Netflix April 27 launched a video clip for former First Lady Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming,” which bows on the service May 6.
The doc offers an up-close look at Mrs. Obama’s life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour in 2018 promoting her autobiography that highlights the power of community to bridge political divides and the spirit of connection that comes when people openly and honestly share their stories.
Directed by Nadia Hallgren, the doc is part of Michelle and former President Barack Obama’s Higher Grounds Productions deal with Netflix.
“It’s hard these days to feel grounded or hopeful, but I hope that like me, you’ll find joy and a bit of respite in what Nadia has made,” Michelle Obama said in a statement. “Because she’s a rare talent, someone whose intelligence and compassion for others comes through in every frame she shoots. Most importantly, she understands the meaning of community, the power of community, and her work is magically able to depict it.”
Viewers often neglect to appreciate how important sound is to a production. At its most effective, a soundtrack can be as important to the experience of a film as the picture.
For the Netflix/Higher Ground documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, it was crucial to match home movie footage from a summer camp in the 1970s, and sound supervisor Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach was tasked with creating a soundtrack that evoked the times.
Crip Camp, which began streaming on Netflix March 25, chronicles the history of a ramshackle summer camp down the road from Woodstock that galvanized a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement. Executive producers include President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan, and Oscar nominee Howard Gertler.
The film is co-directed and produced by Emmy Award winner Nicole Newnham and film mixer and former camper Jim LeBrecht.
“During the spotting session, the sound team, along with sound designer Bijan Sharifi, and I spent a lot of time talking with Jim about what certain moments would have sounded like and how he’d like us to approach it. Jim played a huge role in the conceptual work, mixing and enhancement of audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “Our philosophy for the sound design on Crip Camp was to enhance the audience’s experience as much as possible, without it ever sounding artificial. We absolutely kept everything as true as possible. Things like bird sounds that we added needed to be confirmed as authentic to a particular region, or certain insects that might be prevalent in upstate New York during the summer. We also had to distress the Foley and SFX to make sure it sounded consistent with the camera footage from the appropriate decade.”
The key was to restore, augment and amplify the sound without making it noticeable.
“Pretty much every archival scene in the film, of which there are many, has some degree of additional sound design in it,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “It was our job to help the viewer feel close to those scenes, so a lot of work was put into adding a closeness or intimacy to the sounds of the film, while making sure that all of our work was invisible. You never want an audience to notice sound design in a documentary.”
One of the biggest challenges, he said, was re-creating the sound of a manual wheelchair rolling on a wood-slat deck in the 1970s. The sound design department took a manual wheelchair and drove around until they found a public boardwalk made of wood.
“It also had to be abandoned for us to get a clean recording on it,” he said. “And then further distressing it to sound like an old recording — that took a little time.”
Finding a balance between the original sound recording and necessary amplification was a challenge, especially with footage recorded in the 1970s by teenagers.
“The footage of Jim at Camp Jened was all recorded with a 15-year-old’s handheld microphone,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “There was a lot of handling noise, background noise, wind noise, and kids screaming into the mic for fun. That footage was the most challenging but also the most rewarding to clean up. We wanted to retain as much of the innocent nature as we could, but we also needed the audio to be intelligible. So we gave a lot of attention to that scene, to find the perfect balance between the two.”
Still, the team didn’t want to lose the character of the footage in forming the soundtrack.
“Imperfections are what make us human, and documentaries tend to have lots of imperfections in their production audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “My team at IMRSV Sound understands the importance of retaining the raw character and humanistic feel that is captured in production. So for Crip Camp, it was the imperfections in the production audio that added so much character to the film. Keeping a lot of that in was very important. Often times we would minimize it or clean it up, but we’d prefer to keep in some of the film’s quirks, and in doing so, be true to the spirit of the film and its filmmakers.”
Entering the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 9 in Los Angeles, Netflix had a record 24 nominations — more than any Hollywood studio.
In what has become a recurring theme during this year’s industry awards, the SVOD pioneer left the Oscars relatively empty handed. Laura Dern again walked off with a Best Supporting Actress statue for Marriage Story, while American Factory, about a Chinese businessman re-opening a manufacturing facility in Ohio, won for best documentary. The film was produced by former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s production company.
Netflix won best documentary in 2018 with anti-doping cycling-themed Icarus.
But The Irishman, Netflix’s big-budget mobster movie from director Martin Scorsese and starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, failed to win an award despite 10 nominations. Netflix spent a reported $70 million promoting Irishman for the awards season.
With a major push into original features, Netflix, like Amazon Prime Video, has taken on Hollywood, spending lavishly on productions and securing A-list talent. It has also — unlike Amazon — rebuffed industry norms when it comes to theatrical distribution.
CCO Ted Sarandos has made it a signature ploy releasing original movies in theaters concurrent with global streaming access. The strategy has angered exhibitors and traditionalists — with the former largely shunning Netflix movies.
In 2019, Netflix original movie Roma won an Oscar for best director (Alfonso Cuarón), best foreign film and best cinematography but lost for best picture. The streamer’s first original movie, Beasts of No Nation, was critically hailed, but ignored by the Academy.
Despite the slights, Sarandos dismisses possible industry blowback toward the streamer’s feature films as speculation.
“A pushback? Nobody can say that with a straight face,” he told the New York Times. “We got 24 nominations, the most of any studio. Our films have been honored across the board.”
Indeed they have. But with South Korea’s Parasite making history as the first foreign-language film to win best picture, Universal Pictures was sure to give the film a traditional theatrical window — generating about $35 million in North America. It has grossed $167.6 million worldwide, becoming South Korea’s biggest box office hit.
President Donald Trump Sept. 16 — in an early morning tweet — lashed out at a federal appeals court’s decision to re-open allegations he improperly receives money through his businesses from foreign and domestic leaders in order to curry political favor from him.
His opponents claim doing so would be in violation of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York Sept. 13 re-opened the ethics complaint, brought about by various plaintiffs, including watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The original complaint was dismissed by a lower court in 2017.
Regardless, Trump used the occasion to criticize former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book publishing deal and separate original content agreement with Netflix.
….work that way. I have a better idea. Look at the Obama Book Deal, or the ridiculous Netflix deal. Then look at all the deals made by the Dems in Congress, the “Congressional Slush Fund,” and lastly the IG Reports. Take a look at them. Those investigations would be over FAST!
The book and streaming video deals occurred after the Obamas were out of the White House and private citizens.
In April, Higher Ground Productions, the Obamas’ production company in partnership with Netflix, announced an initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and nonfiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.
Michelle’s memoir Becoming, remains a national bestseller with more than 7.5 million copies sold.
Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company in partnership with Netflix, announced its initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and non-fiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.
Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis are co-heads of the company.
The documentary American Factory, from Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, will be the first release on the slate. Acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary, the Participant Media film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
“Bloom” is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-World War II New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress.
Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history.
The company is adapting a scripted anthology series from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column “Overlooked,” telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper.
“Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen. The show travel around the globe to tell the story of our food.
From Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, and based on his book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, the non-fiction series “Fifth Risk” will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
Crip Camp is a feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives and America forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.
The Obamas launched Higher Ground last spring.
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” President Obama said in a statement. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”
“We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” Michelle Obama said in a statement. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”
“President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix. “The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”