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Colorist Chat: FotoKem’s Phil Beckner talks My Spy film, more

Phil Beckner comes to the world of color grading through his digital intermediate editing background, which includes his work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Over his nearly 10-year tenure at FotoKem, he has worked as the additional colorist on many studio titles, including The Nun, Aquaman and Shazam!

Beckner’s early titles include work as 3D colorist on 2016’s The Great Wall and as additional colorist on Kong: Skull Island. He moved up to lead colorist on The Director and the Jedi (a full-length BTS documentary for home release). His work can be seen on the upcoming releases My Spy, Lovebirds and Holler.

My Spy

Burbank’s FotoKem is a full-service finishing house specializing in many aspects of post and production support. Services include 2D/3D digital intermediate color grading, 4K/UHD SDR and HDR file-based mastering, digital on-set dailies, and media management and distribution.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Can you describe the general look for My Spy and how you worked with DP Larry Blanford and director Peter Segal to achieve what they wanted?
My Spy is a great mash-up of “family buddy comedy” and “action movie,” so one of our main goals was to have the film flow seamlessly between those two worlds. We wanted to enhance the drama of the action sequences by really embracing the world that Larry created on set — paying extra attention to the shadows and contrast, for instance — all while making sure not to step on any of the lighter moments in the dialogue.

In contrast, there are interactions between Dave Bautista and the young co-star, Chloe Coleman, that feel very natural and charming. During those scenes we took the opportunity to make it feel like a more traditional comedy — poppy, warm and inviting. The goal being to blend the two looks so that they work in conjunction with each other throughout the film.

I was in contact with Larry before we started the DI and he sent still images along that he liked to get the process started. Once we got rolling and could get everyone in the theater together, it was a very collaborative effort between Pete, Larry and myself. A fun one to work on, for sure!

What format was My Spy shot on? How did that influence your approach to the film?
My Spy was primarily shot with an ARRI Alexa SXT and ARRI Alexa Mini, with some Phantom and GoPro mixed in. Having worked on many ARRI shows over the years, I was familiar with the color science and I knew right away that there would be no compromise in image quality, especially with DP Larry Blanford at the helm. Knowing all of this up front was great because we could immediately dive in and start creating the world that you see on screen.

MY SPY

What color system did you use? Why did it serve the needs of this project?
This show was finished on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which has been rapidly improving over the past few years and it was perfect for this show. The conform, color correction and even a handful of VFX were done in Resolve in the DI theater, which was great because there is virtually no delay in showing the filmmakers the end result.

Now on to more general questions:

Throughout your career, you have worked alongside a variety of Hollywood’s top colorists. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that there is no “right” answer! In many aspects of filmmaking, you know immediately if you’ve succeeded or missed the mark, which is not really the case with color. Color grading is an ongoing collaboration between the colorist and the filmmakers with the end goal being to bring out the best aspects in every image. The communication and rapport you have with the filmmakers in the theater is just as important as knowing which knob to turn.

As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
One thing that may surprise people is how technical the job can be. As a colorist in 2020, it’s important to have a real understanding of the entire image pipeline. The colorist is often looked to for their technical expertise throughout the entire process — many times before shooting even begins — so it’s vital to have a solid technical understanding to help usher the image from set, through VFX, ultimately to the big screen.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I really enjoy being a part of the team that ultimately creates the visual aesthetic you see on screen. Being able to give the filmmakers exactly the image that they know they captured on set or to show them something new that they hadn’t considered before is very satisfying.

What’s your least favorite?
The dark! I try and go for a lap around the block every so often to get some sunshine.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I finished a comedy for Paramount/MRC called The Lovebirds, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae and directed by Michael Showalter. I also wrapped up Holler, a very cool film shot on 16mm, written and directed by Nicole Riegel.

Where do you find inspiration?
Obviously, I find inspiration in the work of my peers. There are a lot of great-looking movies and TV shows that come out every year, and I love seeing what other artists are doing. But maybe, most importantly, I try to be present in the moment. There are a lot of things vying for your attention on a daily basis but when you slow down and start looking with a critical eye at every different environment you find yourself in, there is a lot of information to gain. Whether I’m on the beach at sunset or in a school auditorium, I’m paying attention to how the light is reacting or what skin tones look like and putting that in my mental toolbox for use in the future.


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