In the 1990s, Marcum became an independent contractor. But toward the end of the decade, the introduction of flat-panel LCD televisions and monitors changed everything. “Flat-panels refresh faster than the shutter can, so there is no horizontal roll bar,” he explains. “Therefore, the black magic is not so important anymore. You can literally point the film camera at the LCD monitor and photograph it.”
That was the Etch A Sketch moment for his line of work. “The real reason they were calling me — ‘There’s no way to photograph it unless you’re here’ — was beginning to go away,” he says.
So it was time to hit the reset button on his career. At the time, his wife, Elena Santaballa, who passed away from cancer in 2010, asked him, “Where does all the content come from?” And that’s when the light bulb went off.
“The epiphany was, ‘Let’s not worry about the equipment. Let’s provide them with content,’ ” Marcum remembers. “Let’s stop being a vendor and let’s start becoming a creative partner.”
Since then, Khaos Digital has provided content for shows including The X-Files, 24, House, Bones, Homeland, Hawaii Five-0, Criminal Minds and Grimm. Soon, the company’s electronic techno-wizards found themselves in the writers’ rooms of television shows, tossing around ideas about how to best move the story along with the use of their graphics. Some of the Khaos crew actually go on set to provide content immediately; others remain at headquarters, working on graphics needed for a script with roughly an eight-day lead time.
Because screens are more abundant in our lives than ever, a TV episode just doesn’t seem quite as realistic if a character merely describes what’s happening on their screens as opposed to showing it. Vahan Moosekian, who served as executive producer for the Fox procedurals Lie to Me and The Finder, says a major advantage of Khaos’ content is having it there for actors to work with, rather than have them act to a green screen and then filling it in during postproduction.
“Actors will always prefer to act with real objects,” Moosekian says. “When we had Tim Roth explain something to his team, we had him do it using 55-inch monitors in the lab. The thing could be green and we could fake it — or he could see another actor on it and play to it.”
Moosekian says that because of Marcum’s experience, he becomes a valuable problem-solver on any project. Moosekian recalls filming a scene for The Finder in which the team of sleuths was looking for the location of sunken treasure. “We realized map makers 400 years ago didn’t have a consistent latitude, so how do you explain that to an audience?” he asks. “[Khaos] figured out a way to visually display that and animate it so that, when we showed it on the computer, it all made sense.”