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color timing-first pass


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#1 Sidney King

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Posted 03 September 2005 - 01:59 PM

Hi folks,

I am a first-time director new to the boards (have been a reader for a while), and am in the middle of film finishing on a 35mm feature and had a conern i'd like some advice on.

The DP and I just got back from screening the first answer print of our 35mm (anamorphic) feature at a well-respected lab in NYC. It's a fairly straight-forward project (a family drama, all shot on 5279), but it does have a significant amoung of day-for-night footage. Before the timer started the work he had a video screening session with the DP where they watched the entire film, discussed every scene, etc...and the timer had a video reference copy as well.

When we screened the first answer print we saw he left several of the day-for-night scenes timed for broad daylight. There were quite a few other scenes that did not match shot-for-shot at all (some of the individual shots looked good, but there was no consistency within the scene). The DP was very upset, especially about the uncorrected day-for-night footage.

This is a VERY low-budget project, and we simply can't afford doing pass after pass waiting for the timer to get things like what is day and what is night right (not to mention matching shots within scenes). But again, I am new to this, and didn't know if this is typical results for a first pass.

My question is, is this par for the course for a first pass, or do I have a right to be upset? I brought up my concerns with the manager, he just said this is just a first pass and these were creative issues I needed to take up with the timer on the next pass.

I explained I had already paid for a first pass (AND paid for the DP to travel to meet the timer for the first video session to get things like night and day scenes straight), and I simply did not get reasonable color correction on many crucial scenes that were left uncorrected.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated!
best,

Sidney King
Hickory, NC
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 September 2005 - 02:12 PM

Well, this is rather typical of film timing at some labs. A few labs have a pre-answer print process sometimes called "proof printing" where they print one frame from each shot and play it on a hand-cranked projector almost like a slide-show so you can discuss the timing before the first answer print is made. But at other labs, the first answer print isn't even made by the timer -- it's made by a separate Hazeltine timer and the rest of the answer prints are made by your timer using a Comparator. So the screening of the first answer print may be the first time you AND your timer have seen the movie printed.

You should always expect it to take about three answer prints to get it right, maybe after that, a reel or two may still need more corrections.

However, if you feel that all your instructions to the timer were ignored by the lab, who gave you the false impression that these looks would appear in the first answer print, you may be able to negotiate some sort of discount. However, claiming ignorance of the answer print process won't get your very far in talking to the lab. You should have talked to them very clearly about how the process would be done in terms of the first Hazeltine timing and whether or not these looks would be incorporated in the first answer print or not. Because if they said to you directly that they would for the most part -- and that the first answer print would NOT be neutral in timing -- then you'd have some basis for getting a price break.
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#3 Dominic Case

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Posted 05 September 2005 - 01:36 AM

If you are clear in your mind that you instructed the timer what was to be day-for-night etc, and the print they showed you did not follow that instruction, then the lab must pay for it. The answer print that you ultimately accept may not be "final" but it must conform to your instructions to a tolerable extent. You should be able to show it to investors for example (even though your DP might be mortified).

There's no reason why a good timer, with a clear brief and a good negative, can't produce an acceptable print first time in a good lab with well-maintained equipment. But that doesn't always happen, and many labs lower the expectations of their system so that it takes several passes to reach an acceptable result. You shouldn't be paying for those unaccepatable passes.

But bear in mind that many labs have had customers who use poor grading or a dirty print to change their mind about the cut, or ask for new credits to be cut in, or simply to take a different approach to the grading. And many many times, they provide a print that matches the director's (or DoP's) brief, only to have the producer reject it as "too dark" or something. They won't be so helpful if they constantly get abused.

So there is always room for a negotiated process. Clear instructions and agreement about the requirements are vital - before the print is made.
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