Color Correction on any Budget

Color Correction seems to elude a lot of micro budget or low budget productions and some new filmmakers don’t understand why its a crucial step in the filmmaking process. Color Correction is not just merely a tool for fixing mistakes. It is the crucial last step in fulfilling a director and cinematographer’s vision. It reinforces the illusion that every shot in a scene was captured sequentially, in real time, even though some of those shots might have been filmed hours, days, or months apart using different cameras, lenses, and film stock. It allows the director and cinematographer to emphasize certain locations, scenes, and emotions, resulting in a creatively enhanced experience for the audience member. But as schedules shrink and budgets tighten, color correction becomes more challenging. A well sought after solution is to manage the look of the images on set with one of many workflows currently available. However, this isn’t always practical for micro budget projects or movies shot on film.

I shot a 35mm short film, “Akira”, for writer, director and producer Ray Vernazza. We spoke at length regarding our approach to the post-production workflow. We wanted to color correct and finish on film but didn’t know if the funds would be available when it came time to conform the digitally edited movie. To be on the safe side, we decided to supervise the dailies transfer at Technicolor and rough in the look of the film, knowing that additional corrections would be simple enough for the editing software to handle. We never got passed a digital release for the film, so our approach paid off and, as a bonus, I was always confident the film would look good when screened during earlier stages of the editing process.

For a digital sitcom pilot I shot recently, “Living with Moffet” (directed by Eric Somers), there was no money available for color correction and the director was doing the picture edit himself. He had assumed we just wouldn’t do any color correction but when I offered to help him find a solution and donate some of my time, he became enthusiastic. I knew he was editing the film with FCP X, so I spent about an hour watching some tutorials and familiarizing myself with the color features before sitting down and attempting to use the software for the first time. I calibrated the monitor using a Spyder 3 pro device and after working with the first few scenes, became comfortable enough to move forward with confidence. The end result wasn’t ideal but I was able to achieve the basic look we had in mind and fix any shot-to-shot matching issues resulting in a quality finish.

For another digital project, “Little Black Box” (directed by Jon Hampton), there was a small amount of money available for the color correction. I had just seen a series of great shorts at the LA Film Festival and noticed they were all colored by Color Space Finishing. We contacted Peter at Color Space, told him about the project and its short running time, then discussed the look we wanted. He agreed to work on the film solo on a Da Vinci Resolve system in his own color suite. By the time I came in to look at the progress, I was 99% satisfied, we did one tweak and it was ready for final output. This led me to recommend Peter for my 2nd feature, “Teacher of the Year”, directed by Jason Strouse. We finished the Color Correction last week, just in time for the Sundance Film Festival submission deadline. The Producer, Director and myself are very happy with Peter’s work.

Regardless of your system of choice, its best to collaborate with a professional colorist whom has access to good color balanced monitors. Recently I have found this route to be accessible for most low/micro budget projects. Its also a great way for up-and-coming directors to become familiar with the process and discover the ways color correction can enhance a film’s visual impact, raise production value and compete with and/or surpass bigger budget projects.

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