Colorists at EFILM, Company 3 and Deluxe Toronto contributed their talents to an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts and short-form series episodes for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival®. The companies color a significant share of the major studio releases every year – recent features including Blade Runner 2049, Wonder Woman, The Shape of Water, The Disaster Artist and All the Money in the World – as well as working with incredibly talented filmmakers leading the independent cinema scene.
Actor Andrew Heckler’s directorial debut, Burden (US Dramatic Competition) which was colored at Company 3 by Stephen Nakamura, is based on the emotionally powerful true story of the journey of devoted Klansman, Mike Burden (Heckler) and the stranger-than-fiction course of events that led to his rescue from financial destitution by African American preacher, Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker). Tom Wilkinson and Usher Raymond co-star.
“I think this is going to be a standout at the festival,” says Nakamura. “It’s so well-done. The cinematographer, Jeremy Rouse, did excellent work. You’d never know this was Andrew’s first film as a director. He was very clear about what he wanted the movie to feel like.”
Heckler credits Company 3 and Nakamura for helping him feel comfortable in the post process. “I had no idea what DI was,” he says. “People at Company 3 gave me a tutorial before I started work and then Stephen sat down with me and over coffee we talked about all kinds of things, not just the film. He completely grasped the feelings I descried and when we sat down in his theater, he had done some pre-work that showed he’d completely gotten what I wanted. He translated what I’d said into the idea of deeper blacks and an almost ‘grainy’ look that was beautiful and he explained exactly why he did it in terms of the story. When I said I’d thought of a very slight sepia feel, he immediately showed me something that incorporated that idea into the look. He has all the experience in the world and I’m a first-time director but he made the experience collaborative and enjoyable. I think the film benefitted enormously from working with Stephen and Company 3.”
Tim Stipan applied his talents to coloring two Sundance Premieres -- the period drama The Catcher was a Spy (at EFILM), and the stark contemporary drama Leave No Trace (at Company 3). Based on true events, Catcher concerns a pro baseball catcher, Moe Berg, whose life takes a strange turn in the 1940s when he is at the tail end of a less-than-stellar career. Fluent in eight languages, Berg becomes an undercover agent on a life-and-death mission which is further complicated by his personal life in unexpected ways. The film was directed by Ben Lewin, whose drama The Sessions took the Audience Award for Acting Ensemble and Special Jury Prize for Director at the 2013 Sundance Festival. Cinematographer Andrij Parekh, with whom Stipan has collaborated for years over many films, most recently The Zookeeper’s Wife, envisioned a look that subtly suggests the period without overwhelming the sense of immediacy in the multi-layered drama.
Leave No Trace is the long-anticipated follow-up to director Debra Granik’s widely lauded Winter’s Bone, which launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career. This intimate story concerns a veteran and PTSD-sufferer (Ben Foster) who lives completely off the grid with his 13-year-old daughter totally within the confines of a Portland, Oregon park. The drama takes off when events send their lives in an unexpected direction.
Shot by Michael McDonough (Winter’s Bone), the material is set in the woods shot with natural light. “We worked to help enhance the feel,” says Stipan, who was delighted to re-team with the creators of that previous film, which he also colored. “This called for a really bold look at times but also a bit of grittiness, much like Winter’s Bone.
Before the filmmakers started principal photography Stipan worked with McDonough and Granik to build a film emulation LUT, which was inspired by the ways some Fujifilm stocks had “with the strong yellows and greens. There’s so much vegetation everywhere, so much green, and then a lot of earth tones,” he says. “The LUTs allowed everyone on set and in picture editorial to see the material with a look similar to the one the final film would have. It is generally a very good idea to work with your colorist before shooting commences because it’s helpful for the DP, director, department heads and everyone involved to have at least a rough version of a final look as a reference throughout the shooting and editing phases filmmaking.”
