'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot': Developing and Deploying the Film’s Final Cut Pro X Workflow with Accusys Storage

Introduction

The movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a dark comedy about the experiences of a female journalist in Afghanistan, based on Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Paramount Pictures tapped the writing/directing team of John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Focus; Crazy, Stupid, Love; I Love You Phillip Morris) to tackle the film adaptation, which stars Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Alfred Molina.

The duo started production of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on the heels of completing Focus. They brought along editor Jan Kovac, as well as use of Apple Final Cut Pro X for editing.

Challenge

Instead of shooting Apple ProRes 4444 the team used for Focus, they switched to using the new ProRes 4444 XQ codec, which was deployed by ARRI on the ALEXAs. Most of the production was shot with two ALEXAs recording in a 2K theatrical format using the ProRes 4444 XQ codec. There are about 1,000 VFX shots in the film.

Also, there were a DIT on set who took the camera files, added a basic color LUT, synced production sound, and then generated viewing dailies, which were distributed to department heads on Apple iPads. The DIT also generated editorial files that were in the full 2K ProRes 4444 XQ resolution.

Solution

Both the camera original files and the color-corrected editorial files were stored on a 160TB Accusys ExaSAN system back at the film’s post headquarters. Two Mac Minis served as metadata controllers. Kovac explains, “By always having the highest quality image to edit with, it meant that we could have the highest quality screenings at any given time. You always see the film in a state that is very close to the final product. Since visual effects were being handled in-house, it made sense to have the camera original files on the SAN. This way shots could quickly be pulled for VFX work, without the usual intermediate step of coordinating with the lab or post house that might otherwise store these files.”

All media and render files were kept on the ExaSAN storage, but external of the Final Cut Pro X library files, thus keeping those small. The library files were stored on a separate NFS server (a Mac Mini using NFS Manager) with a separate FCPX library file for each reel of the film. This enabled the editors and assistants to all access any FCPX library file, as long as someone else wasn’t using it at that time. A shared iTunes library for temporary sound effects and music selections was stored on the SAN with all machines pointing to that location. From within Final Cut, any editor could browse the iTunes library for music and sound effects.

Conclusion

"Filmmakers who are using new methods are those who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They are willing to push the boundaries," says co-director Glenn Ficarra.

Instead of simply creating another “me, too” SAS or fibre channel product, Accusys has built a new generation of devices that would make use of the rapidly increasing performance envelope of PCI-E, with the advance of PCI-E technology now moving to PCI-E Gen3, Accusys storage solutions have provided a large performance improvement for digital content creators in editing workflow and are compatible with professional tools such as Final Cut Pro fluently.

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  • PCIe SAN ready
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  • PCIe * 1
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  • Redundant Power