Ep 31 | Lisa Beroud - VFX Producer: Black Panther, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Her

Credit: Marvel


Note: This transcript is generated by AI - there may be inconsistencies with the recorded podcast audio.  

Mike  00:00

Hi everyone, Mike here. Today's episode is with the lovely Lisa Beroud from the world of VFX production. I had a great time chatting with Lisa who just seems like she'd be the best boss. To be honest. She certainly made me giggle a few times. In the episode we discuss working with David Fincher on multiple projects, including Benjamin Button, producing a South by Southwest winning short film with Shrek director Vicki Jensen. Whether you need to study VFX to get a job in the field, what a VFX producer does and how it works to CGI and major Hollywood movies, her experience VFX producing or Marvel's Black Panther, how to stand out as an intern, and much more. That's enough from me. Here's Lisa. 

Lisa  00:38

I think we got away with it because we are making Brad Pitt old and no one knows what he looks like old yet. And I think that that's a real saving grace for digital humans.

Mike  00:52

Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet rookies. My name is Mike battle, a film crew member turned screenwriter working in London. Each episode I bring you life lessons and stories from the people behind your favourite movies and shows to help demystify the business for aspiring filmmakers and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let's get started. Today's guest is a first for the show someone at the top of the game in the field of VFX production. starting her career producing commercials she transitioned to James Cameron's famous VFX house digital domain, where she worked on titles including 47 Ronin per, and a multitude of David Fincher projects including zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Since leaving Diddy, she has progressed to be a VFX producer of hits such as Black Panther Terminator, dark fate, and Sonic the Hedgehog to our guests is Lisa baru. How're you doing today?

Lisa  01:47

I'm doing well. Thank you.

Mike  01:49

Now, Lisa, I asked all my guests the same first question. And that is, what did your parents do? And did it affect your career choices growing up?

Lisa  01:56

My father and mother both teachers? So no, I was definitely not a film, baby.

Mike  02:04

So where did that first idea to work in Film Television come from that.

Lisa  02:08

I was hired out of college in New York City, I was attending Pace University for finance. And I, they had a famous work study programme there. And I worked at Shearson Lehman and various other law firms and their accounting departments. And I was horrified that I'd spent this many years studying something I didn't want to do. And they had a really good recruitment programme there. And I was sent to a small production company on an interview to work in the accounting department. And that's how I got started in the film business.

Mike  02:47

Interesting. So for people who are listening, obviously, you didn't study VFX, or anything related. And I know it's slightly different for producers and artists. But trying to cover both bases a bit, would you recommend those wanting to get into VFX? studying in college?

Lisa  03:01

You know, I don't, I just think you need to be a well rounded human being with a good brain and a questioning mind. And I don't think that my accounting and finance courses hurt me on the producing side, it probably swayed me in that direction. I think, if I'd had more of an art background, I might have gone for costume design, but that just wasn't me. So I don't I don't think there's if you really know what you want to do, that's great. You can you can go study costume design. I just didn't have that.

Mike  03:37

Do you see anyone coming up these days in your departments where maybe there are artists who are self taught almost online, just because of the availability of materials these days? Is that happened at all?

Lisa  03:46

Now most people seem to have studied something in college. I haven't I haven't seen any self taught people that I would love to. Because I think that's possible.

Mike  03:57

Yeah. So next up, you moved into what was at the time, you know, the crazy world of live action commercials. What were your first days there like and how did you kind of make a name for yourself in that business when you were starting out 

Lisa  04:07

young? took a really long time to make a name for myself. I you know, I was working in the accounting department. And I was young. I was in my early 20s. And I thought that what the other kids were doing, you know, the actual filming was really groovy. So I showed up at night and on the weekends to sweep the floor, and then I moved into craft services. And then because I was an in the accounting department, the next thing I did was do everyone's petty cash or them so I became the girl walking around with a giant wad of cash and her money then dispensing dispensing money. And this is in the mid 80s in New York City. So it's very exciting for me to feel like I was around interesting creative people, even if I was coming at it from the money side.

Mike  04:58

Do you remember any particularly in justing moments because I know you've travelled around the world quite a lot with it in you.

