The feature I've shot is about to go to the colorist and I have never worked with a professional colorist before so I'm looking for advice. I have a pretty good understanding of the basics of color, timing and correction through coloring most of my own work with Color, Speedgrade and/or Resolve. I guess technically I've worked with colorists before but my input was minimal and any suggestions I made, weren't in the final cut. I want to make sure I get the most out of this opportunity and any suggestions or advice would be great.
Just a few 'facts': This is a lower budget independent film, there is a post budget but its not significant, something around $20-30K. We do have a colorist onboard but didnt have a DIT onset (no custom LUT either), just a data wrangler. We shot raw with an Alexa. Mostly exteriors with available light. Film is set in 1970's.
I know DP's will give the colorist still frames of scenes with detailed notes and I plan on doing this but is the expectation that the colorist will make each adjustment or just take the notes into consideration? Is it more helpful to do a pass myself and bring that for our fist meeting? How much back and forth is there? I was told I would be in the room with the colorist by the director, does that mean overseeing each adjustment or is there a meeting beforehand and then you come back for notes? Are color palettes helpful and should you have one for each different scene/location? With this being a lower budget independent film, are power windows a realistic expectation or only for significant problems? Ok, dumb question, there are some scenes that need some stabilization, does the colorist oversee this process too?
Lot a questions and I'm not expecting all of them to be answered! If you do have some suggestions or helpful tips, I'd be grateful!
Just spend 10 or 15 minutes talking with your colorist before you start work. Make sure they understand what you were trying to achieve. If you used LUTs to get a look, make sure they either have those LUTs, or know what the LUTs were doing.
Make sure they turn off all of their personal effects. Many times I've been in a color-timing session and found that the colorist is adding digital diffusion, or a vignette, or some other 'enhancement' without telling me.
I think how much collaboration you can expect will really depend on the relationship you develop with the colorist, and also how much time you have budgeted, and whether they feel like they are doing you a favor (working off-hours for a discounted rate), etc.
As Stuart says, probably the most important thing you can do is to make sure they understand your intended look before the session starts, and to give them some specific technical guidelines for them to follow (warmer/cooler, saturated/de-saturated, rich blacks/lifted blacks, magenta/green/neutral bias to skintones). This way, you will already be working in the same direction when the session starts. Any specific reference material, including graded still frames are a good tool.
Try not to micro-manage them as they are talented artists with egos (just like DP's), but if you think they are going in the wrong direction, stop them immediately and get them to fix it. Things can go really fast in the color grading room and it can be hard to stop the momentum if you don't step in quickly.
Things can go really fast in the color grading room and it can be hard to stop the momentum if you don't step in quickly.
This bears repeating. Colorists often work very fast, and it's difficult to know what they are doing whilst twiddling knobs and adjusting things in a darkened room. Pay close attention, and stop them immediately if you don't like the way something is going.
Also, make sure they understand what's going on in each scene. I had a colorist recently spend a few minutes trying to correct what appeared to him to be a very underexposed shot. After a lot of fiddling, he finally announced 'that's the best I can do'. I suggested that we watch the shot. 2 seconds into it, the actor stepped out of the deep shadow in which he was standing, into a normally lit room, which was now of course hugely over-exposed. Colorist says 'I didn't realize he was going to do that'. I say 'that's because you didn't bother to watch the scene first.' it's always worthwhile spinning through the material quickly before you start each scene. Sometimes, I'll color-time a shot from the middle of a scene first if that better represents the scene as a whole, then go back and time the other shots.
My advice: Watch the offline movie with the colorist before grading begins. Understanding the story is very important for the colorist. If they say they never watch the film before beginning work, maybe look for a new colorist.
Sit with the colorist and adjust some significant scenes, or at least, rough them in. Take a break and let the colorist do some work on his/her own. Return and make adjustments, repeat.
As you near the end of the process, stay in the studio to perfect the work with the colorist, until ... you run out of time. $20-30K is not so much money for a full on DI theater, but is significant for a smaller studio. In a room without a projector, you might get 80-100 hours of studio time, which should be enough to make you happy. 30 hours in an expensive room, might not be enough time for a feature film. The colorist's skill is more important than the equipment that they use.
The most tricky part is when the director, producer, DP disagree. Ultimately, the Producer will have the final say, and they will be sensitive to your slowing down the process if they are paying by the hour.
One more thing: If you grade on a monitor, rather than a projector, and you're going to theaters, save some money to screen the finished product on a calibrated projector in a DI theater. Also, make a short test reel that goes through to DCP and screen that to make sure all is ok. If not, you may need a trim pass to bring it all into line.
Lastly, screen the final DCP in a calibrated theater before making thousands of copies!
Thanks Satsuki, Bruce and Stuart, this was exactly what I was looking for, really really helpful. As I suspected, bringing examples, detailed notes, reference material are all helpful to a point but it really is about building a relationship with another artist and respecting each others position.
And Bruce, thank you for your suggestions about DCP and watching on a calibrated projector, also really helpful and something I didn't take into consideration.