April 19, 2024

Amy Vincent ASC on A Nice Indian Boy, Hustle & Flow, Eve’s Bayou

Amy Vincent, ASC did not originally set out to become a cinematographer. While studying veterinary medicine at UC Santa Cruz, she got a work study job hanging lights for the theater department. She fell in love with the creative art of lighting, and soon transitioned to the theater arts department. Amy found her natural affinity for math and science matched the skill set needed for technical theater production. She began making short films at UCSC, moving to Los Angeles after college to pursue a career in film. Amy’s first job was as an assistant editor, but she really wanted to work in the camera department. So she began working her way up from camera intern to camera assistant, working with notable DPs such as Bill Pope on Clueless and Robert Richardson on Natural Born Killers.

A few years into her career as a camera assistant, Amy decided to go to grad school at AFI. She shot many student short films for free before meeting writer and director Kasi Lemmons. Amy could tell from page one that the script for Eve’s Bayou was something personal and special. They made the short film together, then over the course of three years, Lemmons raised enough money and interest to turn Eve’s Bayou into a feature. It was Amy’s first movie as a cinematographer and it became her first big breakout.

One of Amy’s frequent collaborators was director Craig Brewer. She was given a copy of his first film on VHS, then the two met to discuss making 2005’s Hustle & Flow. “I think the beauty of where my collaboration with Craig and the process of making the movie was what the movie was about. The two folded over on each other. I mean, it’s the idea of making music or making a movie by whatever means necessary. And there was something that became so apparent in the process. For example, we tried on a whole bunch of different formats, like, what are we going to shoot? At one point we were going to shoot Mini DV, because that’s what Craig knew and then we settled into Super 16.” She and Brewer went on to work together on Black Snake Moan and the 2011 Footloose remake.

Throughout her career, Amy has enjoyed collaborating with directors on smaller movies. Her most recent project, A Nice Indian Boy, had a very low budget and it had to be shot quickly before the actors strike. “It is so cool to have a really funny rom com that’s gay and Indian. It would have been great to have more time and more money to make that movie, but I love all of the things that came together to make this simple little movie. It’s really important to me to be able to make a movie that means something to a slightly different community.”

Amy recently received the ASC Presidents Award, which recognizes her long career as a cinematographer and a mentor to new cinematographers. She’s also an artist in residence at Loyola Marymount University, where she teaches film classes and mentors students making short films.

You can see Amy’s recent work on the show Parish with Giancarlo Esposito on AMC+.

A Nice Indian Boy premiered at the SXSW Film Festival to critical acclaim, and is seeking distribution.

Find Amy Vincent: https://www.amyvincentasc.com/
Instagram: @amyvvincent

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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April 10, 2024

Strada CEO Michael Cioni: Using AI to simplify workflows

Michael Cioni is one of the film industry’s most influential people in digital cinema and post production technology. He is uniquely gifted at identifying and following fads that turn into trends, and trends that convert into industry standards. Michael was always drawn to the challenge of helping filmmakers figure out their best workflows. “I really wanted to embody knowledge to help workflows, so that I could inform customers, partners and filmmakers. And then together we would figure out what’s the best recipe for this particular film.”

Michael began his career at post house Plaster City, then co-founded the post house Light Iron, which was acquired by Panavision. He then worked for Frame.io where he found several workflow shortcuts, including Camera to Cloud. Shortly after Adobe acquired Frame.io, Michael started paying closer attention to a new trend: AI. Last year he decided to leave Frame.io and together with his brother Peter, they founded Strada. With Strada, Michael wants to enable creative professionals the freedom to work entirely from the cloud, using helpful AI tools. “The most lucrative, and I think the most useful forms of AI is in utilitarian tasks. The first major part of filmmaking workflow that Strada wants to use AI to eliminate is the mundane aspects of creating a story. If creative people can get rid of the boring, mundane, repeatable, low-skill stuff, then it means we have more time to do the satisfying, creative, fun stuff.”

Strada can transfer assets from cloud to cloud without having to download them and then reupload them. Using AI, Strada can provide a transcription and a translation of narrative content early and up front. It can also tag and analyze images so that it’s easy to search using just one word for a specific scene, saving hours in the editing process. Plus, all the work can be done remotely, from any location, because everything is stored in the cloud.

Strada is currently still in private beta but anyone can apply to try it. If you have a project you’re working on, go to Strada’s website to contact them about trying out the beta version. The company plans to start rolling out the public beta by fall 2024.

