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Modern Video colorist talks color grading ‘Madam Secretary’

By Randi Altman

Madam Secretary, which is in the middle of its first season on CBS, has been using LA-based Modern Videofilm for post services, specifically conform and color.

Barry Goch performs the conform via Autodesk Flame 2015, recreating the creative edit with the highest resolution footage while ensuring the program meets all broadcast specs. He also does some paint fixes, titling and final video layback.

Todd Bochner provides the color grading, working out of the company’s Santa Monica DI suite using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. The New York City-shot show stars Tea Leoni as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord and takes place in different settings around Washington, DC. This gives Bochner, whose background is in photography, the opportunity to work with a variety of looks. He works hand in hand with DP Jonathan Brown, who established the original look, as well as DIT Keith Putnam.

Todd Bochner

Todd Bochner

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Bochner on the color grade.

What kind of look was set from the start of the series?
The look [the DP] established for this project is a very rich and cinematic with natural color and rich blacks. Initial looks were set early in the season and have stayed pretty consistent as the episodes have gone on. Subtle changes have been made as we have progressed. For example, as we get to know the cast better, we can reflect the nuances of their character development through the color grade.

Are different locales given different looks?
The office scenes are rich with dense black levels and partially shadowed faces. The exterior scenes vary based on location.

What about the Secretary of State’s office?
We go for a natural-yet-rich feel to that location. She has windows behind her desk that we keep peaky, while slightly keeping silhouettes on some of the cast depending on their position in the room.

How do you work with DP Jonathan Brown?
We post the show on the West Coast but it’s shot on the East Coast. The DP and I have a conversation via phone and also use CineSync together for notes.  This allows the DP to see a rough version of the show and send back notes specific to the scenes.

How do you work with the DIT?
DIT Keith Putnam is heavily involved in this project. He is the DP’s eyes and ears on set. He is involved in creating (with the DP) and sending the CDLs on set to us and setting up viewing with the DP for final color on set. He initiates this and sends the color notes to us via CineSync.

You call on the Resolve for your work. What are your favorite parts of the system?
I am using a full version of Resolve 11 on Linux.  I have tapped several of the tools in Resolve for this project — from multiple power windows to color keying and filters.  I love them all.  Being able to have this amount of control over the final image is truly game changing for the clients.

What influences your work?
DP Jonathan Brown has been creating some amazing images for this project. This truly inspires me to push the limits to make a very impactful image for air.

Passage Game On

Does your background as a photographer help you make better decisions when grading?
Absolutely. It helps me in almost every facet of my decision making.  I have images in my mind that allow me to make a very natural yet stylized image.

What aspects of still photography influence your coloring?
Photography is a constantly evolving art form, which I love to stay current with. This helps me continually evolve and stay cutting edge with my looks. The beauty of photography and cinematography for me is that I can appreciate all types of lighting scenarios, which I feel have a huge impact on the storytelling process.

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