Friday, March 25, 2011

Swimming Upstream at ZAP for PBS Nature

Salmon : Running the Gauntlet
A Sea Studios Foundation Production for WNET/NATURE. Airing on PBS Sunday 8pm, May 1. Check local listings.

Mark Shelley, founder and executive producer at Sea Studios in Monterey spent four years putting together this remarkable 60 minute documentary that examines the folly of humans damming wild salmon habitat throughout the west and then going to extreme measures to preserve the fish by raising them in hatcheries and trucking and barging the fingerlings AROUND the dams to enter the sea. The footage is spectacular; the specie's life cycle is even more amazing than you had previously thought and sad to say, the future looks pretty bleak.

ZAP provided online finishing services including color grading and HD mastering for THIRTEEN WNET in New York.

Here is a statement from the filmmaker:
Salmon: Running the Gauntlet celebrates one of the world's most incredible animals, with a remarkable and vital role in sustaining millions of square miles of diverse ecosystems - and whose imminent disappearance will have profound effects for the richness of life in the pacific northwest. Salmon: Running the Gauntlet is the story of a creature at once resilient and fragile, manipulated and wild. It is one of the nature stories of our time - not just of what we destroy, but how we try to save.

August to June Goes Tri-Lingual

Tom and Amy Valens' wonderful documentary, August to June was completed at ZAP last September. Over the past six months, we have been in a raging national debate on the state of public education: the achievement gap between rich and poor, the role of teacher unions and school boards, the place for charter schools and other alternatives. Yet "August to June" examines an elemental part of this...the teaching process itself, focusing on one year in the life of a classroom as master teacher Amy Valens teaches the "whole child" for the last time and reflects on her career in a beautiful nuanced way.

After 30 years of watching the public open classroom where his wife taught, and admiring at a distance the model for learning that evolved, Tom Valens couldn’t miss the opportunity to film her last class from beginning to end. And so he was there the day school started and many days thereafter: one man with a camera and a tripod, trying to stay out of the way as kids skipped from one activity to another, listening on headphones for events in other parts of the building, and sometimes rushing, tripod in hand, only to arrive at the action just as it ended.

Slowly but surely kids came into focus. Tom captured their relations with each other, with their teacher, with learning. The film is not meant to suggest there is one right way to teach. Instead, it shows how one unconventional classroom puts schoolwork inside a larger picture, bringing into focus a broader vision of what education should and can be.

ZAP helped our old friends Tom and Amy with some film finishing details and we created a DVD edition in November. Recently, we helped the filmmakers prepare a special tri-lingual DVD version with subtitles in Spanish and French.

The Power of Two - Marc Smolowitz's New Documentary

"The Power Of Two" is a new documentary film based on a remarkable memoir by the Stenzel twins, Anabel Mariko Stenzel (“Ana”) and Isabel Yuriko Stenzel Byrnes.

The film was directed by San Francisco-based Marc Smolowitz, one of the producers of the 2002 documentary "The Weather Underground." The film was edited by Matthew Sultan and Thomas Eugene Green. Gary Coates did color grading. Sound post by Berke Sound.

ZAP supported the filmmakers with post production consultation, HD mastering and deliveries.

The 90 minute documentary was filmed at nearly 20 filming locations, following the Stenzels on their quest to raise consciousness about organ donation in the U.S. and especially in Japan. You can read more about the twins remarkable story at their website.

Here is an excerpt:

The Stenzel Twins

Anabel Mariko Stenzel (“Ana”) and Isabel Yuriko Stenzel Byrnes (“Isa” – pronounced “ee-sah”) are identical twins who were born in Los Angeles in 1972 to Japanese and German immigrant parents. At three days old, Ana and Isa were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a fatal genetic disease that impacts the lungs and pancreas; their doctor told their parents they would be lucky to live to reach 10 years of age.

For decades, Ana and Isa struggled to maintain their health with rigorous daily respiratory and digestive treatments. Working together, they survived and thrived into adulthood, graduated from college and graduate school, started careers as a genetic counselor (Ana) and social worker (Isa), and developed loving relationships.

In their mid-20s, however, the twins’ health began to decline precipitously. Every breath was difficult. Many of the activities they loved, including hiking and traveling, tried the limits of their stamina. Their passion and will to live remained but CF was relentless.

There is no cure for CF. But, in their darkest hour, when their ability to breathe was leaving them, Ana and Isa received the gift of new life and new breath in the form of double lung transplants in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

Because of the generosity of their organ donors James and Xavier, and their donors’ families, Ana and Isa have survived and are thriving with their new lungs. Their post-transplant activities have included running a half marathon, climbing a 10,000 foot mountain peak, swimming and running in the U.S. Transplant Games, traveling across three continents, and writing their memoir, “The Power of Two: A Twin Triumph Over Cystic Fibrosis,” which the University of Missouri Press published in late 2007.

Ana and Isa’s experience has influenced them to cherish the following values:

1. Each human interaction is a cherished blessing.
2. Illness has great potential to teach awareness and appreciation of life.
3. Life is too short to not appreciate every moment- the good and the bad

A Fierce Green Fire - History of the ECO Movement at ZAP


Mark Kitchell's new ambitious documentary series, a history of the environmental movement from "Silent Spring" and the Sierra Club through Love Canal, Greenpeace and the current global warming consciousness is in the fine cut stage here in the Presidio. ZAP has been providing the filmmakers with exotic solutions to the problems that come with integrating media from over 4 decades and six continents. Up-rezzing and improving archival video and general post production advice.

