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DP excluded from the color grade on 2 separate projects (7 replies and 5 comments)

Jason Ryan
4 months ago
Jason Ryan 4 months ago

For the last 2 projects on which I've directed photography, both directors have excluded me entirely from the color-grading process. 

In the first case, I gave my rate card to the director before he hired me, and on my rate card I stated that I required that I either sit with the colorist or do the color grading myself.  I was hired, I shot the independent film, and after wrap the director had the editor perform the color grade without my knowledge or input.  When I told the director I insisted on being involved with the grade, he said he would have the editor get the footage to me and I could do a grade on it.  I was not going to do the grade for free, but my rate is $30/hour for grading which is quite reasonable.  After months of waiting, I never got the footage, the director recently said he was happy with the grade the editor performed, and I just found out the film was accepted into a film festival. 

In the second case, I also gave my rate card to the director before he hired me.  I was hired, I shot the independent TV show, and multiple times I reminded the director that I wanted to be involved in the color grade.  After principal photography wrapped, the director said his plan was that when he finished editing, he would have me perform the grade with him on his suite.  I just found out that he performed the grade with someone else and he never let me know he had even started.  He claimed he had put 300 hours into the grade and I would be very impressed with it.  He said he did not contact me because he ran out of money, but I had already informed him I would take points on the project instead of cash.  Not only that, but this director misses the point of my involvement with the grade entirely.  As an artist, I want to be involved in the grade to complete my creative work.  The director has said that he's pitched Comedy Central and Netflix on the show and they are both interested in it.

My question is, what do you recommend I do at this point?  And what should I do to keep this from happening again?  Do you think I should still insist on doing the grade with these projects?  Or should I have everyone I shoot for from now on sign a contract that implements a strict penalty if they exclude me from the color grade?  I'm thinking the penalty would be $10,000.

Max A.
4 months ago
Max A. 4 months ago

If I can share one of my experiences, It's something that happened to me one time. I did not do so many projects but in one of those, I was involved as a cinematographer without rate (because it was a "pilot episode"), and while I and the small crew did the location scout, the director (more experienced than me in the field) tells me "I want some lamp here, here, and there".. It was a bit frustrating for me and then I said him that If he needs a gaffer I could do it, but in this project, I was been called as Dp from the production, and maybe where a lamp could go (or not) is something that is me that has to figure out.

In short, the day after we shoot this project that was a comedy based on a drama remake, and I went for a "dramatic" light that went in contrast with the comedy.
After the wrap, he told me that he would have edit the project in his "trusty" coloring studio to sell the product on some platform that he knew.
The result was an image that I didn't want and a never-published product.

At that point, I realized that also if I'm a Mr.nobody I'd work on a project (as a cinematographer) only if a director trust in me and there was a long dialogue before everything.

I'm so interested in the answer of Mr. Deakins or Mr. Mullen and from a more experienced Dp than me for this kind of (annoying) situation.

Have a nice day.
Max.

Jason Ryan
4 months ago

Thank you for your comment, Max. Unfortunately, a long dialogue with a director before shooting their film is virtually non-existant. Hell, most directors I've worked with don't even take the time to go over reference photos/film and work with myself and the production designer (if there is one) to figure out the look of the film. I think a solid contract is the way to prevent this issue from happening again. I have to partially blame myself, because I used to insist each director sign a contract I give to them before I shoot, but I've slacked off on that in the last couple years. Never again.

The Byre
4 months ago
The Byre 4 months ago

I work in A4V, so I tumbled ages ago how to deal with just this kind of situation when working on small indy projects.  Before I go any further, I find it vital that I, as part of the creative process, am a business first and a sound designer (or whatever I am doing) second.  You are first and foremost a business!

You have to cross the line!  (I don't mean to punch the director on the nose, as tempting as that might be sometimes!)  I mean you must put yourself in accounting terms 'above the line' i.e. a fixed cost creative and not a day-rate flunky!

So you agree on terms with the producer (or whoever is paying for the gig).  Let's say 20 days with camera, lenses, AC, stands, jibs, etc. and include colouring.  

That gives you several advantages, such as getting a rebate on the camera and other hires (but charging the full rate) and/or buying your own rig with basic grips such as stand, jib, dolly, etc. These are also sources of profit - even if it is just 10%.  You are a business, remember! 

You are your own package agency!

It also means that the producer does not have to faff about, hiring an AC, a data wrangler, hire cameras and grips and worry about 1001 silly details.  Just as the score usually comes as a package from an agency and the sound (ADR, sound design, Foleys, etc.) comes from one agency or company and at one fixed cost, so too does the image capture and the 'look' of the film.

