THE COLOURIST’S CUE-Andy Elliott, senior colourist and co-founder, Directors Cut Films, London, tells us there’s more than what just meets the eye

Andy Elliott, Directors Cut Films, 4K drama feature, Olivier Sarbil, London’s West End, David Attenborough, VFX, AAF workflow, Film Grade, TWO workstation, Filmmaking

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Elliott has worked as an offline editor, online editor, and has now been grading exclusively for over 10 years. He works across all genres, completing Directors Cut’s first 4K drama feature in late 2018. He graded the BAFTA award-winning Basquiat: Rage to Riches documentary for the BBC, and two of the winning programmes in the 2019 Broadcast Awards, including the Emmy award-winning The Fight for Mosul, directed by Olivier Sarbil. A keen stills photographer, Elliott has rich experience in both - documentary and drama productions, and draws on his offline and online editing skills to ensure the most efficient outcome, technically and creatively.

How did you find your way to the colourist’s chair?
Elliott: I started out as a labourer on a building site. I escaped to become a runner and tape op, which gave me the chance to learn editing - and I went from online edit assistant to offline editor and then freelance editor. With some colleagues, I started the editing facility at Directors Cut Films in London’s West End, in 1999. Being owned and run by editors, the Directors Cut team felt we knew what was required to meet and exceed expectations in the post-production marketplace.

As our post-production services expanded, we recognised that we needed to offer dedicated grading facilities. Having always been fascinated with grading, I became a colourist.

What sort of projects do you handle?
Elliott: Most of our work is long-form television, but we do work on drama series and feature films, too. Recently we finished a commercial for Port Ellen Whisky, which was good for a lover of Islay malt.
I guess we have quite a reputation in documentaries. A couple of interesting recent projects were Everything is Connected: George Eliot’s Life, made by Turner Prize-winning artist, Gillian Wearing, and Climate Change: The Facts with David Attenborough.

I enjoy working on documentaries because there is a lot of work to do! I have known a 45-minute programme with 2500 shots, from maybe 10 or more different cameras, all set up differently. Making them match and also giving them a strong look in a single day’s grade is a real challenge. When I did my first proper BBC drama series, I was astounded that the raw footage came in well-lit and already matched.

When do you get involved in a typical project?
Elliott: I usually get involved pre-shoot, and discuss the cameras and lighting. That gives us the chance to talk about the workflows and any VFX that may be needed.
I recently graded an episode of the award-winning documentary series, Dispatches, for Channel 4. I listened to the director’s view on what he thought the film should look like and how the archive should be integrated.
For this episode, Britain’s Hidden War, we watched the film and together we set looks for each chapter in the story. Then the director left me to it. Overall, I felt the look should be real, but not too ‘happy’ – it was a dark subject, even though much of the material was shot in the sun.

What are your favourite things about Baselight?
Elliott: The look, the speed and the AAF workflow.
I think the end result is significantly better with Baselight. The speed at which I can get through a film has improved and this in turn gives me more refinement time in a given booking slot.
The AAF workflow is a godsend at the end of a grade. It’s just so much faster and efficient than rendering new media. The online editors can load the grade immediately and, as the grade is not ‘baked in,’ it is infinitely tweakable if needed.

So, if there is, say, an additional piece of interview, the grade can be lifted from a previously graded shot and dropped onto the new one in the online timeline. This is especially useful in current affairs programmes that are cutting right up against tight transmission deadlines.

We have just installed version 5.2 and, so far, it seems great – though I have not had the chance test out all the new bells and whistles yet.

I generally kick off using Film Grade and Base Grade to get the basic look. I use tracking for masks used in handheld footage where, say, a vignette is added but you don’t want it to look like a stuck-on effect, so it has to follow the camera movement naturally. I’m also liking Texture Equaliser as a sharpener.

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