Lisa  05:03

Yeah, I think my first experience going on location was, there was a big crew of people there. They're making car commercial in upstate New York. And I'd never been on a set before, you know, on location. And I wrote up there with a big wad of cash because they were out of cash. And they were all installed in this funky hotel in the middle of nowhere. And I got this thing slid under my door, which was the call she telling me to be outside at 5am, which I thought had to be a joke, you know, because I had any experience with I remember it being in my pyjamas and getting out of bed around 530. And opening my door. It's one of those, you know, cinderblock double decker hotels with the rooms stacked right next to each other. And the second ad happened to be walking by they reached in and grabbed me by the shirt and swung me outside and shook me down and said you're late, get dressed. Even though I was only there to bring money. But yeah, that was my first big set experience.

Mike  06:08

Quite the awakening. Yeah,

Lisa  06:10

it was shook me up.

Mike  06:13

Quite a few of the people that we speak to on this podcast, who are hods now and things like that, they started working commercials, but the business has changed quite a lot really, hasn't it? Do you think that's something that people should really get involved with? If they're trying to move into crew? Or do you feel like it's something that's actually a bit of a bygone era?

Lisa  06:29

Well, sometimes I see good commercials. And I'm heartened to know that there are still people fighting, I think when I was doing it in the 80s, that they spent a tremendous amount of money. You know, everyone was outrageous and flamboyant. And the clients didn't get monitors or get to discuss what lens would be used on the camera the way they did. I think after about 18 years I was in, I did that for about 18 years. And by the time I left commercials, it was you know, run by cost consultants and and the clients were basically running set which and the money was not there the spin to do creative things. But I don't think I know enough about it. What's happening right in this moment to say their way, I do see good commercials. So hopefully,

Mike  07:17

now before we talk about digital domain and your move into the VFX world, I saw that you produced a short film family tree, which did incredibly well. And we like talking about short films and recovery Ricky's because lots of the listeners want to make them it's a good way and things like that. What are your memories of making it? And what lessons I guess did you take for it for those looking to do the same. 

Lisa  07:35

Oh, it was, you know, it was a really fun experience. But keep Jensen the director is a very smart woman and you know, trying to have an experience doing live action. And I thought it would be nice to try a longer format. And I think we I emptied my house of all the furniture to get this set designed. But you know, we had a good time, we did it for a very small amount of money. And I was able to have the experience of doing the film festival routine afterward, which was very new for me. And she was able to, you know, direct the cast and enabled her to get a movie, you know, a live action movie after that. Yeah,

Mike  08:19

I'm interesting. It's funny. You touched on the festival thing, though, because that was one of the questions I wanted to ask. It won a lot of awards. For those listening. You got into Sundance at one special jury at South by Southwest. Was there any kind of tactic because you were just producer on that, for that producer was any tactics, you had to position it for festival success?

Lisa  08:35

I did a lot of the submission paperwork with Vicki, I don't know that anything was done to position it to win anything. I think it seemed to just happen. If something was happening behind the scenes, Vicki never led on I think we were both just pleasantly surprised. It just seemed to do well, in the year that we released it out there 

Mike  08:57

Now digital domain is where you start is kind of moving into the world of VFX. From what I can see, could you define for any uninitiated listeners, what the role of the VFX producer actually is? Because a lot them probably don't know that specific role.

Lisa  09:10

Well, the the reason I was able to be a digital domain at all was because of a five year or six year stint that I did at rhythm and hues, where I worked in their commercial division. They did live action, editorial and visual effects. And I was still the producer. But I would also get the visual effects supervisor, and they would send us out and I would have to manage both of them because we were kind of a soup to nuts sort of machine there. And so that's how I got my entree because I'm curious. I've you know, I like to ask a lot of questions. I thought the visual effects supervisors were interesting people. And so that's how I started to learn about when you film things with visual effects that considerations that you need to have and then I was at a time too after that, which also did the same thing that was a smaller scale company owned by Angus wall. I don't I don't know if you know who he is. He was David pinchers editor at the time. Oh, wow. And he and his wife had a company that did visual effects and editorial. Then I went to digital domain where I was hired to do the same thing. They were mirroring, rhythm and Hughes's model of filming, cutting and doing the visual effects on commercials. So that I learned a little bit more than we started. We did zodiac, which was a feature, basically with David Fincher. And that was my first entree, we actually did that in the commercial division. And then The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was quite a bit bigger. And that was more on the feature side. And I started to realise that visual effects could have as big a crew if not larger than a big live action shoot. And it could be, you know, really fun. So I was really bitten by the bug and how amazing artists were there and how dedicated they were to excellence that really grabbed me. And drew me. Yeah,