The entire Strada team will be at NAB Las Vegas next week April 13-17 at the Atlas Lens Co. booth in Central Hall C5539 to provide live demos of the AI-powered workflow technology platform and allow filmmakers to test out Strada’s capabilities firsthand.

Find Michael Cioni: Instagram: @michaelcioni
Strada: https://strada.tech/

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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April 3, 2024

Dune: Part Two cinematographer Greig Fraser, ACS, ASC

Cinematographer Greig Fraser, ACS, ASC doesn’t see Dune: Part Two as a sequel, but as simply the second half of the Dune story. Shooting the second movie made Greig feel “emboldened, to make decisions that we may not have made in the first instance. We weren’t necessarily considering how to outdo ourselves. I think the fact that we were kind of riding a wave- no pun intended- but a wave of success for that last movie.”
Dune: Part Two was shot digitally on the ARRI ALEXA 35, the ALEXA 65 and the ALEXA Mini LF then printed to 70 mm film in post production for the final print. Greig prefers the look of film to that of raw digital, but he doesn’t feel like he has to shoot on film. He used a small set of spherical lenses that were easily transportable.

Lighting for the movie included plenty of hard light and open shade, since most of Dune: Part Two takes place in the harsh desert sands of Arrakis. Greig chose to uplight in order to illuminate faces, because harsh sunlight would naturally bounce off the ground and reflect upwards onto the characters. “I think that the most important thing in this movie is that everything feels honest. When you’re going to extremes in a story, if you’re running a thousand foot long sandworm in the middle of the movie, which is obviously fantasy, then you’ve got to also fill it with reality and honesty. You can tell Denis’ direction with the actors was absolutely honest. I needed to make sure that I had the same kind of approach for the lighting.”

The production featured a massive crew, shooting in four countries: Budapest, Italy, Jordan and Abu Dhabi. The second unit was essential for staying on schedule. Greig also relied on his DIT to help him match shots across different locations, sometimes months apart. He often had to choose whether to shoot on the sound stage or outside on location for the desert sequences. Though filming outside was best for daylight, the reality is that real sand is messy, uncontrolled, and harsh on equipment. The huge sandstorm sequence was shot on the soundstage, which was pumped full of atmospheric haze and color graded in post to be sand colored.

Greig enjoyed testing and using infrared black and white film for the gladiator-style fight scenes on Giedi Prime. He used a modified ARRI ALEXA 65 to shoot infrared. Since the people there have very pale white skin, he imagined that Giedi Prime has only infrared light from the sun, and no visible sunlight.

Greig partnered with actor Josh Brolin to create a beautiful art book of photography called Dune: Exposures. It features photos he took on the set of Dune and Dune: Part Two, with prose written by Josh Brolin. You can find it at Insight Editions or on Amazon.

Find Greig Fraser: Instagram: @greigfraser_dp

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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March 28, 2024

Dynamics of a Working Camera Department with Greg Irwin, SOC

Gregory Irwin is an extremely experienced A Camera First AC who first got into the business 44 years ago. He received a 2016 Society of Camera Operators Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions as Camera Technician. His most recent project is the Joker sequel Joker: Folie à Deux coming soon.

Greg frequently gives talks on the importance of character and credibility in the camera department. The camera department is in a leadership role on any production. There’s always going to be challenges on set, but it’s important to remember that if the camera department seems like they’re panicking, it affects the rest of the production. A good camera department is always helpful, no matter what department needs it. Never be rude or show panic, even when things aren’t going to plan. Greg says, “I want my team to know everything at all times, and I want them to be better than me. If I can develop a young camera person into a rock solid, good human being as well as a good camera technician then I’ve done my job.”

Greg discusses:

Character and credibility in the camera department-remembering you are in a leadership role
Taking a business approach to the camera department
Interacting with the director, cinematographer, producers and showrunners
How to hire others in the camera department- be sure to vet your camera crew before hiring them
Be a “one minute manager”- choose people you don’t have to micromanage
Handling the first phone calls with the filmmakers and producers: save talk about rates, money, deals until about the 4th phone call so you can get to know the person who you’re negotiating with
Generally talk rates/business aspects for your camera team as well
Prep for the camera prep day: prep should already be done ahead, including what you need for your camera package
Prep and budget: build everything you need for prep based on meetings with the filmmakers & DP, timestamp prep lists to keep track of everything. By draft 10, you should be clear on what’s needed and camera budget should be very clear at that point
Look the part- better to dress like a professional
Be organized and don’t have a sense of entitlement
How to get noticed and move up in the camera department

Find Greg Irwin: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0410389/

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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March 20, 2024

Masters of the Air cinematographer Richard Rutkowski, ASC

Masters of the Air on AppleTV+ is about the pilots who served in the 100th Bomb Group in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Cinematographer Richard Rutkowski shot episodes 107 and 108, which included both aerial flying, bombing and imprisoned airmen at a German POW camp. From the beginning, Richard was impressed with how everything was organized on such a massive scale. The props, set design and costumes were extremely exact to the time period. “I really am attracted to stories that have authenticity in them,” says Richard. “And they put the authentic on camera. It is all exactly what it’s meant to be, what it was at the time, as close as they can get.”

