IFH 058: Tips on How Directors Should Work with a Colorist

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Working with a professional colorist can be intimating if you haven’t done it before. I’ve been a colorist for over 12 years and have spent my fair share of time in a color grading suite.

I decided to put together a few tips on how filmmakers and directors should work with a colorist. I also included a few videos to help you along with your post adventures.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
So guys, today I wanted to talk about how to work with a colorist I've been a colorist now for I think about 12 years so I've colored a ton of features, music videos, TV commercials, promos, all that kind of stuff. So I have a little bit of experience working with other filmmakers in the in the color room so I wanted to kind of give you guys some tips on how to get the most out of those color sessions because those color sessions can be really expensive and if you don't know as a director and a producer or as a filmmaker in what to do when you're in a color session you can kind of waste a lot of money so I have a handful of tips that I wanted to talk to you guys about first So first and foremost you've got to have a vision you have to have an understanding of what you want to do in the color suite and what color will do in the storytelling process whether that be a music video commercial but for this podcast we're gonna focus on independent film and long form feature films and short films as well narrative so what I mean is like under like do your research so if you're going to if you're going to go in to a color session with a short film on action short film and you have no reference point you have no ideas about what you want to do and you go you know, but we're going to call the guy bud bud he's the colors but the colors you know can you come up with some cool stuff and then this whole creation and searching for the look comes into play and there is a part of that in the color session without question but if you can fast forward through that process to walk in and go you know what I really loved the matrix and that was kind of the Bible I wanted to go with this like these kind of those kind of dark hues, the greens the green hues through everything and then sometimes you'll be able to do and sometimes you won't and I'll talk about that in a second but but at least have some point a point of reference like you know what man I love Michael Bay movies I want the really crunched down blacks meaning like really contrast II and really bright colors and blow out the highlights and that's kind of what the Bible won on this or you know you want to go down a more dramatic point and you know, I really love Birdman, I really want to go down that route or, or I loved whiplash and love the way that looked or you know any you know, Carol, I love the way Carol looked or any of these other movies, I'm just throwing movies out that recently just seen. But you have to have a reference point and preferably multiple reference points, so you don't just get one so you have multiple movies that are in the same world and the colors can get an idea of NAGPRA that, ideally, what would have happened is you would have sent stills to the colors prior to your session. So you've either got you've captured stills off the movie, so they can kind of have it or you can have those stills with you when you come into the session. but preferably you did it beforehand. So he has he or she has an idea of what you want prior to getting in the room. Or you just send them the the movie titles like I want the matrix I want shusha I want this to be a mixture of Shawshank Blade Runner, the matrix and Dumb and Dumber. See it that's not gonna work real well. But there's so many different things going on there. But if you give him a bunch of like, I want it to look like the rock Armageddon, and bad boys, you know, and those are the three movies that are all in the same world, all the same kind of palette, and they hit the colors would then understand where to start the point from now. Next tip is when you ask for these things, and you have that vision, you have to understand that there are limitations of what the colors can do. So when you say I want a movie to look like the matrix, well the matrix had a tremendous amount of design involved. All the costumes were designed around this color palette, all the production design was designed around the color palette, and then the deep he was shooting for this color palette as well as the color is towards the end. Now if you didn't do all those other things in the front in production, you can't expect the colors to automatically turn your movie into the matrix now A lot of plugins out there and a lot of little packages and stuff like that, that gave you the matrix look. And that's all fine and dandy, but there's a reason why those things never looked as good as the matrix because they had this plan. So as a filmmaker, you should have color planned out while you're shooting, you should be thinking about color, the costumes, the design of the of the environments, whether that be an apartment, whether that be cars, whether it be whatever, think about color, think about the emotion of color, and what that's going to be doing to your characters. Throughout the piece, you know, someone wearing red is going to have a very different. So if you have a beautiful young lady walking down the street wearing a bright red tight outfit, as opposed to a purple one, or a yellow one, or a green one, same dress, different colors, that gives you an emotion, a different emotional trigger. So you have to understand the different concepts of color. And we won't go into color theory in this episode. But that's something I encourage all you guys to go out and study is color theory and what each color represents emotionally for your, for your characters and for your environment. So guys, you know, the colors is not a miracle worker. In that sense, as far as creating looks are concerned, they're going to do their darndest. But sometimes those lots are not achievable because you are not able to give him the I always use the term terminology meet. If you give me the meat, I'll cook it right. But if you don't give me the right meat, it's very difficult to cook a good meal. So that's similar, the similar, similar idea. So another tip guys is to understand what the colors is there to do, the colorist is there to change and balance and create looks in your film in your negative or in your raw file. So the colors is there to balance everything out. Because it's it's nearly impossible to do everything in camera to