Mike  11:12

amazing. And you worked with Fincher all the way back to the Nine Inch Nails only video, didn't you?

Lisa  11:17

Yeah, we did the we did that. Yeah. And some other commercials and stuff. Yeah.

Mike  11:23

How does he approach the world of VFX? Is he quite minimal? with it? How does he like to approach it? Do you work closely with him? Or is it more more distant?

Lisa  11:31

I think that he likes to avoid visual effects unless he needs them for the story. It's not because he doesn't know how to handle them. He handles them brilliantly. I think he comes to the table, understanding what he wants, he lays it out. And then he lets it happen. And then he he comes in, and he gives great notes. All of our experiences with him were great. I just think, you know, visual effects adds such another complex note to something where you're trying to get performance of an actor, or it takes a lot of work to put them into a story and not let them take it over. You know, Benjamin Button had to have the visual effects, or the story couldn't be told. And I think that's more what he moves towards, as opposed to let's just have a lot of visual effects.

Mike  12:24

Benjamin Button was probably one of the most famous VFX films of the last how many years wasn't it when you came onto it? Did it seem like it was even possible?

Lisa  12:31

Now? It didn't. It didn't. But somehow we got away with it. I think we got away with it. Because we were making Brad Pitt. Oh, and no one knows what he looks like all the time. And I think that that's a real saving grace for digital humans. I think in Tron, which we did next, where we had to make Jeff Bridges young, or in Terminator dark fate, where we were making Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger young, everyone really knows what they look like. And you have a sixth sense when it's not working, especially in dialogue, as I think a younger face is much more rubbery and harder to animate in a believable way to what people already know. Or remember,

Mike  13:20

it's a little bit like production designers talk about doing futuristic stuff is actually easier. Because when it's period, It all exists already. It just you're talking about people instead of you know, people and things from the 1920s little props and things like that. So it does work both ways.

Lisa  13:34

Yeah. When you have a benchmark, it's scary.

Mike  13:39

Yeah, especially on something like dark fate, where there's a lot of pressure for people, you know, they've seen it before, not just because they've seen the actor. They've seen it in his very specific film where they want them to look the similar way. That must have been quite hard for you guys.

Lisa  13:52

Yeah, it's very difficult, surreal challenge. It was hard for me to watch another company, you know, because that once you're on the studio side, you're a little bit outside the actual workings of how things are getting done within the studio. It's not like you're invited in to opine on their pipeline. So it was hard to watch them struggle.

Mike  14:13

Yeah. So you're referencing here, you know, you move relatively recently, I guess the last few years from being in house to being I guess, a part of the production. Could you talk about that separation.

Lisa  14:23

Well, you're very much outside of things. And you're, you're responsible for supplying all the information that all your vendors need in terms of being really on top of scanning all the sets, scanning all the people that need to be digital tracking all the costs, redistributing the movie, so it's a it's a much more global planning that you need to do. So making sure everyone has what they need, making sure you're reporting to the studio. A lot of it is you know, tracking the costs and making sure that the schedules are being adhered to. You're not Not inside necessarily a studio with, you know, many departments talking about the details of how the model or the character that you're making is going to go through the pipeline, you're just hoping and praying that they're going to do it well, and it's going to spit out the other side, when it's time for you to present it to the studio or the Get It In into editorial. And that's a little bit different.

