Tom Keefe on ‘Californication’

Producer and post guru talks of technical changes

On July 19, Daily Variety’s In Production column examined the evolution of production and post-production technology over the course of five seasons of Showtime’s “Californication.” Cinematographer Mike Weaver and co-producer Tom Keefe both commented on the changes and how they’ve impacted the show, which stars David Duchovny as a Los Angeles novelist with a troubled life. Last week’s On Production online newsletter ran excerpts from the full interview with Weaver. Below are excerpts from the interview with Keefe, who’s responsible for post-production on “Californication.” He started with the show right after the pilot.

Peter Caranicas: How many episodes are there per season?

Tom Keefe: We do 12, which is what goes on Showtime. Then we do a syndicated version, which is our content cut. In that version we take out the overt sexual and scatological scenes and change the language that’s not considered usable for (free TV and airlines). Each Showtime episode is around 28 minutes; the free-TV version is three to five minutes shorter.

PC: So it better accommodates commercials?

TK: It would, but we do a content-only cut. If someone buys it and wants to put commercials in it, they would recut it themselves.

PC: What changes do you make for free TV?

TK: We do ADR lines. There’s over 100 lines in every show where we replace the language.

PC: Using the original actors?

TK: Yes. It’s a lot of work. When I say we deliver 12 shows, we deliver 24. Some shows like “The Sopranos” (took the road) of shooting extra scenes. That way you don’t have to cut so much, you don’t have to change the language in post. The writers can change it using the words they want. Whereas I re-write the words myself, or someone else does.

PC: And then the actors record them?

TK: Yes. David Duchovny will play David Duchovny. Maybe they’re not thrilled to do it, but we make a lot of fun of ourselves: How do you say some words in another way?

PC: You must get pretty creative sometimes.

TK: We do. Our show had the word broner, which means man-induced boner, or erection. It wasn’t allowed in the first few seasons, but we’ve worn them down, so broner is now part of our American lexicon. A hundred years from now broner will seem like apple pie.

PC: Where is all this work done?

TK: We shoot at Hayden Stages in Culver City and outside on the West Side of Los Angeles, in Hollywood and in the San Fernando Valley. We do the offline in Culver City. These are hallowed grounds, where the original “King Kong” and “Gone with the Wind” were filmed.

PC: What material does post receive from production?

TK: This year we’re shooting on the Arri Alexa. They used the Genesis camera last season. Earlier it was Sony cameras. Each camera was better than the one before.

PC: How involved are you in production?

TK: I’m on set a lot and very involved making sure we get what we need, and also that there are no surprises. The whole thing about post is, it’s forgiving if you plan ahead, especially budgetarily. So we go to production meetings and get real involved at the early stages.

PC: What media does the Alexa record on?

TK: We’re wading into the waters of tapeless workflow. We’re mastering on these little SxS cards. They hold about 15 minutes of material and cost almost $1,000 apiece but they’re reusable. We pop them in the camera, shoot, pop them out, pop a new one in and continue. We back up the content of each card twice.

PC: Do you think tape will one day disappear?

TK: Maybe, but right now I just feel comfortable having a tape. Maybe for my next show I won’t do that, but now, when we do the edited master, the VAM – video assembly master – we’ll make it HDCAM. If all else fails, at least we’ll have that VAM.

PC: What’s been the biggest technical evolution on “Californication”?

TK: The big difference now is that we’re using top-of-the-line Avids and avid software, and the Alexa, a top-of-the-line camera. We’ve got a huge amount of storage, which allows us to work quickly and much more efficiently, and we get to try a lot more stuff in same amount of time.

PC: So you can explore more creative options?

TK: Yes. We can explore a lot of things we couldn’t before. For example, we do a lot of green-screen work, and we can just render it. There was an episode this year with driving on the streets of Santa Monica, where we weren’t allowed to shoot at night. So we shot plates and inserted those via greenscreen. It was an efficient way to go.

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