Julien von Schultzendorff, colourist at nhb studios in Germany, shares nuances of his young journey in filmmaking (PART 1)

Julien von Schultzendorff, Germany, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Dop, Alejandro Inarritu, Darren Aronofsky, Zhang Yimou, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rodrigo Prieto, The Wolf of Wall Street, Berlin, VFX-heavy projects, BLG workflow, VFX


Julien has been with nhb for five years and is well-established in the colour grading scene in Germany. At present, most of his work is in high-end commercials, for clients like Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Rimowa, Lufthansa and more. His long-term goal is to work on feature films.
In his free time, Julien often goes to the woods, soaking in nature. He enjoys skydiving, playing the guitar and the piano, and likes to travel. He also does Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, although recently he had to take some time off due to an injury.

Can you tell us more about growing up in and around the film scene? Any highlights? Did you always want to be involved in the colour side?
Julien: My father, Wedigo von Schultzendorff is a cinematographer, and I often visited him on set. I was used to being surrounded by cameras and film equipment, and hanging out with the crew. My highlight, though, was when I met Woody Allen.
Growing up, it was clear to me that I would become a cinematographer as
well. But then, around the age of 18, I discovered colour grading. It hit me right away – I knew this was what I wanted
to do.

Did you learn a lot about the craft from your father as a DoP and your mother as a photographer?
Julien: I think the biggest gift I got from them - is the awareness of the beauty of pictures and visual appeal. And of course, I got to learn the technical side of making a film. That helps a lot when you are sitting at the control panel in a grading suite. By showing me movies, photography, and the old and new masters of painting – such as Caravaggio, Goya, Vermeer, Munch and Hockney – my father also introduced me early to the world of light, colour and shadow dramaturgy.

How did you get the opportunity to train with colourist, Phil Schmidt, at Screencraft?
Julien: After school, I started an apprenticeship for media design at the post-production house Screencraft, where Phil Schmidt works. I did everything possible to become his assistant.
And then when I finally reached this goal - I was sitting at the Baselight system literally day and night: working during the day and practicing at night. In the mornings, Phil would review my achievements and teach me new things.
For about three years this was basically my life. I loved it, and I’m immensely grateful for his patience and passion.

What was your first experience of Baselight?
Julien: If you count the moment I stumbled into Phil’s grading suite for the first time to see him doing magic with Baselight, then that was it.
The most memorable experience was watching Phil grade a feature film with the incredible cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. That’s when I got to see all the possibilities in colour grading: how to bring creative visions into life.
The second memorable moment was colour grading my very first job, all by myself: an Opel Astra campaign. That was in 2016 at nhb Hamburg, with Baselight. It is a cohesive system. You get everything you need – the panel, the computer, the software – from one company. Whenever you need help with any of if you just need to make one call - FilmLight takes care of it.
That also means you get to work closely with the developers of Baselight, who are so fierce about their work. That makes it so special and so well-thought-out, and it is great to feel I’m contributing to that process.
I also love that the system is built for professionals. It is clearly created for the best possible performance on high-end projects. And that gives a freedom: everything is possible and there are no limits to what you can achieve.

What is it like being a young colourist in the industry?
Julien: Sometimes, people think that you can’t be any good just because you are young. Some clients would come to the grading session and have low expectations when they entered my grading suite. But as soon as we start and spend time together, you can see the distrust disappears and they realise: ‘all right, he knows what he’s doing.’ I must say I enjoy the moment when it turns around and you can see they are blown away by your work.
I may not have 20 years of grading experience on my back, but I make up for it by having an untainted, progressive approach, by being up to date on new techniques and receptive to new ideas.

What advice would you give to aspiring young colourists hoping to get into the colourist’s chair?
Julien: At first, be sure this is really what you want to do, because the competition is hard and the working hours can be crazy.
Get into a post house that has a well-equipped suite with a great colourist. Start as an assistant, or get an internship.
Learn as much as you can, and if they need to work all night, stay until they leave too. The hardest hours at the job can be the ones where you learn the most crucial lessons.

Which artists inspire you the most and why?
Julien: There are many who have inspired me along the way, if only with a little side note or with their love for the job.
There was Phil Schmidt, my teacher from day one. He is a maniac when it comes to film. Whenever I thought, ‘this is it, I’ve outsmarted his techniques,’ he came right around the corner to show me something even better, something new, always blowing me away - again and again.
Also Maxine Gervais is very inspirational for me. We met at the Baselight Colour Days in Amsterdam and were discussing Baselight techniques. We stayed in contact over email and she would always answer all of my questions about her way of working, like the way she uses colour spaces and Base Grade, and how she sets up her operators. She is a very open person and likes to share her knowledge: I admire that.
Although unfortunately I have never got to meet him, Yvan Lucas’ style, his look and his thinking are just on another level.

You said your future goal is to ‘work for big feature films with amazing directors.’ If you had the chance, which film director would be at the top of your list to work with?
Julien: There are far too many to list all of them, but let’s start with the most amazing ones. Among directors:
• Alejandro Inarritu – The Revenant
• Wes Anderson – Grand Budapest Hotel
• Gaspar Noé – Enter the Void, Irreversible
• David Fincher – the dark look of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is absolutely awesome
• Roman Polanski – Chinatown
• Martin Scorsese – Taxi Driver, Wolf of Wall Street
• Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
• Zhang Yimou – Hero
• Quentin Tarrantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
• Park Chan-wook – Old Boy, The Handmaiden
• Jean-Luc Godard – Le Mépris

And among DoPs:
• Darius Khondji – Too Old to Die Young
• Benoit Debie – Enter the Void, Irreversible
• Emmanuel Lubezki – Tree of Life, The Revenant
• Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
• Rodrigo Prieto – The Wolf of Wall Street

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