That way, the next time a director or the producer says "Well, we want to colour the thing at our fav. colouring house!" or worse still "Oh, I had a go myself and I'm happy with the results!"

That's when you say (surprised) "But you've already paid for colouring!"

The low-budget guys are loath to waste money.  The 'You've already paid!' argument brings them around to your way of thinking pretty much every time!

If you have an agent, all this is take off your hands and they deal with it - or (in our case) we work together with agencies that put packages together and we just have to deal with them and all that "Who does what?" nonsense is none of my concern.

Jason Ryan
4 months ago

Thanks for the advice. I'll take it. I like the idea of acting as my own package agency. I've done that to some degree in the past, as in including myself and the gear I own as part of a package, but although I hired a key grip, gaffer, AC, etc. myself, I kept them outside the package. I've also kept extra camera and lighting gear as well as color grading outside the package. The next film I shoot, I'll include everything in one package. I'm already doing the producing work of hiring crew and arranging gear, so I'd might as well save some hassle and make some extra money off the effort I'm saving the producer. I'll also increase my color grading hourly rate so the director will only be dinging their own pocket book by excluding me from the grade.

Luke Evans
4 months ago
Luke Evans 4 months ago

I can feel your pain! This is something I am thinking a lot about recently. I also had a bad experience with the colour grade on a decently funded web series that I shot. The production had done a deal with a post house for the online, however there had only been a day allocated to grading the whole series; over a hundred minutes of content! This had been organized without my knowledge, and although the grader was fantastic, I was only able to sit in for a couple hours and in the end there was only so much that could be done in the time, and I wasn't incredibly happy with how it looked in the end.

I'm starting to realize the importance of some sort of a LUT or look that is developed before the shoot, that can accompany the footage all the way through. Especially on productions that are on the lower end of the budget scale, where sometimes the choice of camera isn't entirely up to you (on that same production, there was a deal to get certain gear as well), and the online process even less so. I feel like then if you are happy with what you are seeing in camera, then you can have some sort of confidence that that will be respected down the line? Or at least you can hope...

Jason Ryan
4 months ago

Yes, 2 hours to give input on 100 minutes of content is not near enough to be effective. I like the idea of using a LUT as well, but I don't want to bake anything into the footage. I think a good contract would be more respected down the line than an LUT I give the director.

Roger Deakins
4 months ago
Roger Deakins 4 months ago

I was lucky in that I worked on one of the first digital grades, which was 'O Brother Where Art Thou'. Since then there has been an ongoing dialogue about the cinematographer's role in the DI process. Productions and studios considered the time spent in a DI suite by a cinematographer equivalent to time previously spent in a lab, which was and is, obviously, not the case. I am lucky in that I always have my time in the DI suite and the directors I work with want it that way.

As with work hours, and other issues regarding our work practices, if we are not united we will never get these things resolved. If DI timing is not part of a collective bargaining agreement we are all on our own.

dmullenasc
4 months ago
dmullenasc 4 months ago

It helps to get it in your deal memo / contract that you'll be asked to be involved in the color-correction.

Jason Ryan
4 months ago

Thank you, David. I slacked off on having the director/producer sign a contract I provided for my last few films, but I'm not going to make that mistake again.

Roger Deakins
4 months ago
Roger Deakins 4 months ago

Using a LUT doesn't mean anything is baked in to the image! The LUT translates your overall intent but you can still go back to the raw footage if you shoot in Arri RAW and dismiss the LUT entirely.

Jason Ryan
4 months ago

Thank you, Roger. Do you think that giving the director LUTs for each scene would help avoid my being excluded from the color grade? Or going with the package agency approach The Byre mentioned above? Or a combination of both? I'm in Arizona and I'm not in the union, so I've got to figure this out on my own for at least the near future.

Also, I really appreciate your podcast and have learned so much from it, especially since it provides so many different artistic perspectives. I also appreciate your stand on overtime and turnaround times.

Roger Deakins
4 months ago
Roger Deakins 4 months ago

The ideal is to have your DI timing written into your contract, however, that is a really tough ask with many producers.

I only use one LUT although I know other cinematographers will use any number. Consequently, my final timing is usually quite straightforward and, for the most part, I am just balancing shots within a scene, perhaps windowing areas I feel over bright or dark or adjusting contrast and saturation. I try to shoot an image that mirrors my intent, whether I am working with film or digital. That way, when a director sees the work in dailies, they can either embrace it or they can ask for something different. That is a director's prerogative. Don't expect to make fundamental changes to an image after the film has been edited because that will always be too late.

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