My first real grading job was on the Michael Jackson Bad tour in 1988, directed by Patrick Kelly. I was an assistant telecine operator at Visions, located in Soho, London. As an assistant I laced the film, loaded the film cleaner and pressed REC on the 1” VTR. I spent the time in between these duties and lots of my own time observing and learning the nuances of the industry. Visions had 2 senior telecine ops Mark Baugh and Luke Rainey who were both particularly knowledgeable and were an invaluable part of my education. Just watching them grade then asking questions at the right moment was a great way to learn.
The concert was shot on a mixture of 35mm and 16mm film, it seemed at times they were shooting film for fun! The crew filmed 2 nights out of the 5 Wembley stadium gigs, film was also fed from the earlier tour legs in Australia, Japan, and Europe. As an accompanying piece to the concert, an “on the road” documentary was also filmed at the same time. The concert was cut in a 4 machine 1” online edit suit, not offlined. This was before Avid of FCP offline so the alternative would have been a lowband umatic or ¾ edit. As soon as the film came in from the lab we would be transferring it, feeding the footage on to 2 hungry edit suites.
It is still the biggest music project I have ever been involved with in terms of volume of footage. We would load each negative film lab roll onto the Rank MK111 telecine machine then set the counter to a known sync point on the film. So LR 10 would be TC 10:00:00:00. The sync point would be the start mark on the film leader.
There had been a hold up one day at the lab so the pressure was off and Mark said to me “why don’t you jump on the desk and grade a few rolls,” I jumped at it.
I played the film roll into the first song and checked our presets for color and framing. The colorists had set presets based on the different film stock types. Kodak 5248 slightly warmer than the 500ASA variety. I made some small adjustments all looked good and matched the previous work so I rewound the negative slowly to the film leader and then started to record from the Picture Start mark on the leader. To match a shot from a previous camera roll, we had to load that tape, find the shot we wanted to match to, then wipe to it with a vision mixer, no still store back then. The exposure and color balance were adjusted on the fly as the 1’’ VTR was recording. I initially couldn’t adjust the controls quickly enough so found that the exposure was changing during a usable piece of MJ’s performance. This meant we had to stop recording, adjust the shot then pick up the edit on a suitable camera flash or clapperboard. As I became more experienced I leant to change the controls fast enough to keep recording. This type of fly grading was a great way of learning instinctively which way to adjust the joysticks without looking at the Vector scope or Waveform monitor. The key here was consistence as there was to be no final grade. Fly grading is something junior graders don’t do much anymore because film dailies from a TK machine are becoming less frequent. Film is more likely to be transferred to a file then graded. It was a great way to learn how to grade, not just well but quickly.
The single “Another part of me” was cut from some of my early telecine work. The music video was cut from footage shot in London and Paris, that shows you how tight Jackson’s performance was. As far as I know the complete concert and documentary has never been released. A disappointing waste as the film managed to capture Jackson at his peak. Jackson never came into Visions during the project but Frank Dileo, his cigar smoking manager, visited a couple of times.
See if you can spot the Paris shots?
“Another Part of Me”