Mike  15:26

One of the things I've noticed is that on those kind of big shows, like Black Panther, and lots, generally, they seem to split up the shots, because there are so many, between so many different vendors, how do you manage that is that yourself that's in charge of that, and How's it go, you know, digital domain, you get this double neck, you get that, et cetera,

Lisa  15:42

pretty much, I don't know if this just speaks to my mind for planning. A lot of the movies that I've done so far, they're, you know, they're bigger on the studio side, and you make the best plan that you can, while you're in photography, you know, each studio has different rules. For instance, Marvel doesn't really like to go over 350 shots, at least when I was there, that was sort of the guideline per facility. And then what happens is, after you've filmed and you have a rough cut, and you start to see what the costs are really going to be, then you have to redistribute what isn't working and add people and try to bring sometimes just the price down. Or, for instance, on Sonic, which I just finished, the whole of it was given to npc and with COVID, it became clear that and with growth, that they wouldn't be able to manage that. So we had to find several other vendors to make sure that we made the delivery. So you're much more focused on the overall delivery of all the parts and pieces on the studio side, when you're doing the job.

Mike  16:49

Do you find any difficulties from the fact that in post I've, in my career, so far, I've only worked, you know, in production, and there is this idea that post you know, it's the end you are the last stop, you know, we'll fix it in post, as they say, does that create a lot of problems, you know, ramping up there you can see once we got a rough cut, we can even work out costs and things like that is quite close to the line isn't it

Lisa  17:10

is close to the line, and everyone's over it. And there's, there's there's usually no big chunk of money hiding anywhere, because you're at the beginning, and you can't push your problems down the line any further. So it is a challenge. And you know, I've gotten better with it over time, if you definitely have to go through it. It's kind of like my analogy of the first time up the mountain almost killed me because it was Marvel and it was black panther. And it was huge. And, you know, it was a real learning curve for me to look at a movie that way. But you know, it's never heard that much again, and you just get better at it. You just have to you have to go through the storm. climb that mountain the first time.

Mike  17:57

Yeah, speaking of Black Panther, that was kind of the first big VFX movie for Ryan Coogler, wasn't it? So how did you guys work together with him to kind of achieve his vision given that he hadn't had much experience with a massive Marvel movie like that?

Lisa  18:11

Well, he was very cooperative and open. And we had a really great our department and amazing costume designer. And just the way Marvel did things the way they had their meetings and presentations of how things were going to go down. And this is before you're even, you know, at the location where you're going to do your primary filming. I just think that they help because they're such a force for doing these sorts of movies, they have a real structure that works. And they just sort of gathered it all in and they were very open part of the planning. And so there weren't really a lot of questions. You know, we just talk each sequence through and that's how we shot it. That's how we move forward 

Mike  19:01

And that's how we have like, amazing. Easy peasy Yeah. I heard you in another podcast interview. The only one I could find mentioned the importance of interns. Could you talk about what makes an intern stand out to you?

Lisa  19:16

What makes an intern stand out? Well, I first of all, I love the enthusiasm of all the new people coming in, kind of brings you back. And I'd like to say that I think all interns should be paid I think I hope on unpaid internships have been banned. I think they have and I just enjoy their freshness and their viewpoint and helping them to grow. I think it's a good way to give back. Yeah,

Mike  19:45

yeah. And speaking of interns, you they are part of a massive department probably the biggest you instant seemingly when you watch those credits. It's so many people you know, digital this digital that how does it work for you? Do you have like a way that you manage because you're kind of the boss of all of them really aren't You as the producer there, it's a difficult question, how do you kind of approach managing that many people and for one vision. 

Lisa  20:05

Well, I try to make sure everyone has a job. And obviously, I don't manage every single person, I have a really great group of people that work with me. And filmmaking is not a solo sport, like, at all. It's like the farthest from it. And yeah, I try to plan with my team, what everyone's doing so that people now and then on this last movie, we didn't have interns, we just had pas and we kept now we'd add a PA. And then six or eight months later, we moved them to a junior cord role. And they were they were trained by my crew, Eric Stewart, Elijah DRC. And Avery man. And you know, for instance, people move with me from movie to movie. So they, they start as a PA, and they learn, and then they move up, and then they help train the new people. And we all enjoy them very much. 

Mike  21:01

Lovely, I bet they love working with you, you see, like,

Lisa  21:06

I try to make it fun.

