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Curtis Abbott, Pittsburgh-based DIT and Codex Vault owner, discusses his experience on Southpaw.



Released in 2015, Southpaw is a gritty drama about boxer Billy Hope (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) climbing out of depression after losing his wife in a car accident. Director Antoine Fuqua turned to cinematographer Mauro Fiore ASC to capture the look of this compelling story. Curtis Abbott, Pittsburgh-based DIT and Codex Vault owner, worked alongside Fiore. Curtis has worked on several Codex shows, including The Fault in Our Stars, Fathers and Daughters and The Last Witch Hunter. We recently interviewed Curtis Abbott about his experience on Southpaw. 

What’s your background? Did you go to film school?
I moved to Pittsburgh to attend college. While in college I interned at a post production facility that purchased a RED One camera. I quickly became their guy for that camera and as the market changed I became the guy in town whenever someone wanted to shoot RED. Upon graduation I decided I wanted to pursue a career in movies. I was able to join Local 600 as a Film Loader and work on my first major motion picture, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This was my first and last major motion picture to load film on and I believe one of the last to ever shoot on Fuji negative. After that I did a few RED features or movies of the week, then the ALEXA came out and I began to get calls to work on larger and larger projects, sometimes out of town.

Tell us about the workflow on Southpaw?
Southpaw was a daunting project, there was a lot of new technology on the horizon that would have helped but we had to make work what we could at the time. The biggest part of the movie was the boxing matches. They were all scheduled in the first 2 weeks of production. We originally had 4 ALEXA XTs then 5 then a RED DRAGON, Then a RED DRAGON on a Movi, Then an SI-2K. We had a lot of cameras and data thrown at us in the first 2 weeks. All in all I believe we had 10 cameras those first weeks and were generating between 5TB to 6TB a day. We generated more data in the first 2 weeks than we did during the entire production of The Fault in Our Stars.

The loader, Benedict Baldauff, handled all of the downloading with 2 Codex Vaults, one of which belongs to me. I set up a station with the 2 Vaults and each had a Macbook Pro connected via 10gigE. He would download the Capture Drive to the Vault and pull the footage onto 4 disk OWC Thunderbays which we would shuttle to Technicolor for dailies processing. The 2nd Vault came from ARRI Rental who also supplied the camera package. Once we finished the first 2 weeks and we went down to 2 ALEXA XTs we just kept my Vault to manage the rest of the show. Codex Vault saved us so many times because we would roll the camera and not cut until it rolled out. Sometimes 1 camera would roll out during a take and the ACs would reload it and keep rolling during a take. We rolled a lot on that show.

On set I was running Pomfort Live Grade with a Sony BVM monitor at my cart and a Flanders CM250 monitor right on set for Mauro. I had just upgraded to Fuji IS-minis but I still had my old HDlink luckily because I ended up using all of them in the first 2 weeks with all the cameras going. Mauro, the camera operators and myself were on HMEs since he wasn't at my cart sometimes because of tight spaces. He could look at the CM250 and tell me to make adjustments to the color or exposure on the fly during takes.


Was it your first time working with Mauro Fiore ASC?
This was my first time working full time as a DIT for Mauro, but months earlier I had received a call from a production in Boston who was in desperate need of a Phantom Tech the very next day. When I arrived in Boston I found out it was for a show called The Equalizer which Mauro and Antoine were doing. Being a local in a small market presents its challenges to get on larger jobs, but given my experience with many different camera systems including the Phantom it eased Mauro's concerns and he gave me a shot.

Why did you decide to invest in a Codex Vault?

I live and work in a smaller market, Pittsburgh, we don't have as quick access to gear as someone in LA or NY would. But I like to have quick access to the right gear. I pride myself in having the same quality of gear available quickly in a small market. Ever since the ALEXA XT came out, almost all of my jobs are on that system now and every time a project called for Codex Vault I couldn't get a hold of one. ARRI Rental was always out of the 4 they had. I was familiar with Codex since even before the ARRI ALEXA and the Codex Onboard Recorder came out. I made the decision to purchase when I booked a 10 day commercial that in the past had shot a ton of interviews with medical patients. It paid off because everyday we would shoot between 5 to 6TBs of ARRIRAW. With the help of Chris MacKarell (ARRI Rental), Brandon Heaslip (Codex) and a fellow DIT friend, Tom Wong, we set up a workflow whereby I was able to access the Vault via 10gigE and pull off the footage. With this workflow and a lot of fast storage I was able to have sound synced and color corrected dailies for the director and editorial about 30 minutes to a hour after camera wrap. This proved the concept that I later used on Southpaw.

Images courtesy of their respective owners

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