BROOKLYN, NY—Three-time Emmy Award-winning film and TV editor Oliver Lief didn’t expect it would take as long as it did to turn his townhouse in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood into a full-service post facility when he embarked on the project six years ago. But it was worth it; the first project through the door, Michelle Obama’s We Will Rise documentary for CNN brought actress Meryl Streep in for nine days of voiceover work and has picked up award nominations for Lief and resident audio mixer/sound designer Rich Cutler.
Lief and his wife have owned the five-story building since 1996, initially renting it out before moving in and setting up a video edit room and office for themselves. “One year, I did a lot of editing work; it just grew into this crazy idea of a full-blown, two-story post house,” says Lief, who called on WSDG Walters-Storyk Design Group to handle acoustical design and systems integration. “I thought it was crazy, but why not start with the best?”
Fitting a Dolby Atmos mix room, edit suites and color grading, graphics and VFX facilities for senior colorist/VFX artist Begonia Colomar into a bright, comfortable and welcoming two-story space wasn’t easy. To create a basement level, the cellar and backyard had to be excavated six feet. That required the original foundations to be underpinned, but enabled acoustic isolation of all the rooms, says Romina Larregina, WSDG partner, director of production and project manager.
“The rooms all have floating floors with decoupled slabs and decoupled walls and ceilings. That was a very small, quick decision, but a big expense. The goal was to not hear anyone in those rooms anywhere else in the building,” she says, since Lief and his family occupy the upper three floors.
“Nothing was left of the original house except three side walls, and the kitchen from the previous renovation,” says Lief. The excavation unearthed a cannonball fired by General George Washington’s troops during the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn at Cobble Hill (today, the intersection of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue). “It was found where the vocal booth is,” he reports.
WSDG collaborated on the project with local executive architects Craig Shillito, Bob Kellner and Chris Inthurburn. Technical engineer Paul Weiss, CineSys-Ocean and Crossley Acoustics worked on equipment installation, systems integration, acoustic treatment and custom furniture construction alongside WSDG.
AV technology was evolving as the project wound on, so WSDG incorporated Dolby Atmos and 4K video equipment into the design. Lief ’s edit facilities include a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and 42-inch Dolby PRM-4200 reference monitor, the latter in response to enthusiastic response to Blue Table Post from the film world.
“There are so many directors living in Brooklyn, I made sure we had the specs to finish features. The Dolby monitor can do DCI-P3 color space, and the client and the colorist are looking at the same monitor,” says Lief.
The mix room, with adjacent VO booth, houses an Avid S6 M-40 console with 20 speakers for the immersive mix system, including Focal Twin Be-6 nearfields and JBL wall- and ceiling-mounted speakers, together with excellent line of site vision to the 9x5-foot screen. The room features some choice analog pieces as an alternate to plug-ins, including an RCA K3A mic in the booth, an RCA BN-2A mic preamp and a Collins 26U-1 tube limiter. “Really old school stuff, for voiceover mostly,” says Cutler, an Emmy Award-winner with extensive feature film, TV series and commercial credits. The DaVinci can be slaved and locked to Pro Tools, he also notes, enabling the final mix to play with the final color-corrected 4K picture in the room.
The first project to pass through Blue Table Post was Michelle Obama’s We Will Rise documentary for CNN, which brought actress Meryl Streep in for nine days of voiceover work. (l-r): Meryl Streep; director Tony Gerber; BTP principal Oliver Lief; and BTP project coordinator Maggie Graber
Custom low-frequency absorbers were a critical design feature, says Larregina, “so that we could control the reverberation time and the low frequency response in the room. The room is limited in size, so low frequencies are a concern.”
“As a 32-year veteran of the business who has worked in a lot of facilities,” says Cutler, “it’s arguably one of the top five rooms in the city. And not just Brooklyn—all five boroughs.”
Blue Table Post’s first official project when it opened in October 2016 was We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World, directed by Tony Garber. “We did the editing, mixing, color grading, effects and graphics,” says Lief. “We screened it at the White House with Michelle Obama. It became CNN’s most watched documentary of all time.”
Lief recently picked up the ACE (America Cinema Editors) Eddie Award nomination for Best Edited Documentary (Television) for We Will Rise. Cutler has also been recognized for his work on the project and is nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award in the category of Television Non-Fiction, Variety or Music Series or Specials.
“I decided I needed to take some time off to build the business, so we have a lot of tours coming up. Rich just started work on Life with Lisa Ling, a CNN series, and we’re about to start another series, Scene of the Crime. We’re also cutting a feature, Lizzie, starring Kristen Stewart and Chlöe Sevigny,” says Lief. “It’s a good start.”
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