Richard worked with director Dee Rees on their block of Masters of the Air. The prison camp scenes involved working with searchlights, mud and absolute darkness at night, with up to 250 people in a scene. He chose to light in a way that would emphasize the dim lighting, gray atmosphere and unhealthy look for the POWs. Some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American fighter pilots, are also brought to the POW camp and the prisoners are integrated into the previously racially-segregated fighting force.

Shooting the action inside the planes involved large-scale LED volume screens surrounding the aircraft sections, with an LED roof overhead, which created most of the lighting for the scene. The actors were placed on a gimbal controlled articulated steel deck so they could react to the motion. The cameras tracked with the video system, and had GPS locators that allowed the background to respond to where the camera was so that it knew how much background to put in.

Richard was the sole cinematographer on the FX series The Americans for several seasons. The Americans was about a Russian spy couple posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. during the Cold War in the 1980’s. Richard established the look of the show, with the couple’s “normal” DC life leaning into bolder primary colors, in a kind of red, white, and blue cleanliness. By contrast, in their double life as spies, Richard chose a grittier, darker and grainy look. On The Americans, Richard says he learned the value of letting the actors do their work. “(There is) an unspoken connection being made about whether a scene is moving well, whether a take is truly finished. I would learn to stop reaching for that cut button. No matter who said what, if the actor was in it, we don’t cut. You leave the boom up, keep out of the frame. If the actor’s in it, we’re not cutting. We’ll go till they’re ready.”

As a kid, Richard’s father was a fine art painter and he grew up all over the country. He began making 16mm films in college and working with theatrical director Robert Wilson. After college, Richard started working on small budget films, working his way up through the camera department, including being a second assistant camera on School Ties with cinematographer Freddie Francis, a two time Oscar winner. After School Ties, Richard wrote Ed Lachman asking to work with him, and he went on to work with Ed on several movies. He feels that working your way up and learning all the different crafts in the camera department is a great education for a DP.

Masters of the Air is available on AppleTV+.

Find Richard Rutkowski: Instagram @richardrutkowskidp

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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March 13, 2024

House of Ninjas showrunner and executive producer Dave Boyle

The Netflix series House of Ninjas has become a hit show, rising to #1 in the streaming service’s top 10 list. The story follows the Tawara family, who have been ninjas, or shinobi, for generations. Tragically, the oldest son and brother disappeared six years before in a battle with their rivals, leading the Tawaras to stop being ninjas. But the family must fight together again as the rival clan gets more powerful and threatens the entire country.

Showrunner Dave Boyle was first brought on as showrunner for House of Ninjas by an executive at Netflix Japan, who knew he was familiar with the culture. Dave’s second language is Japanese, which he studied as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He had written and directed a few independent Japanese American and Japanese language films, such as Man from Reno, Daylight Savings and Surrogate Valentine, which all took place in the U.S. This was his first experience with shooting anything in Japan. He was drawn to the tone of House of Ninjas, which combines both drama, action and violence with comedy and warmhearted playfulness. “Tone was the reason why we all wanted to make this project. It’s more than the plot mechanics and the story. It was all about creating this atmosphere, this tone that an audience could sink into and enjoy for many, many episodes. And so I think that tone was something that we were talking about from the very, very get-go and something that we really wanted to nail and get right.”

Once he was on board, Dave began working on the preproduction and show bible for House of Ninjas. The show bible had to be written in three weeks, which is a very fast process, especially since Dave knew the show’s foundation required a deep understanding of shinobi culture and history. He found the preproduction process in Japan to be much different from the U.S., with casting happening even before the show’s scripts were written. The script format in Japan read from right to left, and the top half of the page is left blank for the director to draw storyboards and a shotlist, as a clear way for the director to show what they’re planning to do.

House of Ninjas is available on Netflix.

