The first thing Steve Jaggi, the co producer of Short Beach, said to me was “The sun always shines in Short Beach.”
My clients, Steve and Liz from Jaggi Shute productions, had arrived in the grading suite before me. Now this isn’t ideal, but is something that happens when you work as a freelance colorist. You have to be able to sit down, start grading and communicate (chit chat), all at the same time. Colorist Multitasking is what I call it, and it is very important as first impressions make a difference. Your clients need to know that their movie is in good hands.
I first heard of Short Beach early in 2011 when I was at ROAR Digital, in Melbourne, grading a movie called The Sunset Six. Marc Van Buuren was post supervisor on the film and mentioned that he would like me to be involved in his next project, Short Beach. He warned me that it was mainly filmed in the rain, on a mixture of RED and Canon. The movie also contained lots of picture in picture scenes and the director had come on board very late to the project. At first glance it seemed like a tricky project to grade, a beach movie shot in the rain! “Send me the rough cut and I’ll take a look, I’d love to be involved it should be fun,” I told him.
You should always remain totally positive and excited by any project you are ever asked to quote on, there is no point in finding negatives, keep them to yourself and start working on strategies to rectify them. Even if you don’t end up getting the job, the research you have done on the film will help you in future.
I received the offline a couple of weeks later and the challenges Marc had spoken about were present. I wanted 3 weeks for the grade, and was grateful that ROAR felt the same way. They asked me to come on board to grade Short Beach. The only question was could I find 3 weeks in my busy 2011 schedule?
As a freelancer you constantly have to balance jobs; do you take the two weeks on a feature film or the 3 client intensive commercials that pay better? I recommend trying to balance them both. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose financially, but the different experience you will garner is invaluable.
ROAR had spent a week getting the 90 minute movie from the AVID project via Automatic Duck into FCP. They then generated an XML and used Resolve to conform the camera original RED r3ds. The original cut had to be simplified in FCP, they pulled the different video layers down to 1 main layer. The Canon material was all retimed to 24fps due to some being shot at 30fps.
Mark Pitman, senior editor at ROAR, gave me 2 timelines; the Reel 1 as it appeared in the cut and a Reel 1 timeline with all the VFX shots and picture in picture shots. Any shot that had been speed ramped in the offline was given to me as a full length shot at 24fps. They then put each reel into its own Resolve project. Everything was matched to the Avid offline and guide audio was laid in so we could listen to it at anytime.
I think it is vital to know the story inside out before you start grading, so watch the rough cut a few times, connect with the characters and understand what happens in which reel. The more you feel connected with the film the more you will feel part of the team, and in my view this results in a stronger final product.
The biggest challenge was I was grading on a monitor as we had to deliver an HDTV master for the US distributors, bearing in mind that Jaggi Shute wanted to make a DCP for a possible theatre release. The first 2 days went very well, we got through the whole film and set looks for all the ‘hero’ shots of each scene. The way I did this initially is by using Resolve’s group mode, to grade the whole scene at once. I then applied that grade as a base and adjusted a few shots around it so Steve and Liz could judge how the continuity of the grade looked through the whole scene.
When setting a grade for a scene, always start with the ‘hero’ shot. It might be a big wide or a glamorous close up, remember everything you grade has a product. Actress, lead singer or pack shot. Putting the whole scene into a group enables the Colorist to put a grade across the whole scene at once. I find it gives the client a great feel for what will and won’t work. It is a great way of quickly trying different things. Using versions to stack up the various looks on a clip also works very well.
I had the advantage of having the whole movie conformed, so I decided to start mid way through Reel 1. This is due to it being the biggest grading challenge of the film. Whether it was shots on the beach over a number of days, varying weather conditions, the introduction of the key characters, split screen elements, the scene had it all. I started by looking at the RED metadata settings, deciding to work in REDcolor2 and REDgamma2, changing the ISO setting from 320 to 640. These settings gave me the best overall starting point. I managed to get enough into the rainy shots, warming slightly, lifting faces with shapes and secondaries. The scene had to match so this meant constantly going between the sun in and sun out shots adjusting both
Remember you don’t have to start at the beginning of the film. You might want to start grading the easier scenes and bank some points with the clients, alternatively go straight to the problem scenes as the clients will be desperate to see what you can pull out of their material after looking at flat or blown out offline grades for 3 months.
I graded for 4 days then sent a number of stills to the producers, who had returned to Sydney. They made a few minor comments so I knew I was on the right track. Marc Van Buuren suggested we take a few scenes and check them through the DCP pipeline at Digital Pictures.
A nerve-wracking time as I wasn’t sure how our material, graded on a 24” monitor, would translate to the large Barco projector. I needn’t have worried as the pictures looked great and the clients approved.
Always keep the clients involved. Even if they seem to be happy chatting, interrupt and show them a scene and ask for feedback, send QTs or stills. As a colorist you have to make them feel very comfortable and involved at all times.
My next visit to Melbourne started with another client viewing. We worked on one of the key scenes of the film, the party scene.
Being a very serious and key part of the movie, it was a chance to create a different look whilst always trying to compliment the story. After locking that scene, we reviewed the rest of the film. We went over everything once more, locking the school, beach, night and interior looks. My next job was to grade the picture in picture elements. These would then be recreated in after effects matching the original Avid effect.
A month later I travelled back to Melbourne to lock the grade and VFX with the clients. A CGI school had been inserted onto the cliff face by the ocean, the opening title sequence was finished and so were the picture in picture shots. I spent a day with Steve, Liz and Marc reviewing the whole film. They made minor tweaks but generally loved the look of the film. We then rendered ProRes for the sound mix and DPX for Digital Pictures to make the DCP and HD tape deliverables. Finally, my role was complete. It had been a challenging project but at the same time a rewarding one that I had enjoyed very much.
The final viewing and approval can sometimes be a difficult session, as final decisions have to be made. Directors and producers have a vision of how their film will look, so finally committing can sometimes be hard. Remember as a colorist you may love the look you have, but if the clients are unsure, then change it and offer an alternative. Remember who is paying the bills.
Short Beach is now finished and is waiting for its TV release in the US, as well as a possible cinema release here in Australia.
Grading breakdown in PT2