophisticated visual and sound effects.
Use Avid Media Composer Nitris DX systems with Avid DNxHD media to cut and screen high-quality, low-bandwidth HD images.
Use Pro Tools|HD and Pro Tools LE systems for all sound editing and mixing.
Camera: Super 35mm, Super 16mm, 16mm, 65mm
Editing: Avid DNxHD 36 and 115
Mastering: Digital intermediate to 35mm