balance it out, especially digitally nowadays. Even in the olden days with film, they still could not make everything perfect, they did do some sort of coloring in the lab prior to di or digital intermediate coloring what we know today as digital color grading so so he's there to really balance things out. Sometimes the darks, you know in one shot are going to be off the other ones because didn't have enough light or just couldn't make it match that day. He's there to match each shot in the sequence. And then overall look of the entire movie so and make the actors look amazing. And what you can do in a color sweep today is remarkable. I'm going to talk a little bit about the technology a little bit later in the episode. But that's another thing just understand what he's there to do. He's not there to create magic, and you know, do things like that he's there to not only balance things out, sometimes he's there to save your butt. Because a lot of times the DP or just just production issues do not allow not allow enough light in the day enough budget to get lights in or the sun went down and was going down while you're shooting it and then the color temperatures changing while in the middle of the shot. It's his or her job to balance all that out and sometimes pull light and do digital cinematography while they're in the color suite with things called power windows which I'll get to but they can actually go in and bring out light and dark and other areas off or you know, pull out a an extension cord or Stinger that was there that you didn't really want it to be there things like that. So there's so many different things that a colorist can do but understand that that's his role. Okay, next, take breaks, sometimes you're in a room and you just sit there for three hours, four hours, just pounding on this one shot and guess what your eyes will blur out your eyes will start not being able to see the differences between different colors and so on so I always suggest every hour or so to get up for five minutes walk outside get your just don't look at the shot. Refresh your eye refresh your refresh yourself and refresh your eye. Come back and clean watch it again and move forward don't beat up the colorist you know nitpicking here and there when you know I always tell I always tell my clients Mike look, before we start going in really nitpicking each shot. If you have a lot of money and you want to just keep spending money all day fantastic. We'll sit here for the next two months. But if you have a budget and you have a certain amount of time you have to deal with get one pass of the entire movie done and then go back and handle the big things that need to be fixed. And then go back if you have time and pick up the little knick knack things here and there like well I really wish that that light glowed a little bit more her skin dropped, you know it was a little softer here or there. And I would be focusing on that then. So don't try to do everything to perfection as you go forward. Again, this is on budget. If you have a budget or package are limited amount of time you have and most office independent filmmakers will have that you have to really kind of look at the global or the broad broad view of what you're trying to achieve. So don't get stuck on the little minutia. Make sure you get the whole movie done at least once where everything is balanced. And then you can go back and tweak and have fun and really make things look as perfect as you can for the time and budget that you have. Another huge thing you have to keep an eye on is understanding basic technology understand the basic tech involved with color grading, you don't need to be a colorist yourself, you just have to understand the basic terms and understand the basic tools of what color grading is. So you have to understand what contrast is you have to understand what luminance is. But the big thing you have to understand how to power windows, our power windows are so powerful, and they can save your butt and make your movie look amazing. So understand the basic text so you can you can talk to your colorist at least at his level to a certain extent you're not expected to know everything that's if you did, you would be doing it yourself. But you hire colorist because you Hey, they're bringing their talent, their experience and so on to the project but just understand the basic technology are running on it generally all the color suites are going to either be a baselight suite, or more likely a da Vinci suite Da Vinci is the industry standard and where most of colors most colors which are Da Vinci at this point. Understanding the basic terminology basic technology of color grading will not only save you time but a lot of cash because you'll be able to move that much quicker alright guys and finally guys understand that the colorist a new as a filmmaker, this is a creative partnership, you guys are creating the look together. So if you go in it that way you're gonna get a lot more from your colorist. If you go in and going, I just want this this this and screw your ideas, you're a monkey push those buttons. That's the same if you did that with an editor and you did that with any technical or any artistic position in this. In this process, you wouldn't make it very far as a director. honestly just understand that this is a creative partnership that you are working together to come up with a look to come up with this beautiful image to make your movie better and hopefully have more production value and at the end make your movie look so amazing that you can sell it and the audiences love it. And if you don't color grade your movie your fool you have to call a grade your movie today there's no if ands or buts about it Don't try to do it yourself. Unless you're a professional color grader it's really really an art form. I've been doing it for many years I did my first movie by myself this is before the technology was so affordable and before there was colors around the corner nowadays I would definitely use a professional colors because you're going to save a ton of time and cash Alright guys, so I hope this episode helped you guys understand a little bit more about how to work with a with a colorist and make sure movies look remarkable and amazing. So thanks guys again for listening. If you want to get the Show Notes for this episode, head over to indie film hustle comm forward slash zero 58 and as always, head to filmmaking podcast calm and leave us a review for the show. It really helps the show out a lot. Keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive, and I'll talk to you soon.

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