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Nov. 28, 2017

Netflix series "Dark": A full ARRI package

The first German Netflix Original series "Dark" was postproduced by ARRI Media after being shot with ALEXA 65 and Ultra-Prime lenses and lit with SkyPanels from ARRI Rental. Postproduction supervisor Sven Nuri talked about his work.

Nov. 28, 2017

Starting December 1, 2017, "Dark," a mystery family saga produced by Wiedemann & Berg on behalf of Netflix, streams simultaneously in 190 countries worldwide. ARRI was hard at work behind the scenes of this ten-part series by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. 

Mr. Nuri, you were responsible for the postproduction on "Dark" at ARRI Media. Why did you choose ARRI Media as your postproduction partner?

For various reasons. One of the biggest challenges on "Dark" was the really tight time schedule. Picture lock was at the end of July, the first test packages had to be ready by mid-August, and the first deliverables for the Netflix location team had to be available by September. So, we had to find a service provider that was capable of producing 504 minutes of content in that brief period of time, in the quality that is synonymous with showrunners Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. For that to be possible, the service provider had to have a finely-tuned team of outstanding experts at its disposal and be able to upscale at will to react to any eventualities. That is why we wanted to work with ARRI Media. Another reason was the request from cinematographer Nik Summerer and from Bo to shoot with what they considered to be the best camera: the ALEXA. Netflix films in 4K, so we quickly decided to go with the ALEXA 65 from ARRI Rental to shoot the series. Then it made sense to put together an entire package with ARRI.

Netflix ordered the ten-part mystery series and is streaming it worldwide in 190 countries. What are the quality standards for that kind of project?

I have never before had such spirited discussions with a client about quality control more than a year before delivery. It is something that Netflix places great value on, and their QC is like nothing I have ever experienced. The people responsible at Netflix examine everything very precisely and repeatedly to make sure that nothing restricts the “viewer experience.” That is the prime concern at Netflix, and it covers a wide range of things. It is always about giving the viewer the best possible – the perfect – product. The postproduction engineers at Netflix were closely involved in everything we did. They repeatedly asked for status reports and even visited us from time to time. It was an excellent and intense collaboration. At the same time, there was yet another challenge with "Dark": Everything had to be perfect, extremely fast, and within budget. As a rule, you plan on one of those three things not working out, but we managed them all this time.

How was that possible in such a short time?

With really good planning. I have been in contact with the ARRI team since February 2016 for the project. Doing the final production of ten episodes in cinema quality was a new experience for us too. That equates to five feature films, and complex ones at that! I knew Bo and Jantje from working together with them on WHO AM I, and like on that series, all the people and departments involved worked together with great commitment and precision right from the word "go." We started sound postproduction right after we wrapped up shooting at the end of April, parallel to the editing, so that all the viewings and approvals could be held and given with processed sound. That probably made the process much smoother because no one had to "imagine" anything additional that wasn't there yet. It also meant that we didn't have to start the really short postproduction phase after picture lock with nothing, but had already processed the sound for all ten episodes to a large degree. We also launched the visual effects work, which was shared between ARRI VFX and RISE FX, really early on – all with the goal of being almost finished when the time came for picture lock.

How complicated is it to do the entire postproduction and part of the editing simultaneously when you have 504 minutes of screen time to fill?

