The Color of Film

Why do I care so much about wanting to build my color grading skills as a part of my recent grant?

I want to work at this because I have a perception that my current work shows a lack of knowledge here. I have no idea how many judges of film festivals have actually watched my films, and I haven’t been lucky enough to get feedback from festivals who have rejected my work, but color can be an obvious trait that sets “rookies” apart from advancing filmmakers. You don’t have to watch the whole thing to get a sense at first glance that this is a low budget or low quality project.


I met Jay Ness at a film festival that we both entered and were nominated for awards for. He is a director and editor, and has done color grading for commercial as well as artistic projects. On the artistic side, I really enjoy seeing how he can set a mood with his color choices. So, as part of my grant I have asked him to teach me about his methods as a colorist and we arranged to meet to talk about philosophy and so that I could observe his workflow.


It’s important to start by thinking about what you want to do with color before you begin. Is there a shot from a specific movie that you like and want to use for inspiration? I created a Pinterest board for some shot inspiration of the use of the color yellow, since I know that will be prevalent in my final piece. This not only gives me ideas for the final grade, but for the shot listing and planning for production.

DaVinci Resolve

Jay uses Resolve for his color work and recommended I check it out. The software is free to use but is a processor hog and you need a fast machine in order to use it and not get frustrated. I am working on upgrading my computer and am looking forward to checking it out because it has a lot more options than Adobe Premiere, which is what I currently edit with. The coolest part about Resolve is that it uses the concept of nodes for the color grade. Nodes operate as layers, which is nice because you leave behind breadcrumbs to your grade – you might control contrast in one node, and play with highlights in another node, and you can turn off a node at any time to compare what it has done in your grade. Super cool stuff!


I won’t share all of the ins and outs of the entire workflow, but one game changer for me is that you can export your cut from Premiere and pull it into Resolve to do the color grade. This is handy because I know all of the Premiere key commands to put together a cut pretty quickly, so I can still use it as part of my workflow. Then I just export the file as an XML file and import it into Resolve and voila, I have a copy ready to color.

I’m looking forward to getting my new computer so I can try this stuff out! But of course, I also need to shoot the film first … right now it is looking like that will happen in late February/early March.

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