Mark is best known for Berkeley in the Sixties, which won top honors and has become a well-loved classic, one of the defining documentaries about the protest movements that shook America during the 1960s. I've known Mark for several years; I was one of many who helped prep 16mm footage for his "Berkeley In The 60's" when I worked for a time at an independent film studio on Mission Street in the mid 1980s. Then, in 2000 when I was preparing documentary shorts for "The Godfather" on DVD for Paramount, I was filming the great production designer Dean Tavoularis on the Lower East Side talking about the Sixth Street location for The Godfather, Part II (filmed in 1973). I was remarking that there was no "behind the scenes" footage of the original photography, and Dean said "too bad you can't find that kid's student Mark something or other, skinny tall kid, long hair...NYU film student I think..." That led me to Mark Kitchell, and his great student film "The Godfather Comes to Sixth Street" from which we licensed clips for our documentary short.

Here is a synopsis of the project from the Fierce Green Fire website:

A Fierce Green Fire is the first film to take on environmentalism as a whole, to bring together all the parts and eras, from conservation to climate change. It explores how the issues built into an international cause, the largest movement the world has ever seen and perhaps the most crucial in terms of what’s at stake. It’s not easy being green – every battle is against the odds. We focus on successes: halting dams in the Grand Canyon; rescuing the people of Love Canal; saving whales and the greatest rainforest on earth. However, we also look at how the struggles continue and the issues grow in scope until it’s an open question whether they’re too big for the environmental movement to deal with. Our approach differs from the usual environmental documentary in two ways. First is our focus on activism. We reveal the issues by showing how people acted on them; it’s a more engaging approach, emphasizing drama and passion. Second is our emphasis on the big picture – connections, core ideas, what it all means. This film is designed to reach and teach a huge and hungry audience, give them an understanding of environmentalism like nothing before. Now we must all be environmentalists, as Bob Bullard the environmental justice advocate puts it: “There’s no Hispanic air. There’s no African-American air. There’s air! And if you breathe air – and most people I know do breathe air... then I would consider you an environmentalist.” A Fierce Green Fire unfolds in five acts, each 20-25 minutes. E.O. Wilson, the biologist and advisor to the film, suggested focusing on five of the most dramatic and important events and people. In developing those main stories and characters, we discovered each was emblematic of an era and a part of the environmental movement. So we devised an hourglass structure for each act. They begin with the broader context. Then they focus in on the main story, more fully told. Finally they open up again to explore ramifications.erke

Getting Great HD Video from Inferior Source Material



Are you working with a sequence containing a mixture of HD and SD elements and frame rates? Need to deliver in HD 1080i or 1080p24? Perhaps ZAP can help!

We have been testing a powerful image processing system called Dark Energy developed by Cinnafilm of Albuquerque. The system uses sophisticated motion analysis and is great at re-scaling from SD to HD, and is also effective at de-interlacing, restoring original film pull-down, converting between frame rates and speed changes. The spatial module has excellent noise, film grain and scratch removal and texture control. At ZAP, we are exploring whether there is a market for this high-end “better mouse-trap” in the Bay Area.

  • ITEM: We fixed 12 shots in a feature length documentary film recently released theatrically. The film was edited at HD 24P, but had many inserts shot in HDV at 60i with a frame size of 720x540. These shots had been previously converted to 24P HD using an expensive real-time hardware solution. The original conversions were juddery, and degraded the overall look of the film.

  • ITEM: A documentary feature had digitally acquired shots of the sky (in HD) with noticeable banding caused by the small gradient of brightness from the darkest to lightest part of the otherwise flat field. We fixed the problem using Dark Energy’s texture components.
  • ITEM: A documentary film was shot with the Panasonic DVX-100a in 4x3, protected for 16x9. The finished film must be delivered 16x9 HD. Dark Energy allowed us to re-scale the footage blowing it up to 16x9 1920x1080 with greater sharpness and a more natural look than other scalers we tried.
  • ITEM: A clip of analog 1980s home video needed to be blown up to HD, cropped to 16x9, de-interlaced and slowed down to 30% of its original speed. The Dark Energy conversion was a vast improvement over what was done in the client’s editing system.

UP-REZ CLIP TESTS: ZAP can convert your source material to any HD resolution and frame rate. We can provide you with conversions at no charge up to 15 seconds duration for you to compare to the original footage in your sequence. Or we can show you A/B comparisons between your original and converted footage on our HD displays.

You can see an on-line demo here:

ZAP Offers "Digital Direct" HD Screenings at SF Film Centre

A Bay Area Filmmakers' Secret Resource: a rarely used, well-equipped 24-seat screening room in The Presidio. Originally installed in the late 1990s as a film rushes facility with high quality 35mm changeover projection and calibrated Dolby 5.1 audio monitoring, the room has been under-utilized as the number of Hollywood features shooting on location in San Francisco has dropped off to a trickle.

Beginning in November of last year, ZAP took over some of the management and oversight of the facility working in league with the SF Film Centre. Our goal was to ENGINEER an economical way for local filmmakers to screen their works in progress, without having to resort to costly HD tape outputs, or down-grading their film by burning a mediocre screener DVD. We came up with a scheme involving a professional HD Media player that can play back all popular screening formats and frame rates from QuickTime movies delivered to ZAP on a portable hard drive or via FTP. To date, we have hosted around a dozen HD screenings; mostly works in progress, sound mix checks and a few fundraisers and cast/crew thanks screenings.

If you'd like to know more about the facility or the service, you can email, and we'll send you info and a delivery spec.