The love and marriage between color and cinematography—you can’t have one without the other, can you? Well, in theory, you actually could.
Wait a second, I’m a colorist. I can’t say that, can I? Okay, you’re right, it’s a bit of a set up. It’s certainly possible to have cinematography without color correction and color grading, but if you want your images to be the best they can be, then you should plan on keeping the marriage together — at least for the sake of the kids.
I started thinking about color and cinematography like a form of marriage because it can be an amazing relationship when it’s cared for and fairly uncomfortable when it’s not. About ten thousand years ago, I was a cinematographer.
This was back in the film days when I would impatiently wait for the dailies report and hope beyond hope that everything had turned out okay. My comrades, my saviors, were the telecine operators and colorists who would deliver those beautiful words—“It looks great!”—to my apprehensive ears.
Vincent Taylor/Colorist Chimney New York
Crossing From Behind the Lens
Beginning my career as a cinematographer is the greatest foundation I could have asked for as a colorist; and although it’s been almost 18 years since I crossed over from behind the lens, I will always value how important and supportive the role of a colorist is because I have been on the other side of that phone call!
Although the landscape of producing moving images has shifted dramatically since my days of lacing up film on the telecine chain, the connection between the cinematographer and colorist is as important as ever. Obviously, the workflows have changed and job titles have blurred, but ultimately, the essential goal of building beautiful images remains the same.
I had been working as a colorist in Australia, and then China, before moving to Chimney in New York City last year. During this time, it’s been consistently satisfying and inspirational to be surrounded by cinematographers with such a diversity of styles, nationalities and backgrounds.
That special “click”
I’ve just recently worked on a lovely film with DP Adriaan Kirchner, who is an LA-based cinematographer. Our first project together, The Litas, was being finished in New York. It is a beautiful mini-documentary directed by the very talented Nina Meredith. The film profiles a group of Italian women called the Litas, who are an all-inclusive, female-led motorcycle collective. It was purely good timing, which allowed me to visit our Chimney LA office prior to the color grade of The Litas in New York.
This meant that I was able to catch up with Adriaan, face-to-face, and talk about the film. It’s unusual these days to have that time available, before the color grade, for a colorist and DP to bounce around ideas about a project.
I say “these days” only because this was a practice that used to be commonplace. I always spoke with the DP before the color grade and, very often, before the shoot itself. These conversations are, of course, invaluable and they ultimately save time in the grading suite. One of the key roles for a colorist is to have the skill to climb inside the director’s and DP’s heads and see through their eyes.
There are a number of ways to do that, but when you experience that “click” of seeing what they are seeing, it’s the best feeling on the planet. Once that free-forming of ideas has occurred, that “click” doesn’t need to be recreated and will be consistent, even if it’s weeks later or we’re doing a remote grade with our LA office. The groundwork has to be done, then the shorthand has been established. What happens in a conversation that provides that figurative click?
I believe it’s something as simple as passion. I’ve noticed that as the conversation proceeds, and the creative juices start flowing, our speech happens more quickly and one—or both—of us can’t sit still. I literally must stand up and walk around as we move through the ideas, even if it’s a video call. Who would have thought color and images could be so exciting? Well, I, for one, but I’m kind of biased. These “workshops” can get technical, but more often than not, they are emotional.
We talk about the mood that the film or scenes need to evoke and instill, and support that through color so that it becomes part of the photographic image as opposed to simply sitting on top of it. Just being part of that kind of creative partnership is exciting to me as a colorist, and I think the same is true for DPs and directors.
There’s a creative synergy and fulfillment that happens when everyone is equally passionate about the look and feel of the images. Every great marriage simply must have passion.