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March 6, 2024

Jenelle Riley, Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, discusses the 2024 Academy Awards nominations

Long-time friend and colleague Jenelle Riley of Variety magazine chats with Ben and Illya for our fifth annual Oscar nominations special. With a focus on cinematography, they discuss what they liked, what will win, what should win, and their favorite movies of the year that may have been overlooked. They also talk about the past year in movies, Oscar campaigning and the accusations of film “snubs.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the films and topics discussed in this episode. Listen to our recent interviews with the nominated DPs as well as other films of note!

Spike Lee, who won an ASC Board of Governors award
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer, who also won an ASC award for theatrical feature film
Ed Lachman, El Conde
Matty Libatique, Maestro
Robbie Ryan, Poor Things
Rodrigo Prieto, Martin Scorsese Killers of the Flower Moon
Barbie, Ryan Gosling
Nyad, Anette Bening
The Holdovers (DP Eigil Bryld) , Alexander Payne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Past Lives (DP Shabier Kirchner), Greta Lee
American Fiction (DP Cristina Dunlap)
Wonka
Saltburn (DP Linus Sandgren)
The Killer (DP Eric Messerschmidt)
May/December

Find Jenelle Riley on Instagram and X: @jenelleriley
and Variety: https://variety.com/

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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February 26, 2024

Bonus Episode: To Kill a Tiger director Nisha Pahuja and editor Mike Munn

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview director Nisha Pahuja and editor Mike Munn about the documentary To Kill a Tiger. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

**A warning that this episode discusses sexual assault and violence, so please take care.**

To Kill a Tiger is the story of Ranjit, a farmer in Jharkhand, India whose 13 year old daughter is raped by three men from her village. Ranjit is determined to get justice for his daughter through the legal system. In India, men rarely stand up for their daughters and conviction rates for rape are less than 30 percent. It’s common practice in the village for a girl to be married off to her abuser instead. Rangit and his family faced down threats of violence and ostracism by the townspeople.

Director Nisha Pahuja was originally making a documentary studying Indian masculinity when she met Ranjit and his daughter. She followed their story for about 18 months, thinking they would only be one part of the story. Only in the editing process did the story start to take shape. It became clear that Ranjit and his daughter Kiran were the strongest characters. Nisha admired Ranjit’s courage and love for his daughter. “I just think Ranjit is the kind of person who has this idea of doing the right thing inside of him. He’s just a very ethical, thoughtful person.” Because Kiran was only 13 at the time, Nisha had to be careful about revealing her identity. By the time the film was finished, Kiran was 18, and gave permission to show her face. Nisha says, “She said it was because she couldn’t believe how courageous she was when she was watching herself, she couldn’t believe her own courage and her own bravery. And she wanted to celebrate that.”

Nisha’s husband Mrinal Desai was the primary cinematographer on To Kill a Tiger, and they lived together in India while making the documentary. Nisha finds that he has a very quiet and gentle way with the people they film. She, Mrinal and their sound recordist Anita Kushwaha have worked together for a long time and are able to create an atmosphere of intimacy and trust.

Editor Mike Munn spent about 8 months working on the film before he decided that they had to distill it down to the best story. “We were wrestling a lot because we had, in fact, two different films. So Ranjit’s story was so specific and so well drawn out that it needed its own place. So, we jettisoned all of that work that we’d done.” Mike started expanding Ranjit’s story and discovered that this version of the film has a clear narrative arc with interesting characters. Fortunately, the raw footage came back from India with a basic transcription and subtitles that could be polished during the edit with the help of a translator. Mike says, “My favorite part overall was working with the observational and verite nature of the film. It was so intimate and real and we’re all creating scenes out of real emotion. This was a film where the narrative was all happening within real scenes with the family. That was challenging, but rewarding in just the truthfulness of it.”

To Kill a Tiger is in select theaters. https://tokillatigerfilm.com/

Find Nisha Pahuja: http://www.noticepicturesinc.com/
Instagram @nishappics

Find Mike Munn: https://mikemunneditor.com/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 21, 2024

Maestro cinematographer Matty Libatique, ASC

We have the multi-talented Kays Al-Atrakchi as our special guest host this week!

Shortly after working together on A Star Is Born, director and actor Bradley Cooper told cinematographer Matty Libatique that he’d like their next project to be about conductor Leonard Bernstein. Cooper hadn’t even begun writing the screenplay for Maestro yet, but over the next six years, he and Matty discussed how to evolve the story and shoot the biopic. They spent a lot of time shooting tests in multiple formats. Matty and Cooper decided to shoot on Kodak film, using both black and white and color, and two different aspect ratios (1.33:1 and 1.85:1) for the story. The film takes place over 50 years, and it was important to test the aging makeup and prosthetics Cooper would wear as Bernstein.

