When Ben Le Foe contacted me to do a “spotlight” interview for Quantel, I was interested as I find the ways in which the company Quantel connects with consumers and customers is very genuine. But what was really interesting is to answer 10 questions about myself is an exercise that I rarely do. In fact, I realized this was fun and challenging at the same time. I enjoyed reflecting on some of these areas of my life and delivering honest answers to (seemingly) simple questions like “what’s the secret to successful collaboration?” Thank you, Ben and Quantel for the opportunity.
August 11, 2011
This month we put Michael Cioni from Light Iron under our spotlight and ask him ten questions about his background, his work and how Light Iron exploit the benefits of collaboration.
Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Michael Cioni, and I’m the founder and CEO of Light Iron. My background has been mixed in the post-production and production fields since 1997, where I first worked as an online editor for the PBS affiliate WSIU-TV while in school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Taking from both my love for production and post-production, Light Iron has become a post-production entity with half of its business coming directly from the production side of our business.
Who are Light Iron and what are its specialties?
Light Iron was founded in the summer of 2009. Though we’ve been open for just under 2 years, we’ve assembled a talent pool that is the key to our rapid growth, expansion and award-winning inventions. After 12 months of construction, we only recently moved into our new 10,000 square foot Hollywood location. Since opening, Light Iron has provided on-set services with our OUTPOST systems on films like “Pirates of the Caribbean 4″ and “The Amazing Spiderman”. We’ve also provided the digital intermediate services on films such as David Fincher’s “The Social Network”, the adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire”.
Who or what inspired you to go into your line of work?
My father was an animator in Chicago when I was growing up and he would show me post-production animation and also take me to online houses like Skyview and Editel back in the 80s. My interest in computers and storytelling from an early age paved the way for my love of story telling through motion pictures.
Growing up with that exposure made me comfortable in post houses and interested in technological developments (including animation, graphics, editing and colour correction). Between that exposure and a high school that offered TV production and editing courses in the mid 90s, it was clear to me at 16 or 17 that I wanted to make motion pictures in Los Angeles my career.
What was the first professional or paid project you worked on?
In college, my partner Ian Vertovec and a number of close friends were hired by PBS to produce and direct a half-hour show for the Southern Illinois region. While the pay was part-time, the effort we put it was (quite literally) all the time! The show we started was called “alt.news 26:46″, a news magazine program that is now in its 11th season and has won nearly 30 Regional Emmys since we started it in 1999. We were fortunate to have such a great opportunity so early in our careers. alt.news 26:46 took us all over the United States, including to California for the Student Emmys and even to the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 and 2001.
What makes Light Iron different from other post houses?
Light Iron is a 100% file-based facility designed without the need to migrate legacy or antiquated equipment into the next iteration of d-cinema trends. But assembling the right technology is honestly the easy part; the key to what makes Light Iron different is the next-generation approach to how we configure our technology, how we train our staff and how we configure our flow of work.
When you think about the technical barriers that allow post houses to compete, you realize that realistically there are very few: every post house has a massive component of overlapping tools and technology. The only thing that cannot overlap is the people. Most of Light Iron’s employees have never worked in post before and some have never worked in Los Angeles before. Some consider that a weakness, but the more experience I have with people in the community, the more grateful I am that Light Iron is not a facility full of politics, preconceived notions and jaded attitudes. The result is the freshest approach to our clients with new talent solving new problems.
Being an industry shaper inspires a lot of our staff as they sense they are part of something special. And these special moments become easier when you work in a facility specially designed to facilitate creative thinking on a file-based, future-proof level.
What one piece of equipment can’t you live without?
My laptop goes everywhere with me and it is my music, my movies, my job and my personal life wrapped in a notebook that I simply cannot live without: there is no doubt that I spend more time with my laptop than I do sleeping. I have been a iBook, MacBook and MacBook Pro user since 2001 and Apple’s toolset combined with its horsepower in a small lightweight laptop is amazing.
I create over 2 new Keynote presentations every week in addition to complex workflow flowcharts in Pages. I send diagrams to movie studios, directors and producers for major motion pictures from my Pages documents. For example: the workflow document that outlines the data pipeline flowchart for capturing The Amazing Spiderman in 3D came from a single document in my MacBook Pro.
I have even edited the last 7 company reels for RED on my laptop using Final Cut Pro transcodes of 4K and 5K RED R3D files.
If you were to describe your work in three words, what would they be?
Sleep when dead.
What is the secret to successful collaboration?
I find that the secret to successful collaboration is the marriage between people with whom you regularly agree, mixed with people who regularly challenge you. I have always found that being surrounded by people who don’t always agree with each other tends to be a powerful asset in collaboration. Like a hologram, ideas often change when you alter the perspective from which you examine them.
By surrounding yourself with people who share the same ultimate goal while not sharing the same immediate idea, a powerful combination of group evaluation can be experienced which almost always leads to the right conclusion. Most lawyers say when two people are in dispute: “The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.” So is the same with collaboration. Collaboration is the result of an appropriate balance between speaking, listening, and compromising. God gave us two ears and one mouth: use them that way.
What’s your top tip for managing teams to make sure projects run smoothly?
Communication is the most important component to ensuring the execution of smooth projects. With multiple moving parts, departments and personalities across multiple shifts, communication is crucial in keeping the train moving in the same collective direction. In addition to that is the communication with the client. In cases where clients are less experienced than they may think they are, our inter-company and inter-client communication serves as a protection barrier as well as a level of education that helps mature our clients’ experience with complex tasks.
The most common problem we find in post-production is the area of “hidden fees.” A process that post houses have learned to capitalize on based on “tech-talking your client to death.” Since most clients are far less technical than their post houses, it is imperative that post houses use that to improve a project, not exploit a client’s inexperience. And the way to breed that type of respect and avoid financial arguments is to simply communicate as often as possible. The best post producers I know are on the phone all day ensuring everyone knows what everyone knows.
What was your worst disaster from working with someone else?
Fortunately I have been able to steer clear of a significant amount of major disasters in collaborating with others. I suppose one that has stuck with me through the years was when I was first massively taken advantage of. I had just started my first post house in 2003, and I was working with 3 of my friends from college at a small post house called PlasterCITY Digital Post.
On one of our first projects the producers kept making promises for payment but it never came. I trusted them and we did the editing, the graphics, colour, and ultimately the delivery of the product but we were never paid. We were young and inexperienced and lost about $25,000 from these people. However I was told by my mentors that there was good news: I “only” lost $25,000. Many people that break into the industry have much worst stories than this and greater losses. For me, the price was hard to swallow (especially at the time) but we moved on. Learning how to identify untrustworthy people is something that we all unfortunately have to practise often. Luckily, they are the minority – nevertheless, their impact can be substantial.
Light Iron: http://www.lightiron.com