Story of daredevil legend Evel Knievel premieres at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival
Editor Davis Coombe takes on ambitious editing project for larger-than-life documentary using Adobe Premiere Pro CC
Screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Being Evel recounts the true story behind American icon Robert “Evel” Knievel. The feature documentary, co-produced by A&E IndieFilms, History Films, and HēLō, with post production by Milkhaus, goes behind the scenes to reveal the dramatic life and lasting legacy of one of the world’s most famous daredevils. Davis Coombe, the creative director at Milkhaus, cut the film in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, with extensive visual effects created and composited using Adobe After Effects CC.
Adobe: How did you become interested in documentary filmmaking?
Coombe: I fell into it after film school. I originally thought I’d be more involved in production but got an opportunity at my first job to work on a long-form documentary following actors through three years of conservatory. I loved the journalistic perspective and became very excited about the work which aired on Bravo. Then I met Daniel Junge and we’ve made about a dozen films together. Documentary filmmaking is very rewarding for me because I have the opportunity to become immersed in different stories. I am lucky because I get a constant tour of the human endeavor. I’ve even done a film about all the crazy and amazing things people do with Legos.
Adobe: How did the idea for Being Evel come about?
Coombe: The film’s director, Daniel Junge, wanted to make a documentary about Evel Knievel ever since he watched Evel’s death-defying feats on television as a kid. It was in the back of his mind for years.
Adobe: What makes the film unique?
Coombe: Being Evel is a very complex project involving a lot of compositing and visual effects. The whole film takes place in a virtual movie theater environment. We shot 60 interviews on green screen using four cameras. The interview subjects are composited into the environment so they appear to be sitting on a stage in front of a movie screen. The screen serves as both the backdrop and our means to incorporate video footage that supports the interviews. We used a ton of archival interviews and broadcasts from shows such as the Wide World of Sports. Needless to say, we were manipulating many different layers of video separately and building up a complex series of composites.
Adobe: What was the process for compositing everything together?
Coombe: We had plates shot of an old theater, and we shot the interviews at the same angle so the geometry matched. After we stacked the layers the challenging part began, pulling clean keys and creating traveling mattes for people when they’re moving around. We also had to composite whatever we wanted playing on the screen behind the person.
There were times when the theater would go dark, or different light cues or stage lighting would play on the screen that matched the mood of the interview. The trick was for it all to look real. The last thing we wanted was for the sequences to look like somebody standing in front of a green screen doing the weather because that would pull viewers out of the story.
Adobe: Whose idea was it to set the film in a virtual movie theater environment?
Coombe: It was Junge’s idea. When he told me about it, all I could hope was that he’d change his mind because it seemed like such a complicated approach—but he didn’t. As the film came together, I saw how cool it was going to be to watch. There’s a lot of visual interest and complexity.
For the entire film, we set the bar really high. One of the first things we created with our animator Stefan Nadelman in After Effects CC was the opening titles. They looked so fantastic that I thought, “Oh boy, now we’re going to have to make the rest of the film look this good.” We’re very happy with the end result.
Adobe: Why did you choose Adobe Premiere Pro CC for editing?
Coombe: Like others in the industry, we were faced with a real challenge when Apple abandoned Final Cut 7 and introduced Final Cut X, which was basically useless to us. We were floundering for a while figuring out which platform to go with. We landed on Premiere Pro. For this project in particular, we were doing so many effects and composites in After Effects that an all Adobe workflow with better integration among the tools was a natural choice.
Adobe: What do you like most about Adobe Premiere Pro CC?
Coombe: Premiere Pro has a vastly superior title tool to the one in Final Cut. I also love the Audio Track Mixer to add audio effects to specific tracks—another huge timesaver for creating rough mixes. I like the ability to go into another project through the Media Browser, pull something out of a sequence, and add it to my current project.
What Premiere Pro is able to do without rendering and its ability to handle and mix many different types of formats is very impressive. I don’t have to conform all different types of formats or worry about troubles with mixed frame rates. Overall, Premiere Pro is a really versatile, flexible, open platform.
Adobe: What are future plans for the film?
Coombe: We’re thrilled to be premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film looks great and I think we are aiming for a theatrical release too, which would be very exciting.
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