EFILM’s Mitch Paulson brought his craft and technique to two titles –Damsel (Sundance Premiere), a Western-style drama starring Robert Patttinson and Mia Wasikowska and the provocative documentary Wild Wild Country (Special Event). Both represent the continuation of Paulson’s longstanding creative relationship with cinematographer Adam Stone (the two worked on many of director Jeff Nichols’ highly-acclaimed films, including Mud and Loving).
From writer/director siblings David and Nathan Zellner, Damsel is a period piece filled with twists. “We had some warmer sepia but straightforward,” he says. “The brothers had definite ideas about what they wanted. “Adam,” he adds, “is always wonderful to work with. He has good tastes and always delivers a good image for us to work with.”
Stone shot the interview portions of Wild Wild Country (a Sundance Special Event), the provocative documentary from co-directors Chapman and Maclain Way that takes an intriguing look at a charismatic Indian guru and his band of followers’ wildly elaborate and expensive attempt at building their own version of Utopia in rural Oregon in 1981. Through large amounts of footage from the time and recent interviews, the film investigates the plan and the escalating conflicts that develop with local ranchers and state officials.
A significant portion of the film comes from fascinating archival material from the time. “It’s always a delicate thing to color this kind of old material,” Paulson explains. “You work to get the most of it that you can. You don’t try to overcorrect it. Some of what happens is just part of the aging process and the viewer understands that. It’s always an interesting balance when you’re working with filmmakers to decide exactly how to best present this kind of footage.”
Filmmaker Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap (US Documentary Competition) started out as a compilation of his and his friends’ skateboarding adventures over some 15 years of the 24-year-old’s life and turned into something much more personal and dark. Colored by Chicago-based colorist Tyler Roth at Company 3, the film shows a group of kids growing up before the viewers’ eyes in economically troubled Rockford, Illinois and it delves into deeply personal territory about the skateboarding friends and their family issues.
Roth worked with Liu in the process of setting a look for the film overall and for the large amount of home movie material shot on more than ten camera formats spanning nearly 15 years. Roth created some customized looks to get the most out of this imagery and then added an overarching “timeless Americana look,” Roth describes. “Not ‘vintage,’ but timeless. And then within that, tone of the color grading follows what’s happening to the people in the film, with some portions reflecting warmer, lighter happier moments and a cooler type of feel for the emotionally darker portions.”
Un Traductor (World Cinema Dramatic Competition), colored by Chris Wallace at Deluxe Toronto, is a narrative drama based on true events from the family of co-directors --brothers Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso. The story, set at the time of the USSR’s Chernobyl disaster, revolves around their father, a literature professor at the University of Havana, who is forced into the position of translator for the catastrophe’s victims who were sent to Cuba for medical help.
The Caribbean nation itself, he says, informs much of the color palette of the film (it was shot by Miguel Ioann Litten Menz). “It is quite colorful in some areas,” he elaborates, “but then the hospital needed to have a kind of greenish, sickly feel.” Collaborating with filmmakers whose lives were affected by this powerful event, was a powerful experience, Wallace notes. “It’s a very well-made film. The sick children and their parents make a very strong impression. Working on it was a spiritual and moving experience.”
Deluxe Toronto was also the site where Ethan Hawke-directed Blaze (US Dramatic Competition) was finished with Senior Colorist Bill Ferwerda at the grading console. “It’s a lovely film about a singer-songwriter,” says Ferwerda, who had worked previously with DP Steve Cosens. Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) “isn’t very successful. He has so much potential as a singer/songwriter but he’s his own worst enemy. These two ideas intertwine throughout the story. A lot of it is magical and wonderful with moments that are the opposite of that and sad.”
The film is infused with a look suggesting the Southwestern US and the 1970s. “We spent a lot of time crafting the look,” Ferwerda says. “We did a lot of testing experimenting with different LUTS that emulate older film stocks. We used a couple that brought a sort of yellow golden warmth to the images, especially in the mid-to-highlights. I think this look complements the magical feel. But then if there were more blue elements and colors [that would fight that overall approach], we’d work in the grade to let them pop through. It’s much more than a color wash on top of the shot, it has other elements showing through. “It was a pleasure working with Steve again and with Ethan Hawke. I really responded to the story and the music as soon as I saw the ungraded version of the film. Every now and again a project comes your way where everything lines up and everything just clicks. This is definitely one of those.”
