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July 2014
Issue: April 1, 2013

How Pros Got Their Start

By: Randi Altman
When you look back at what inspired you to do the job you have today, what do you see? Last year when I first tackled this story, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark came up often. This year, it’s a bit different.

While some people believe they were born to do what they do now, others sort of found their way there. Regardless, they all have a passion for their work that goes beyond learning. It’s something you have to feel.

BEN HAMPSHIRE

How did Ben Hampshire get from the English countryside to Los Angeles, where he is currently managing director of commercial house The Mill LA (www.themill.com). Well, it involves William Hurt, Liam Neeson, and a random meeting in a pub.

But to be more specific, it likely all began for Hampshire as a child. Looking back, he points to watching TV with his dad. “He was 50 when he had me and my twin brother, plus there were five other kids, so some of the only bonding time I had with him was watching TV. We would watch cricket or boxing, all the things he liked.” In between his dad’s favorites, there were, of course, commercials. “There were a couple my brother and I could sing along with. It was the ‘70s, and the ads were full of jingles, and we would sing them. There was one for this Cadbury bar called Cadbury’s Caramel with a slightly sexy female bunny. We loved that. It struck me years later when I was working in commercials that it must have had a big influence on me because that was the one thing we used to recite and test each other on — commercials. That was probably my first influence.”

Hampshire’s path to The Mill began after college, where he had studied economics and social history — back then it was more about traditional education. After school, his path brought him into the entertainment industry, working for three years as the assistant for film actor William Hurt. “He flew me all around the world. I worked on Michael with him, John Travolta and Andie MacDowell. It was about a road trip, so I got to see the States.”

He had also worked as a PA on the Liam Neeson non-singing version of Les Miserables with Uma Thurman in Prague. And he worked with Stephen Frye and Sir John Gielgud. While all of this was fun and a great experience, he says he was “struggling with the fact I was always on the road.” So he headed to London. “I wanted to do something inspiring and fun,” he says.

That is when fate sort of stepped in. Through a friend, he met a guy who worked at MPC, the London-based visual effects company. They were having drinks and chatting when this person got a look at some of Hampshire’s pretty impressive contacts, and he got an idea. “He sees that I had worked with some amazing A-list Hollywood guys, and figured if I could do that, I could be of help. He literally gave me a job the next day, and in three months promoted me to junior producer. When he first showed me some of the work they had been doing, the commercials were glossy and vibrant. It was inspiring. I thought it was something I wanted to be part of.”

He spent three years at MPC. “I got my feet wet as visual effects producer, working on smaller projects, which I think are sometimes tougher because you really have to focus on the details. You have to fit in an awful lot of work during that short time you have in a day.”

He left to help set up a small visual effects company called Golden Square. During his three years there, working as a VFX producer, he ran into the then head of production at The Mill, Derryn Clarke. “I knew that The Mill’s reputation as this absolutely fearless and creative company that did all the best work.” They spoke for six months before he agreed to come on board in London as a senior producer. That was 10 years ago. He then moved up to executive producer, then head of production. 

He calls The Mill COO/co-founder Pat Joseph an incredibly inspirational man to work for. “Learning to be a producer at The Mill was entirely different than anything I had learned before. As a producer you are placed at the creative core of a project and encouraged to add your opinion. Encouraged to think creatively. That inspired me to join.”

After being called in to help support a production shooting in Los Angeles, Hampshire knew where his future was. “Pat pushed me a bit. I spent a couple of weeks here, and we had just opened a small 5,000-square-foot office in Santa Monica. When I went back to London, I told Pat I wanted to be in LA. I want to help the team flourish, and spread The Mill culture in Los Angeles.”

When he first came to The Mill LA, there were eight people; there are now 107. To what does he attribute this kind of growth? “It’s been about putting creatives at the center of everything we do.” 

Pictured above is a shot from The Mill LA's Microsoft spot featuring SNL's Adam Samberg.

YVETTE PINEYRO
It could be said that Yvette Pineyro, owner/editor of NYC-based WildChild (www.wildchildpost.com), has editing in her blood. As an eight-year-old living in Florida, she would visit her aunt in New York City and watch her go through the complicated and magical process of cutting film. Her aunt is the well-known Cuban-born editor Gloria Pineyro, who cut such films as Amigos, The Other Cuba, Fat Angels and El Super. She also had her own editing house called Gloria’s Place. When Yvette Pineyro was 13, she came to live with her aunt in New York and became immersed in the elder woman’s art.

“I would watch her with the bins and frames, the old-school cutting,” explains the younger Pineyro. “I marveled at how she was able to keep everything in place, and the intricacies of the celluloid and how everything had to match. It was fascinating to me how she ran the Moviola, Steenbecks and the uprights. That’s when my fascination with editing began.”

In addition to working on films, her aunt also had the Bugs Bunny account, which made it all the more cool for her niece. “It was fun for me because I got to rewind it and set it up for her so she could do what she needed to do.”

But it was more than just watching. Pineyro’s aunt would explain not only the physical aspects of the art of editing, but the all-important art of storytelling as well. In addition to films, Gloria Pineyro worked on documentaries and all the skits for Saturday Night Live back then. “I got to see all the forms,” she says. “Then in the ‘70s, she got into commercials.”

It was the art of the short form that Yvette Pineyro gravitated toward. “How you get a message out with a beginning, middle and an end in 30 seconds is fascinating.”

