An Overview so far

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Since my time at Envy began its been interesting realizing the different stages in workflows within a large post house, as they’ re slightly different from what I first imagined. Although Envy has over one hundred offline Avid suites, they only employ two offline editors, purely for consultation, or assistance. These suites are hired out to freelance editors, already hired by a production company to assemble an offline edit. If most post-production houses work under this kind of structure, I’m going to focus on trying to gain greater knowledge in an area that Envy does specialize in such as colour grading. If I am able to sit in frequently with Ops and get to know them better then I can build more of a relationship with these people rather than offline ops who may only come to Envy for one particular project.

Envy currently uses two grading systems, dependent on the type of work involved, Avid Symphony, and Baselight. As the two main forms of work are short form (adverts, films, one off specials etc.), and long form (TV series etc.), these two forms can affect post-production decisions such as grading. For instance, a long form project may not need as much grading, normally informative or entertaining, it only needs to look nice on screen, doing this in Avid Symphony will not only save time, but larges amounts of the post-production budget. This particular program is considered to have a quick turn around time in comparison to Baselight. Baselight is a far more complex, and notably better grading system, and serves best on projects that demand a high level of colour grading as part of the budget. Envy currently employs four colour graders and a junior, whom are some of the highest earning within the company.

It was also interesting to hear about how ones career will start within a post-production house. Beginning as a runner, making coffees, and doing odd jobs, before passing probation. After a successful probation period, one can then expect to spend anything from one to three years, if not more, working in the MCR (Machine Room). Which MCR will depend on your desired career path, the roles differ between Online, Grading, VFX, and Audio, each offering a different pace of progression. Working in the MCR entails such tasks as fixing bugs, ingestion, and transcoding, to creating DVDs for presentation. It is here that ones status grows with greater responsibility, trust, and advancing ones knowledge of how a post-production house operates in terms of hierarchy and roles.

However, post-production houses have endless dealings with contacts and clients, this puts one other skill on par with all others, social skills. Being able to interact easily, and professionally with high paying clients is important; not only to the company itself, but also to building ones own contacts, and potential clients in the future. It is a well-known fact that producers, and directors etc. keep very familiar circles, having an editor they get on with, and whose work speaks for it self, will ensure future work, and a growing network of clients. This also requires knowledge of the industry, where it’s going, familiarizing ones self with the potential content, such as news, fashion etc. As Mat put it, “If you don’t enjoy it and it’s not like a hobby, you won’t go far at all”.

Although I am only in second year of University, which is currently flying by as fast as the first, this opportunity has given me a lot to think about. It has in no way changed my decision to pursue a career in post, but it has given me a huge push in my attempts to find work experience, to see first hand what it is truly like behind those doors. It has also inspired me to pursue other paths within post, seeking experience and hopefully accreditations in grading, potentially taking part in non-university related software courses, widening my potential career paths, and maybe finding a new hobby in the process.

Colour Grading Training

As a runner we can either stay doing our runner’s duties or we can train in our chosen department. I had decided to go the route of MCR2 which is online and colour grading assistants to the operators. I decided to see if I could train with them but they said they were too busy, and told me to go down to suite 1 to see if I could sit in with Danny. Danny is a fairly new colourist at Envy however he started off as a runner there and worked his way up to a full time op.
I knocked on his door and he told me to come on in and sit in with him. The grading rooms are pitch black and the suites are huge and usually the most expensive in the company. The one that I was in I was told costs around £400 per hour, so you can see how time is money in this industry. Danny told me that it had been a quiet week and he had a few jobs on but nothing too stressful…for a change. He said he’d talk me through what he was doing and then teach me some stuff. Woah. I did not expect so much kindness and mentoring from someone on such short notice, but I was delightful and seized the opportunity.