Maestro was a complex story to tell, and Cooper wanted to explore Bernstein’s life in as many visually creative ways as possible. Every shot was thought out, including all the montages that deal with the passage of time. For several scenes, much of what Cooper had described on the page was what ended up on screen. “It’s one of those rare cases where the the writing really matched up with what we ended up doing, very early on. There were subsequent drafts, but those moments that he had crafted ahead of time never went away,” says Matty. In order to keep himself organized, Matty created a spreadsheet that mapped out all the shots and equipment for every beat and scene in the script, which could also be altered if Cooper made changes.

At the heart of Maestro is the complicated relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre. Cooper frequently used the motif of Montealegre waiting in the wings for Bernstein, as she put everything in her life on hold to be with him. Their love grounds the story, and Matty wanted it to look as naturalistic as possible. “Instead of going for the glam, even though it might feel like an old movie at the beginning of the film, I was trying to keep it more candid… I think Bradley and I gravitate towards naturalism because we don’t want anything that smells false or pretentious. It’s just something to stay away from. Bradley has a real sensitivity to it.”

Cooper’s approach as a director is extremely artistic and sensitive to the emotions in the scene, and he doesn’t use a conventional shot list or get traditional coverage. If the scene feels wrong after they’ve shot it, he and Matty will mull it over and then come up with a better way to shoot it. “Bradley is so editorially minded, he keeps in mind whether or not we’re going to end a scene in a wide or start in a wide or ended in tight or start in a tight. So those are conscious decisions, but they aren’t necessarily made ahead of time. We respond to the space and we respond to the light. And then we just react and it’s organic, it’s his process.”

Maestro is available on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/81171868

Matty Libatique is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique
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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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February 20, 2024

Bonus Episode: Past Lives cinematographer Shabier Kirchner

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview Shabier Kirchner, the cinematographer of Past Lives. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Past Lives, written and directed by Celine Song, is about childhood sweethearts reconnecting as adults after many years. When cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, who is from Antigua, was sent the script, it immediately resonated with him. “Past Lives was not just a standalone amazing script, but I found myself in the material. A lot of what I was going through, being an immigrant to the US, being from the Caribbean, reconnecting with a friend, falling in love, all of that stuff was happening while I was reading the material and it just felt like it was written for me.”

Shabier and director Celine Song had an amazing first conversation, and he wasn’t aware that she’d never made a film before. Fortunately, they had an extensive amount of time to prep the movie, and they chose to shoot on Kodak 35mm film. The film takes place in New York and Korea, and they knew they had to shoot it out of order, starting with all of the New York scenes which take place later in the story. Shabier and Song also spent time discussing how to use the language of the film to express what the characters were experiencing. Past Lives tells a story about how relationships change over time. Shabier chose to translate this into deliberate pacing with long tracking shots, keeping the lighting natural and simple. In the film, natural elements tell the passage of time as well, through rain, clouds and the changing light. Even the characters Nora and Hae Sung tell a story about time in their movements. “We were speaking about the final scene in the film, and I asked Celine a question of what direction should they walk? In a very Celine fashion, she (said) ‘Well, they should walk right to left because that is into the past. And she should drop him off in the past and then walk from left to right back into the future and up the stairs.’ That very small and simple moment in our conversation led and informed the entire language of the film in terms of how we move the camera from left to right.”

Shabier broke out as a cinematographer a few years ago on director Steve McQueen’s five-part anthology series, Small Axe, winning a BAFTA for lighting and photography. The series tells both real and fictional stories about London’s West Indian community in the 1970’s and 80’s. McQueen chose to treat each episode as a series of small films, rather than a TV series. They would discuss and prep one, scout it, shoot it, break for a week, then begin prep for the next episode. Starting with Mangrove, the longest in the series, they shot in order as much as possible, with Lovers Rock next. Shabier says it was a nice release for the crew’s pent-up emotions on Mangrove, which dealt with anti-police protests and then the trial of nine Black men accused of starting a riot. They knew they could put joy and energy into Lovers Rock, a much simpler story about a house party, love and music. Shabier thinks McQueen structured the shoots for Small Axe in a way that was very smart, creating a serious mood when they needed to be serious, and lightening the mood as needed.

Past Lives is still in some theaters and available on VOD. https://a24films.com/films/past-lives

The Small Axe series is on Amazon Prime.

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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