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PerfectMatch Color Correction

It’s often said that a film gets made three times; first when it’s written, then again when it’s filmed and finally when it’s edited. But I would put forth that it gets made once again during color correction. Of course, this comes from a cinematographer. And it’s well known that we place the highest marks on image quality and how that quality informs the audience’s perception of the story at hand.

As PerfectMatch is going to play at its first festival in just a few weeks, I’ve been hard at work color correcting the footage we shot during principal photography in Marietta, Ohio in June of 2010 along with the reshoots we shot in Omaha, Nebraska in May of 2011 (yes, that’s almost a year between shoots). The first shoot was done on a Sony EX3 with a 35mm image adaptor while the second was shot on the Canon 7D. Two different cameras? Will they match, you ask? Well, I believe so – but only after a goodly amount of work in the color correction lab – or, more precisely, Apple Color (RIP) in my humble editing suite at home.

The color correcti0n process is, at first, seemingly simple – you’re primary goal is to ensure that each scene and ultimately the entire film has a consistent look. But it’s far more nuanced than that in practice. Why? Because this is a chance to remake the look of the film once again – to add subtle shading to the color palate or to remove unwanted color casts or to add contrast (or remove it) where desired. Or to even chance the color of individual tidbits of wardrobe or add color to a washed out sky. It’s all available in the color correction suite. Which begs the question – how much color correction is too much? I say that this question must be answered in concordance with the overall look and feel of the film.

For PerfectMatch, the director, Chad Eddy wanted the feel of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the visual palate of Amilee. So, the entire film is handheld (except for a very few shots) and the colors exude a warmth of tone that accentuates the reds and, at times, the greens. That being said, two things come to mind. First, this film has much more in common with Eternal Sunshine than with Amilee and so much care has to be taken when evoking either’s style. Second, I hate green casts in skin tones. I don’t know what it is about my visual barometer, but green in the skin simply makes me cringe. So, with these marching orders it’s been an extremely interesting experience getting the visual palate just right for the film. Certainly, we made many of these choice during the shoot. But, as I said earlier, color correction is yet another chance to recast the film in a particular direction.

So, will it work? I believe so. I’ve color corrected the first 1/3rd of the film over the last few days and it feels as though it’s coming out right, but I won’t know for sure until I see it on a big screen, with the house lights turned off and the murmur of the audience fades to silence as the first scene fades up. Thank goodness for the chance to screen at a small, but wonderful, film festival first – before the film heads out to other festivals and ultimately wide distribution. In a previous world we would have sat in such a venue, just the director, producers and myself and watched the film in privacy to make sure it looked as it should before it was released to the public, but in today’s world of limited budgets for indie films, sometimes the first festival screening is the first time to see the work on the big screen and truly judge the color correction (and other aspects) of the film’s post process.

Perhaps it’s time to invest in a home theater.