The Role of a Colourist
The role of a colourist encompasses more than working in a dark grade suite, colour grading various projects for a diverse range of clients.
As I look back on 2018 I realise that there have been many other roles I have been lucky enough to fill, including giving several presentations for audiences who had little understanding about what goes on behind the scenes to produce their favourite TV shows and even less about the function of a ‘colourist’.
My presentations included examples of scenes from TV series which illustrated the difference a colourist can make to a show; from weather dilemmas to special ‘looks’ unique to each series.
Fascinated by this unknown but critical element of the film and television industry, the questions following the presentations and invitation to return for more demonstrated how fully the audiences were engaged. If you or your organisation would like to arrange an informative presentation about the role of a colourist, please get in touch with me.
Deakin University again invited me to be part of the team to help cast light on the role of a colourist in post-production for their third year film students. A presentation followed by workshops with these delightful people was a great deal of fun, concluding with a challenging final marking of a number of well thought out and brilliantly executed films. Helping students learn more about what we do as colourists is something I really enjoy. If you would like further information or personal training, I am more than happy to help.
As a result of my involvement with Deakin the previous year, a young student was inspired to learn more about the role of a colourist. Sadly, with the demise of the larger post-production facilities, there s limited scope for those aspiring to be in the industry to train in-situ. I was able, with the permission of the clients and the post house, to get her involved in a few grading sessions so she could get a better grasp of what is involved on a daily basis. It was very kind of the client to allow active participationand provided a great opportunityfor the student.
Interest in the role of a colourist is burgeoning; in 2018 a cinematographer seeking to expand his knowledge also approached me. He too was permitted to sit in on a grade session and had many questions about how to get started, where the work originates and how to get established in the industry.
In short, it is a long, slow process that requires a fair bit of patience and a bucket-load of perseverance. My advice to anyone trying to gain experienceas a colourist, is to offer your services to emerging producers, directors and cinematographers who may benefit from the help of a colourist. There is a growing need for on-set DIT’s and this may be a good way to get started as DIT’s are often called upon to do a little grading or balancing with rushes.
Even fellow colourists can do with a hand from time to time when bookings overlap or projects are rescheduled causing a clash. This occurred to a fellow colourist last year who was suddenly swamped and completely exhausted as he tried to complete two projects simultaneously. He handed over a drive with 7tb of data and an ungraded resolve project for a feature film. With much scurrying about and a great deal of help and support from the team at City Post, I managed to get the feature fully graded and handed over for DCP creation within an extremely tight deadline.
Being able to support another colourist is a rare opportunity, as we rarely cross paths. In an effort to help a colourist complete a project with a very tight deadline, I made myself available to just be alongside him as he made decisions about the grade and to help find the most efficient process to complete the task. It’s a term he calls ‘teddy-bearing’: when you just need to say out loud what it is you are thinking of doing, to garner reassurance from the person alongside you that you’re actually taking the best approach or to seek their advice. In a job where we tend to over-think things o rquestion the approach or direction we are heading, it is very helpful to have another professional alongside you now and then. It is something that I really enjoyed doing and in this very isolated role, it is always inspiring to see how other colourists approach a grade. Get in touch if you’re struggling with a project or would like some input.
In an effort to counter the isolation that can be felt by freelance colourists, a couple of colourist catch-ups organised here in Melbourne have proven very popular. We have had a colourist from the States join the group and visits from Sydney and Canberra based colourists. The aim is to get together, discuss some of the challenges we each face and talk a bit about some of the exciting new technological advances that impact our role and the delivery requirements (3D, UHD, 4k, 8k…) There is also food and a wine (or three) involved, naturally! If you are interested in joining us for our next catch up, please drop me a line.
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweet taste of low price is forgotten – Benjamin Franklin
There was an instance last year where a filmmaker had nearly exhausted his entire budget working with a colourist who charged for three attempts to grade the footage which still failed to get the images to reflect the brief. Good communication is a critical part of our role as colourists and it was clear there was some misunderstanding regarding the client’s expectations.
Frustrated, disappointed and nearly broke, the filmmaker sought my advice. Viewing his footage I could see it was beautifully shot and needed a very straight forward grade. After discussinghis delivery requirements and all the logistics of getting footage ready for me, we arranged a half-day grade at City Post. Within a few hours the short film was graded, rendered and ready for him to complete the mastering and DCP.
Having struggled for months with a discount-rate colourist, in just one afternoon his footage finally looked as he envisaged; with consistent exposures throughout and glossy polished images ready to screen at festivals. It was a delight to craft the end product and see him leave the grade finally feeling really excited about his project.
Sometimes it can be a false economy to throw your money away in an attempt to save money. It is possible to get a professional, experienced colourist to help you with your low-budget project, all you need to do is ask.
One of the unexpected highlights of 2018 was working alongside Matthew Sleeth, a renowned artist, as he colour graded his own footage called Drone Opera. This came about after we had worked together on his feature film Guilty. Matthew has directed, edited and now coloured his experimental multimedia performance Drone Operaready for exhibition running three streams of footage on separate screens simultaneously. My role was to guide and advise him about the best way to get disparate images to flow seamlessly and enhance colours where necessary. For more information regarding Matthew and this work: https://experimenta.org/a-drone-opera-2019/