Drop Ins
So his first task while I was there was to drop in some extra scenes that were being added to an episode of Gold Rush.  This is usually when the client has decided to change a few of the shots in the show and of course, they must be changed. However a different colourist did the grade on the show and Danny has to grade these added shots in the same way, not as easy as it sounds. He explained that he didn’t want to do too much to the shots because the show in itself isn’t his entire job and wanted to respect the other colourist’s choices.
 
Managing Creatives – Managing Clients
Danny was fascinating to speak to about managing his work, creativity and clients all at the same time. He, like all of the other graders I’ve spoken with, first explained how tight the time deadline is with grading. They literally have minutes for each shot. He then added when a director or producer is looking over your shoulder humming and ahh-ing it doesn’t help. They often question a lot of what you’re doing while you’re doing it which makes creative decision making difficult and also means you have to explain what you’re doing as you’re working to the deadline. He said it can be difficult but that he generally tries to build a good rapport with his clients so they’re on the same level. He said that when you’ve worked with a particular client a lot you get to know what they want as well which makes it easier.

Danny was quite funny when he spoke of some his techniques and tricks he would often play. He said one of the best pieces of advice he received from a mentor was that you should always make 3 obvious mistakes in your edit/grade. “Mistakes” in the sense that you have them deliberately there though you would change them anyway. In this way the client will come in and spot these over anything else you’ve done. The client will always have adjustments to make but if they choose these “mistakes” that you haven’t rectified over the work you’ve spent hours on it will be easier for you. A very crafty and maybe devious way, but what stems from that is that people will never be satisfied on the first cut of something…they will always want a change. Perfection is not something that exists in the creative industries, something that creative workers have to deal with particularly as clients spend hours adjusting and re-adjusting their work.

My Turn!
Danny told me to take the reigns and have a go at grading a scene from one of the short form fashion promos he was grading. It was shot on one a RED and was a high end fashion video. Very abstract, very stylistic and very expensive. I had never even touched Baselight which is the software used.
Danny gave me the lowdown on how the software and machine worked.

Colour Grading Suite – The video I was grading
He left the suite for about half an hour and let me play around with colours. It was great and in that half an hour I actually got a feel for what it’s like working with those machines work and the environment in general. I completely made a mess a few times of the video but managed to get a few nice grades in the end. When he returned he gave me a few tips, if I remember how to actually do them on that machine, will be the greatest feat.

I spent 3 and half hours with Danny that day and he was so helpful. He spoke openly to me about his work and then even gave me some practical training. As I have always thought, mentoring under someone higher up has always been a preference of mine. I learn the most when I’m around people who are better than me especially in the creative industries. Experience is key in managing your creativity alongside managing your clients. You need both skills to survive.

Adding a Bit of Colour to Darkness

Sitting in with the Colourist

I thought I would just be observing Danny work as I did with Tom the audio mixer. But no, Danny introduced himself and sat me down beside him and began going through everything from the machines to how you should go about starting a grade on a show. It was fantastic.

I have never had to negotiate so much at once when editing before and that alone was a lot to take in. Danny was extremely considerate in trying to teach me the basics, in essence he explained how the basis of setting up a graded scene in a show and the main principles to look out for. He also explained how certain styles fit certain genres and some of the key points and issues to look out for when grading. What I did notice was how fast he was as grading a scene. He was so fast, it was probably a bit of showing off I’m sure, however they do have to be very quick, time is money baby!

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Colour grading is one area of post-production I would love to get into, I find it a really beautiful part of video editing, it is here where you give the video the atmosphere and feel with the colour

He explained his particular workflow and we worked on a particular clip from a discovery channel show as he tried out different techniques with me. He likes to layer each change on top of each other so he can tell exactly what he has done. This is because colour grading is not just tweaking the colour, but you’re manipulating all different aspects of the video; from the complexion of someone’s face to how much of the clouds are visible. It can become utterly unmanageable if you lose control of even a single change you make. Creativity is not just about being imaginative…but also highly organised, not quite as glamorous a trait but essential none the less.