I am a professional photographer who takes color extremely seriously. This is perhaps why one requirement for RIK was crystal clear for me from the outset: I didn’t want a dark or unnaturally hued film. The film would not be de-saturated, heavily contrasted, or look as if shot through a colored lens. I conveyed this to everyone relevant. Anyone who did not fulfill these objectives would at some point be overruled.
I had selected Justin Paul Warren as my colorist for several reasons. His reputation and credentials were superb, I liked him the moment I met him, his wife (our DIT) was a fabulous person, Angel recommended him highly, and he lived in Ft. Worth. This meant that I could go and personally work with him on the film. I can honestly say that my coloring experience with Justin was nothing short of exceptional. He is not only a true professional, he is a creative and knowledgeable person to work with.
One of the first questions Justin asked me was whether I understood that there was a disconnect between my preferences for color and those that had been developed during filming. I explained that I was paying for the entire movie and that I intended to supervise the coloring the way I wanted it. Justin understood my position as was glad that I had clear ideas about the way I wanted the film to look. So we dove right in.
I went to Justin’s studio every workday and some weekends for a couple of months for 6 or 7 hours a day. We would watch each scene and discuss what, if anything, needed changing. The usual problem was skin color, which was fairly easy to adjust. And there were a host of situations where the coloring needed changing due to imbalance. For example, an actor’s shirt would rivet the eye, but de-saturating it made it innocuous.
Then there were what I think of as “middle” problems, ones that took some time to fix, but which were not as challenging as the “bad” issues. Many of these resulted from odd lighting. For example, one of the first scenes in the movie is in a bedroom. The light from one lamp was warm and from the other, cool. And one was brighter than the other. The adjustments had to be made not only to the lamps, but the areas onto which they cast light. If I had the movie to over again, I would make sure that every lamp have the same type of warmth and that each be put on a rheostat.
But there were two sets of problems that were very time-consuming to fix. The first involved some scenes with back-lighting and which were badly underexposed. These required that Justin go through and “tint” the background frame-by-frame because actors were moving and continually exposing the brightness behind them. It became so complicated and such a time-sink that at one point I said that we should just forget it and let it be what it was. To his credit, Justin said, “You don’t want that kind of low quality in your film. We need to take the time to fix these problems.” Thanks goodness he had extra patience when mine wore thin.
The second problem was over-lighting. The worst case was a house in one of the final scenes. It was like it had a set of searchlights on it—so unnatural and unreal. It was difficult to fix because it entailed greying the light, which risked looking artificial. It still bothers me when I look at it, but it is a ton better than it would be if we’d left it alone.
In addition to the problem-fixing, there were the creative aspects of coloring. Justin made sure, for example, that a gunshot flash cast just the right amount of light on the face of the shooter; that the movie being watched on an iPad reflected just right on the face of the viewer; that a flashlight shone down a hall appeared at the correct moment and intensity.
One of Justin’s suggestions that I liked very much and which we incorporated was a tonal shift in tint when the lead actor comes to understand the magnitude of the problems he faces. The hue we used from this point forward is slightly yellowed and a bit de-saturated. I think it adds tremendously to the emotional shift of the viewer of the film, yet it is subtle enough not be obvious.