The shorts program is always interesting as it’s frequently the training ground for the next generation of A-list filmmakers. EFILM’s work with Film Independent and Project Involve aim to invest in promising talent, which is the origin of Emergency (Shorts Program), directed by Carey Williams and shot by Jomo Fray. Here a group of young African American and Latino men is faced with a dilemma when they see a girl passed out at a friend’s house: To call the police or not. “I loved my time with Project Involve,” says Fray. “It was definitely life altering.”
Fray appreciated being able to work at EFILM and he and the colorist collaborated early. “It was so important, particularly with this film because the image we were trying to create was very delicate. It’s very tenuous.” Fray “underexposed” four stops and it was up to colorist Jason Hanel to bring it back. “How do we best push the digital image? And it for a theater screen, not just a laptop or monitor. We wanted to really feel the ‘grain’ – feel the sensor of the ALEXA pushing itself to get the image. I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with EFILM before but I would certainly go back.”
The short Blue Christmas, from director Charlotte Wells and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, is set at a Scottish coastal town in 1968. Colored by Kath Raisch of Company 3, the story concerns a debt collector who goes to work on Christmas Eve rather than face his wife’s declining mental state.
The Indie Episodic category (new this year to the festival) offers another excellent way for creative young independent filmmakers to show their ability to create this type of work, sell projects as short form Web content and/or use as a proof-of-concept for a longer-format series.
The Indie Episodic, Leimart Park, from director Mel Jones, consists of six episodes so far of roughly 10 minutes each. It takes an unvarnished comedic look at love sex and much else that affect a group of friends who share a house in South L.A.’s Leimart Park. It was finished at EFILM by colorist Matt Wallach. “This was my first venture into anything like this format,” says cinematographer Isiah Donté Lee, “It was such a great experience working at EFILM and with a colorist who has similar sensibilities.”
“They shot with very little budget and on an extremely short time frame,” Wallach adds, “but there was so much talent that went into it. Donte shoots so confidently you wouldn’t guess he was so young.” One challenging episode from a post perspective was shot in a nightclub with various kinds of colored lights that the production was able to put together. “That could have been a problem but Donté did such a wonderful job with the lighting and creating separations so we were able to make it match.”
Paint (Indie Episodic), directed by Michael Walker and shot by Sam Chase, was colored in New York at Company 3 by Tim Masick. Paint, another short series that will run as a 36-minute film, looks at a group of young people who have moved to New York to try to break into the competitive art world. Masick had worked with Chase on commercials but this type of project is new to most of the people doing it. Paint was shot on locations throughout New York and Westchester County. “Sam brought a naturalistic feel to help focus our attention on the characters,” says Masick, “and that informed the work we did in color.”
SusaneLand, three short-form vignettes of roughly four minutes each, is the brainchild of lead Susane Lee and director Andrew Olsen. Colored at Company 3 by Bryan Smaller and shot by Alex O. Gaynor, the very short episodes present the creators unique, surreal take on existence in today’s strange times. “We graded the episodes as though they are artistic dramas,” Smaller says, “and that plays against how strange and funny the things are that actually happen. It’s an interesting approach, really playing against expectations.”
Tom Poole at Company 3 in New York posted two amazing features in the US Dramatic Competition. First, director/DP Reed Morano, fresh off her triumph directing the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaids Tale, will have her latest, I Think We’re Alone Now – featuring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning as the last two people on earth. Poole also colored Monster, the feature debut renowned music video artists, director Anthony Mandler and cinematographer David Devlin. The drama looks at a young honors student (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) who finds himself caught up in the legal system. Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Jenifer Ehle and Tim Blake Nelson round out the ensemble cast.