Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Grading "Rich Hill" for Sundance 2014
As a colorist I send up seeing A LOT of content throughout the year. Movies, commercials, music videos, short films, PSA's, web spots... you name it - I grade it. Unfortunately because a colorist has the unique position of being on a project for such a comparatively short period of time than other crew positions, that means that we go through many projects in a relatively short span of time. And sometimes... its very easy to become immune to the content of what you're actually grading. In many ways you become a bit more callously engaged with the content your grading... you look at it as 1 and 0's, pixels, bits of data that need to be molded into visual uniformity... you stop seeing things as unique stories and instead view them as well... "just another pretty picture to make better." As a result I sometimes find myself needing to step back and re-watch many of the feature films that I grade to "re-ground" myself in the emotional arch of the story and the characters and get a better feel for the mood and tone of the story that I'm trying enhance visually. For some films this can be a difficult task... as watching and re-watching sometimes less than exciting material can just become... well tedious. However, very rarely, a colorist is offered a true gem... a film that is so emotionally stirring and visceral that one can't help but want to watch the film again and again to live in the world of its characters one more time. These are rare treats, and I have to say they don't come around often. But this year I had the privilege of working on a few films that were just that, and Rich Hill was one of my personal favorite.
Rich Hill, which is in competition this year at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary category, tells the stories of 3 youths growing up in the rural landscape of Rich Hill, Missouri, a small forgotten town that has experienced its share of economic hardship throughout the years. Directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos both grew up in Rich Hill and decided that they needed to tell the often times forgotten story of the effects of urban poverty on today's youth. The film that Andrew and Tracy have pieced together over more than 2 years worth of filming is one of incredible intimacy with families that desperately want their stories to be heard. Poignant in both its narrative structure and its hauntingly beautiful yet painful visuals, Rich Hill was film that left off the screen and into my heart for two weeks in November as we graded the final cut. Check out this clip from the Sundance Film Festival's website as Andrew and Tracy talk about their film:
Shot on Red's Scarlet camera, Rich Hill posed a number of unique challenges from a colorist's perspective as much of the footage was very free-form in nature using only available lighting and single camera coverage to cover what often becomes very visually complex scenes spanning huge lengths of time. Often the footage was shot at very low light levels in the interiors of many of the film's locations which really played havoc with the colorimetry of the camera and led to some very unique grading tasks in the DI suite. This was a film where the color grade needed to be subtle and refined as the movie itself was already such a powerful vehicle both visually and narratively. My job was to make everything seamless, and as clean as possible. Whether it was reducing noise in a low-light interior or counteracting the effects of an untreated fluorescent light dominating a scene, I tried to make Rich Hill flow seamlessly from shot to shot and more importantly scene to scene. Ultimately I was very pleased with the grade that Tracy, Andrew, and I came up with huddled in our little theater in Santa Monica for two weeks. Having watched Rich Hill about 20 times now I can honestly say that it is one of my favorite films of 2014, not just from a coloring perspective but as a fantastic piece of film-making plain and simple. Rich Hill was truly a privilege to be a part of.