The Zellner Brothers Return to the 2018 Sundance Film Festival with Their First Western

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson appear in Damsel by David Zellner and Nathan Zellner, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Adam Stone.

by Meagan Keane

posted on 01-22-2018

Brothers David and Nathan Zellner have had a lifetime to hone their filmmaking skills. Growing up, the duo frequently shot home movies, which they also edited, quite simply, without an editing system.

“We would do a take, rewind the tape back to where we wanted to start, and do another take,” explains Nathan. “It was very rudimentary.”

That all changed when the eventual award-winning directors, screenwriters, producers, and actors hit high school. They got their hands on a non-linear editing system — an early version of Adobe Premiere. “It was very old and rustic compared to what we use today,” says Nathan. “But it gave us the opportunity to start assembling footage and play around with editing features at an early age.”

Nathan Zellner, director of Damsel, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chris Ohlson.

What followed was a film degree for David, and a computer science degree for Nathan. Despite their independent studies, the brothers continued to collaborate on film projects. This led to their first screening at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 for the feature film Goliath. They returned to the festival in 2011 with the short Sasquatch Birth Journal, in 2012 with the feature Kid-Thing, and again in 2014, with the drama Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. This year, the Zellner Brothers’ will make the trip to Park City, Utah with their first Western, Damsel.

David Zellner, director of Damsel, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chris Ohlson.

The movie centers on Samuel Alabaster, played by Robert Pattinson, who travels to the mountains to marry his true love. But along the way, Samuel encounters a few unforgettable characters who lend themselves — for better or worse — to his adventure. Starring alongside Pattinson are Nathan and David, as well as Mia Wasikowska and Robert Forster.

“We’ve always been fans of Westerns,” says Nathan. “Westerns are known for their huge American landscapes and untamed wilderness. At the same time, we wanted to give this film the feel of a smaller character piece.”

EFILM converted the film dailies to 1080 QT files, which were handed over for editing. A handful of complicated VFX shots provided by the VFX team as DPX files were adjusted with a one-light color pass in Premiere Pro to match the EFILM dailies so they could see how everything looked together in the edit timeline. “It’s great that the Lumetri Color panel in Premiere Pro has LUTs built right in, so you don’t have to take a project out of the NLE to do color work,” says Nathan.

Past experience with visual effects also came into play on the film, with the brothers using After Effects for quick composites, masking, and split screen for reactions so they could capture just the right expressions for each actor. “We loved being able to use Dynamic Link to jump back and forth between After Effects and Premiere Pro without having to lock in,” says Nathan.

The brothers were particularly excited to see the addition of new label colors in the latest version of Premiere Pro (CC 2018) because a lot of their project organization depends on color coding. The ability to color code 33-days’ worth of raw footage shot with an ARRI ALEXA camera helped the brothers organize sequences by takes. “We were able to determine where everything was based on the color pattern,” says Nathan.

The same held true for audio: the stereo mixes were color coded for easy organization. The Zellner Brothers also depended on the ability to edit audio by subframe and took advantage of being able to mix audio frame rates in Premiere Pro, a standard practice for them. “This gives us a head start because we can pick the best version of a line, replace a word or two from another line, and let the sound mixer know that’s what we want to go with,” says Nathan. “The closer to the end result that we can get it, the smoother it will be for everyone.”

On future projects, the brothers are looking forward to working with the new Multiple Open Projects and Shared Projects capabilities in Premiere Pro to easily jump between scenes and copy clips from one project to another while working collaboratively. For now, they plan to sit back and enjoy another trip to the largest film festival in the United States.

Damsel screens in the Premieres category on January 23, 2018 at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Topics: Creativity, Video & Audio

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