It has become quite typical for postproduction nowadays that the processes dovetail, because it is technically possible and because the people involved want to make use of the new freedoms they have gained from technical advances. The difficulty with "Dark" was quite simply the volume of material: five feature films in a little more than five weeks – and during that time we also had to produce the DCP for the premiere in Toronto where the first two episodes were screened. That is first and foremost a huge accomplishment by Bo and Jantje: keeping an eye on all the departments with that kind of time schedule while making the biggest decisions. But it was also an astounding achievement on the part of the editors Robert Rzesacz, Anja Siemens, Denis Bachter, and Sven Budelmann, who supported the workflow from the very beginning. But, of course, the entire postproduction team deserves praise for ensuring the technical conditions to make it all possible. And thanks to the amazing in-house producers at ARRI Media – Lola Knoblach for picture and Michi Huber for sound – it all went virtually without a hitch. For months in advance, they planned together with me, re-planned, and always made sure that we were able to meet the showrunners' creative requests. It was an extremely difficult task, because re-confirmations were required continuously for sound and picture – and that across various venues in Berlin and Munich. The job can only be successfully carried out if supported by sophisticated internal coordination processes, and Lola and Michi had them completely under control. We wanted to provide the colorists Steffen Paul and Bernie Greiner, the sound technicians Ansgar Frerich, Christian Bischoff, Benjamin Rosenkind, and Matthias Maydl, and the Supervising Sound Editor Alex Würtz with the ideal working conditions and I think we succeeded. That was the great thing about working with ARRI; the in-house producers are already a well-oiled machine. The workflows in picture and sound postproduction run so smoothly that the creatives can do their thing without restriction.

Were you able to keep to the tight schedule?

We pretty much knew already in August 2016 what the summer would be like in 2017. Of course, plans changed repeatedly during the production period of more than a year, but I can say with some pride that not a single delivery deadline had to be postponed, and we could meet Netflix's localization pipeline timing to the day. It really is a huge triumph for the whole team that everything went so smoothly, both creatively and technically.

Did you have to do any major re-planning on the way?

Well, plans are made to be broken, and I have put together 31 different postproduction schedules since February 2016. Most postponements came about in editing, but there were also bigger plan changes. For instance, we altered the entire sound-post workflow in August, right in the middle of the mixing phase. We originally wanted to do five mixes in Berlin and five in Munich that we then just wanted to have the work viewed and approved by the showrunners in Berlin afterwards. But then Bo wanted to do all the main mixes in Berlin with the external sound-mix technician Ansgar Frerich. That was a pretty major change of plan that came late in the process when we were already working at more than full capacity. All the pre-mixes and components for the main mix were in Munich, and the sessions had to be sent to Hohenzollerndamm in Berlin, which is where Ansgar finalized the main mixes with Bo. That was not only a technical feat, it was also a balancing act from a creative point of view, because, in the end, everything had to look like it came out of the same mold. But even that too worked out perfectly in the end.

How did everything being in ARRI hands affect your work as postproduction supervisor?

"Dark" was a very complex project. I worked on it intensively for almost 20 months. But I felt entirely at ease during the high-adrenaline postproduction phase, because I have a lot of faith in the people at ARRI. I've known them for years, I’ve already realized numerous projects with them, and I knew that we had a reliable plan. We work together on a strong base of trust and confidence, so I always felt well taken care of by ARRI. It is also a big advantage that everything is under one roof and that information and material can get from one place to another really fast, even though postproduction was in both Berlin and Munich, and there at two locations respectively, i.e. Berlin-Mitte and Hohenzollerndamm, and in Munich in Türkenstraße and at ARRI@Bavaria Film in Grünwald just out of town. I have fewer people who I need to deal with at ARRI and I can communicate more directly with them. I found out faster when plans changed, which is key to timing and costs. But when it comes to the resulting product, something else was the deciding factor: Everyone's expectations were extremely high on "Dark," especially those of the showrunners, who had worked on an international level with their previous productions. That is why I am very grateful that we had a service provider with the manpower to be able to scale-up when required, while still delivering a quality that Bo and Jantje would accept when the time came for approvals. That combination of scalability and quality under one roof is very uncommon.

And do you notice in postproduction that ARRI has been making cameras for 100 years?

We have made films and series with other service providers as well, so I have to say that none of them has a monopoly on the necessary know-how, but I think it only makes sense that the ARRI colorists have a certain informational advantage over the rest. I mean, if you make a camera on one floor that provides the material that you post-produce on another, the developers and the creatives from postproduction of course talk with each other. I expect that an internal colorist gets some information well before people outside the company do. I got the impression that there was a great deal of know-how being shared throughout ARRI.

Interview: ARRI/Dr. Dominik Petzold

Photos: Netflix (4), Alexander Probst (1)