Who are three contemporaries that you admire, and why?

Damien van der Cruyssen’s diverse body of work really inspires me. Uncut Gems and The Last Black Man in San Francisco are two all-time favourites of mine, both as films and in the direct way the grades serve the stories being told. The heaviness, texture, and the suffocating density throughout Uncut Gems really sold the heightened stress of the world for me.

The suffocating density throughout Uncut Gems really sold the heightened stress of the world for me.

Jill Bogdanowicz is an absolute powerhouse and her painterly work has inspired me since the start of my journey. More recently, I thought her grade on The Joker was a masterclass in depth, shape, and colour contrast (my all-time favourite). 

Jack McGinity, CHEAT’s very own living legend is another huge inspiration. Not only for his beautiful work, of which a personal favourite is Michael Kiwanuka’s You Ain’t The Problem’.

He’s also a walking ray of sunshine who never fails to lighten up the whole office. I really admire his energy and perspective.

Above: A still from stressful masterpiece Uncut Gems.

Being a colourist is something of a hidden role, but hugely important. Please share 3-4 pieces of work that you think best embody excellence in your profession, and explain why?

Expanding on my earlier praise of Uncut Gems, I think it serves as a great example for two of the three pillars of a colourist’s role: The Creative and The Technical. 

I think it’s a real stand out on both fronts: from the way the heavy look and rich palette help set the emotional temperature of the film and suck the audience into the stress of the world, to the level of detailed technical consideration involved in matching the digitally shot night scenes with the rest of the film shot on 35mm - 500T/5219. This involved mixing the underexposed sensor noise with the grain structure of the film negative to the exact point where it flows seamlessly with the rest of the film. 

As such, it’s the hidden, fine detailing of Van Der Cruyssen’s work which to non Colourist/DP ears might sound like madness, but play a huge role in ensuring the audience’s immersion isn’t broken. 

The third pillar of the colourist’s role, and arguably the most important (and hidden), is communication: Being a good collaborator, running a smooth and fun session, and making sure everyone leaves happy (be it just the Director and DP, or a room of 10 agency creatives). I love the ultra-focused intensity and pace of the grade, you can bounce around and experiment with ideas together in real-time, trying out ideas as fast as you can think of them.

The most important (and hidden) pillar of the colourist’s role is communication.

As the grade is almost the final stage of the entire production, as a colourist I often spend the least amount of time on the project, especially compared to the core team who may have spent months or years with it, and I always like to be mindful of that and let my client’s intimate knowledge of the piece guide us through each decision. I massively value the push and pull that everyone’s ideas bring to the table, driving the final result to be the best it possibly can be.

Another film that stands out from a creative and colour perspective to me is The Killing of a Sacred Deer, graded by Rob Pizzey. It’s a film that I have drawn a lot of creative inspiration from and often circle back to for visual references. To me the palette has the perfect mix of richness and restraint. 

Despite the majority of films these days being shot digitally, as audiences we’ve had a century’s worth of exposure to the look and feel of analogue film, and it’s definitely forged our collective definition of the word ‘cinematic’. Our tastes across a whole range of factors, from highlight roll off to skin tone rendition have been set in the analog space, and I enjoy emulating various properties of film in my own work whenever I get the chance!

As a final example of great colour work, and moving away from naturalism, is the promo for Terno Rei's Medo, graded by Ana Escorse. I think it’s a wonderful example of how well a heightened look and an expressive feel can work when it’s committed to, all while using colour contrast and shape to guide the eye.

Terno Rei – Medo

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What do you like most about the work that you do?

Honestly, it’s tricky to answer, as I’m lucky enough to love so many sides of my job.

It’s probably getting to sink my teeth into a new creative challenge every day and working with incredibly talented directors, DoPs and teams who inspire me. 

The key is to learn as much as you can from the people around you, and practice, a lot.

I love experimenting and I draw a lot of inspiration from photographers too; Doug DuBois, Saul Leiter, Alec Soth, and Rinko Kawauchi to name a few.

What is the process for becoming a colourist?

Having met many colourists from around the world, I’ve heard of countless different routes, from transitioning from a career in VFX, to starting as a photo retoucher. 

But speaking for London, the traditional route is working your way up the ranks at a post house. The key is to learn as much as you can from the people around you, and practice, a lot.

What is one thing all colourists need?

An eye break (and a bit of sunshine) on the hour, every hour. 

The occasional cup of tea doesn’t hurt either.

Did you have a mentor? Who was it?

I’m lucky enough to have had two amazing colourists that I can call mentors, Toby Tomkins (CHEAT MD) and Dirk Meier (Senior Colourist and former head of UP.GRADE).

[All colourists need] an eye break (and a bit of sunshine) on the hour, every hour. 

Dirk’s philosophy and approach to grading has had a lasting influence on me, and his generosity with his vast knowledge massively helped build my foundation as a colourist.

Toby has had a huge impact on my career. I’ve been privileged enough to learn from and work closely with him, setting up HDR Netflix colour pipelines in the earlier days. 

I’m really grateful for his guidance, support and passion over the years.