The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Pan's Labyrinth
Allen Daviau, ASC
Apocalypto
Little Children
DVD Playback
Production Slate
Post Focus
Death of a President
HPA Awards
Christies Projector
Short Takes
ASC Close-Up
Cohen Honored for Innovations


Post veteran Emory Cohen was recently honored with the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Advancing Postproduction Award at the Hollywood Post Alliance Awards, held on Nov. 1 in Los Angeles. Cohen’s mantle includes Emmy Awards, won for his technical innovations in digital post, and scientific/technical/engineering achievement awards from the motion picture and television academies.

Cohen’s career began at the Hollywood Film Co. while he was still in high school. In 1962, he began working at Glen Glen Sound, which at the time was the world’s largest post facility. (It was later known as 4MC.) He worked his way up at Glen Glen and eventually became vice president.

In 1982, he became president of Pacific Video, which later became LaserPacific Media. While there, he created the concept of the Electronic Laboratory, which revolutionized post processes in television, and eventually in film. “We came up with the idea around 1984,” he recalls. “At that time, 80 percent of prime-time television and 100 percent of theatrical films were cut and finished on film. Our plan called for a complete end-to-end system that substituted digital tools for film tools.”

Within a few short years, nearly every TV show in Hollywood was posted using the Electronic Laboratory. The last holdout was Murder, She Wrote, whose post team wasn’t ready to take the plunge. “They came to me and said, ‘This is a really great concept, but we only have a year left to go, and we just don’t want to change,’” Cohen recalls with a smile. “That’s exactly what they did. After that show completed its run, every show used our Electronic Lab technology.” The workflow helped the industry take its first steps toward digital nonlinear editing systems such as Avid and Final Cut Pro, which have today almost completely replaced film and audio magnetic stock cutting in the movie industry. Cohen was honored with an Emmy for the achievement.

Cohen chalked up another major innovation when he helped spur hardware manufacturers to create the 24p high-definition (HD) format. In the 1990s, as HD broadcasting began to loom on the horizon, he foresaw a huge headache for content providers, who would have to produce their shows in many different formats to satisfy HD-broadcast requirements. He recalls, “ABC picked 720p/30 frames progressive, CBS and NBC wanted their shows in 1080i and no up-conversions, and Fox initially wanted its shows in 480p. We knew that wasn’t going to work, because we’d have to buy 720p, 1080i and 480p equipment, and we’d still need a boatload of regular NTSC equipment. Then there was the issue of foreign syndication, where you had to do a standards conversion. The existing quality of the conversions was really low.”

Cohen sat down with his engineers at LaserPacific to create a single mastering format that could be used to derive all of the different deliverables the studios required. “I came up with the idea of a telecine and videotape system that ran at 24 fps, the same as film, and 1080 lines, which was the highest quality. We also envisioned a special kind of progressive scan using the same 3:2 system as film-telecine pulldown. That made everything possible and practical. Sony was the key. They worked with us to create the gear we needed, and LaserPacific became the first post house capable of working in 1080/24p. We could make syndication copies for all of the formats without losing quality. That enabled the big studio moves into HD. Our first customer was CBS.”

Cohen not only spurred manufacturers to create the format, but also encouraged input from cinematographers and post technicians whose adoption of HD 24p would be critical to its success. “I called up George Spiro Dibie [ASC], who was then president of the International Cinematographers Guild, and said I wanted to put together some meetings to describe what we were doing and why,” recalls Cohen. “About 150 people, mostly cinematographers, showed up at the first meetings. As long as ASC members feel you have some understanding of what they do, and that you’re willing to adapt your system to enhance their toolkit rather than restrict it, you can get all the help you want.”

Cohen left LaserPacific in 2004 after the company was acquired by Kodak. He started a consulting firm, Entertech, which enables him to leverage his postproduction expertise on his own terms. He also teaches seminars at the University of California-Los Angeles, where, he says, he is often the one doing the learning. “If you’re going to teach something, it’s a really good idea to know your subject, even when you’re the foremost expert in your field,” he says with a chuckle. “When you do that, preparing to teach ends up being a learning experience.” (His most recent course offering was “Digital Intermediate for Motion Pictures.”)

Cohen says much of his success has resulted from his willingness to pay attention to the pros who use the gear. “They’re the people whose lives we touch. We should always take their concerns into consideration not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it results in something that works properly.”

 
 
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