After high school, there was little question to what Pineyro wanted to study, so she enrolled in film school at SUNY Purchase. 

Other inspiration for Pineyro came from filmmakers her Aunt Gloria collaborated with over the years, including acclaimed cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who took her under his wing, as well as to the movies. “I used to go with him and Mike Nichols to films. This is while I was going to college, so you could only imagine the envy of my film friends,” she explains. “He came from a cinematography background, so between his vision and my aunt’s editing, it was pretty informative. I used to walk around film school with Nestor Almendros’s light meter!”

After college Pineyro traveled a lot. “I wanted to expand my horizons,” she says. When she returned, she went to work for  her aunt at her office to learn about advertising. “It was great, fun times. I even directed various music videos.”

Almendros passed away not long after and Pineyro opened her own studio and called it WildChild, “which was the first film he ever worked on in France for François Truffaut,” she says. Pineyro started small in a 2,000-square-foot space across from her aunt’s studio. It was her, an assistant and a producer. From there WildChild grew and moved to its current location, a 12,000-square-foot space on 28th Street. “We grew and hired great talent as we went.”

A few years back I had the pleasure of visiting the WildChild space and seeing Kanye West walking the halls. He was there while WildChild was creating the content that played in the background during his and Jay Z’s concerts. WildChild did a lot of work with Hype Williams and his clients back then. Currently they are busy with TV commercials, Web content and digital work. “We did the entire digital presence for launching The Nook. We also launched the iHome.” A recent project cut by Pineyro is the Justin Timberlake campaign for Givenchy and spots for Louis Vuitton (pictured above, left).

Amazingly, the tide has turned and about 60 percent of the studios’ work is digital, with 40 percent broadcast projects. And the young talent she hires to work in these realms are ready for anything. “It’s amazing to me because the people coming in are extremely prepared, more so than when I first started. They know so many different platforms and software systems. All the people here are directing, they edit, they do After Effects. Now having that foundation is necessary because everybody wants everything in one place.” But she reminds us that knowledge of gear is only a part of it, working in a room with the client is another!

BOB FESTA
Bob Festa, who recently joined Santa Monica’s Company 3 (www.company3.com) as a senior colorist, has a long and impressive list of facilities under his belt. Most recently he was a partner in the DI studio New Hat for five years, but since his career began, he has been with Deluxe, Hollywood Digital, Encore, Complete Post, Editel, and others. Actually, it might be more accurate to say he has rejoined Company 3, since he spent 11 years working for co-founder/president Stefen Sonnenfeld at sister company Riot. 

Festa had no idea he was to become an award-winning colorist. He says he was an audiophile first, playing stand-up bass in band at high school. “I played in the high school socials and at proms. So I was musical first; the  visual medium to me came second, but all the fundamentals you use for tearing down and learning a craft, whether sound mixing, sound design, or visuals, if you break them all down, you still build up from the same fundamental areas. It was just being exposed to so many fields of experience that led me to being a colorist.”

After high school, Festa studied at Pepperdine University in Malibu and worked his way to an undergraduate and graduate degree in film and television. A great education, but one he says could never replace working in a real-world environment. “Back in the early ‘80s when I graduated, the stuff I was learning in the classroom was being taught by retired industry pros who were already five years off the technological mark. So honestly, everything you are learning is really just a foundation…the history of film and the business. Your biggest break happens once you are out.”

Festa’s first break was at Glen Glenn Sound, which he says exposed him to working with sound, picture and film labs, “which then exposed me to this new film scanner called the Rank Cintel.” But he says his biggest break was going to work at Deluxe, mastering feature films in the 20th Century Fox library. “I found a mentor who said, ‘I need someone who can start on Monday and you seem to know 10 words associated with this process. I can give you a raise and get you in the union.’ Boom, now I am working at Deluxe doing feature mastering at a major studio.”  

Festa refers to those times as a sort of the heyday of color, where there were huge windows of opportunity opened to anyone with talent. “There was so much work and so few facilities that clients were forced to work with people in the second and third shift,” he explains. “If you look at that in today’s terms, it’s unbelievable. Those windows are closed now. It’s really hard to apprentice with a colorist and learn the craft; it is even harder to start your own craft and develop new business. Which explains why us senior guys are still in the chair.”

Another reason is that color grading is an art that needs to develop over time. “Talk to any colorist, and they’ll say the first six months of their career is a living hell, because you are so bad,” he says. “Even though you are exposed to good people and mentors, getting a good eye for color takes a minimum of six months, and I would add a couple of years on top of that to get a master’s eye.”

Festa started out in the business when there were just a couple of tools to work with. Now there are many to choose from, and often each studio picks a favorite to invest in. So how does someone like Festa  feel about having to learn new gear? “To paraphrase jazz musician Charlie Parker, ‘Learn the changes and then forget them.’ It’s the same thing with coloring. Learn the tools and toss ‘em. Transcend the mechanics and use your experience and your eye. After a period, you know what signposts and cues you look for that bring life to an image. These are artistic concepts that develop in your brain, not in any given work surface you are using at the time.

“I have worked at 20 different facilities and on 10 different types of technology,” he says. “The first time you sit in a chair with some new gear, you think it’s daunting, but I have come to think of the different tools as just the vehicles you need to express yourself. The art is in your head, your eyes and hands.”

Adobe's Psychic spot, which Festa worked on, is pictured above, right.