Working With Your Colorist


Most first-time producers know what a colorist is, but they don't know how to work with one, or what they can offer. You can get more out of the experience by understanding what they do and how you can help them do it.

The colorist has six broad jobs:

1. Conform

The editor often works on a lower-rez version of the footage. The colorist imports the footage from the camera masters into the color correction system at the highest resolution and in the best codec possible, the conforms the film to the EDL prepared by the editor.

2. Color/Luminance Continuity

The colorist matches the tone of the film from shot to shot.

3. Legality

The colorist makes sure the film stays within the "legal" color/luma/contrast standards and limits for the output medium and distributor.

4. Problem Solving

Framing or painting out something undesirable, changing the exposure on a scene to get it to "read" right, etc.

5. Look.

The colorist can impart/enhance a "look." Think of "The Machinist's" monochromatic look or "Spider Man's" saturated palette.

6. Diplomat.

The colorist tries please the producer, director, and DP, all of whom may have different agendas.


The colorist is a creative teammate, not a button pusher. Interview him. Find out how she works - how much supervision she likes. What ideas does he have about the film? Does she share your DP's creative outlook?

Get on the same page with the DP and director. Pick out a few films, paintings, and/or photos to serve as creative guides.

Get organized! Make sure the tape masters or files are properly labelled and cataloged (in an Excel sheet or something). Have the editor output Quicktimes with timecode burn-in to serve as a conform reference. Put your phone number on everything.

Admit that you can't change the fundamental nature of the film at this point, only enhance/partially hide what's already there. There is no "scary" or "funny" button on the console.

Think about the "look" from an audience's perspective. Will they notice it at all? Will they be impressed by it? Will it distance them from the characters (I felt the looks of "Super 8", "Munich" and "300" called too much attention to themselves)? Will it enhance or water down your themes? These questions focus everyone on the big picture.

Commit the time. A feature takes at least five days (and often longer) to conform and correct, and another to output to tape. Assuming no glitches along the way.

Colorists are among the unsung heroes of filmmaking. Treat them well, and they can really save your bacon.  Many thanks to the colorists on my features - Verne Mattson (Found In Time) and Lian Tal (Caleb's Door).