Mike  21:07

That's a bit of a segue looking kind of at the future of the industry. Have you had much involvement with virtual production as yet?

Lisa  21:14

Um, you know, I'm, I'm interested in it, I haven't seen a seamless production of it. But I'm always looking, I'm looking at some stuff right now that a company called visual creatures is doing, I think doing things in engine is really interesting. And, you know, I hope I hope that we're getting there. And that you can do that and actually exported out into final shots, but I haven't seen it yet. And I'm not an expert, for sure. So

Mike  21:46

that was a bit of a horizontal question. It's not exactly about virtual production. But I was doing some research for another interview on dealing with a production designer, and he was talking about how he believes V effects and the art department are essentially becoming the same department. And they're actually, you know, quite a lot of arguments and difficulties between who does what and things like that. He's kind of saying one day, they should all be the very least on the same floor, do you see it the same way? Or do you think I still think they should be quite separate and more as they are now.

Lisa  22:12

Um, you know, usually visual effects, I think, so far, the way it's worked best for me. And for the PC and other visual effects supervisors that I work with, is we need to take the art departments vision and the production designers vision, and that usually is the focus until you're through photography, and then they should be invited in as much as they want. Although usually by the end of photography, they're over it, and they, they want to extract themselves. But usually, we try to carry over concept people as much as we can, some production designers do show up and want to look at things and others just don't, they they're just not they come to the premiere. And they're either annoyed that we mess something up, or they're there, they're usually pretty happy, I guess. But you know, I think that they already do kind of work together because the art department is providing their concepts to previous and, and we're scanning locations ahead of time to do the most accurate version of prevas. And then we take their sets and posters that have been scanned, and we use those to create the movie with the editors. So we kind of really are, but I think it would be awkward if too much visual effects was driving the concept of the movie, because I don't think that's necessarily our job. But certainly on the back end of any movie, for instance, on Sonic and we were still doing concepts in January to help with lighting and to plus out all CG environments that you just run out of time to get right when you're shooting because you have so many other things you know, you have stunts that you're working with and the actor's performance and the director only has so much bandwidth with everything. And you know, figuring out what they're shooting to really dig into what is what is a big ol CG environment going to look like? You don't necessarily have that until much later.

Mike  24:22

Brilliant answer. Thank you very much for that, Lisa. Now we finished off on red carpet Ricky's with a little quickfire questionnaire, which is my own Ode to any actor studio. So I'm going to ask them one by one. If you could just think of the first thing that comes into your head. Are you ready, Lisa baru? Sure. Number one, what is one of the best pieces of advice you've ever been given?

Lisa  24:39

Talk last.

Mike  24:43

Very good. Number two, do you have a favourite film?

Lisa  24:46

I'd say right now it's Silver Linings Playbook. 

Mike  24:50

Cool. Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for a day of Wii Fit VFX producing even.

Lisa  24:56

Yeah, it's just a pretty happy girl. I'm happy go lucky. Yeah, Irish girl,

Mike  25:01

as far as I can tell. Number four what job in the industry would you do if you weren't

Lisa  25:06

doing yours? costume? Costume Design? Yeah.

Mike  25:10

Number five. If you could work with one person living or dead who would it be? That's really hard. Sorry.

Lisa  25:14

Brad Bird.

Mike  25:15

Cool. At what is the number six? What is a book that everyone should read? 

Lisa  25:21

A book that everyone should read? Wow, I am so many. Okay, the first thing that comes to my head, the angle of repose by Wallace Stegner 

Mike  25:30

love it, never heard of it. I'll look it up. And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you thank

Lisa  25:35

everybody. My parents, obviously know. 

Mike  25:41

Fantastic. I know that now. Our time has come to a close. Thank you so much to Lisa for illuminating the complicated world of VFX. Thank you for listening to another episode of red carpet rookies. To help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals. Please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone or online if you're an Android user. If you're interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is to join our mailing list at red carpet rookies.com. Or alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet rookies on Twitter at RC rookies pod. I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business, Mike battle on Twitter. So please do come and say hi, thank you again for listening. We'll see you next time.