One thing that I have learned over the years is that box office success (or lack thereof) is not a direct reflection upon the quality of the color grade. Everyone loves to work on good movies. It’s fun, exciting, and the buzz around them is almost tangible. But what about the movies that you can just tell aren’t going to make a splash? Or even worse, get slammed by almost everyone that comes in contact with them?
While my expertise generally lies in commercials, I do work on feature length films from time to time. There have been movies that I have been excited to color and there have been movies that I have been less than thrilled to color. But as colorists, we’re professionals. It’s our job to treat each film to the best of our abilities and deliver.
This past weekend, Batman v Superman came out to mixed reviews. While it did not perform very well with critics and some fans, it still took in an impressive opening weekend haul. I have yet to see the film, but I have seen the trailers and am very familiar with the work of Stefan Sonnenfeld. Even if the film flopped (which in terms of money, it didn’t) the grade is spectacular. That’s what I’m trying to get at. While color grading does have an influence on telling the story, it isn’t THE story. And ultimately that’s what we’re watching in theaters – stories. If that basic, yet essential, building block isn’t there, we have nothing to build off of. We see it time and time again where a movie looks amazing, but is almost painful to watch. That’s because there is no story.
I see it in Boston all the time. People used to joke that movies filmed there were almost guaranteed to flop unless focusing on the typical Boston setting (think The Departed). Movies like The Finest Hours, Sex Tape, RIPD, and countless others were filmed in Boston and were all considered flops. However, they were all graded by some of the best colorists in the world. Very few colorists get to pick and choose what projects they work on. It’s a luxury that only a select few at the top tier have. When it comes down to it, we’re being hired to do a job.
I used to get offended if someone didn’t like a movie that I worked on. But then I realized that it wasn’t my job to make the story good. That ship had already sailed. It was my job to make sure that the color accurately reflected the story telling. It was my job to make sure that the edits looked consistent while setting the correct tone and feel. It was my job to amplify or subdue the lighting in certain areas of the image. If I can successfully complete all my color duties, then I have done my job. And that’s the best we can do. Pretty pictures help tell a story, but they’re not everything.