Colorists are often called on to help enhance a particular mood or item for a film, show or spot. For Netflix’s In the Tall Grass — based on a story from horror writers Stephen King and Joe Hill — director Vincenzo Natali and DP Craig Wrobleski called on Deluxe Toronto’s Joanne Rourke to finesse the film’s final look using color to give the grass, which plays such a large part in the film, personality.
In fact, most of the film takes place in a dense Kansas field. It all begins when a brother and his pregnant sister hear a boy’s cries coming from a field of tall grass and go to find him. Soon they realize they can’t escape.
“I worked with Vincenzo more than 20 years ago when I did the video mastering for his film Cube, so it was wonderful to reconnect with him and a privilege to work with Craig. The color process on this project was highly collaborative and we experimented a lot. It was decided to keep the day exteriors natural and sunny with subtle chromatic variations between. While this approach is atypical for horror flicks, it really lends itself to a more unsettling and ominous feeling when things begin to go awry,” explains Rourke.
In the Tall Grass was principally shot using the ARRI Alexa LF camera system, which helped give the footage a more immersive feeling when the characters are trapped in the grass. The grass itself comprised a mix of practical and CG grass that Rourke adjusted the color of depending on the time of day and where the story was taking place in the field. For the night scenes, she focused on giving the footage a silvery look while keeping the overall look as dark as possible with enough details visible. She was also mindful to keep the mysterious rock dark and shadowed.
Rourke completed the film’s first color pass in HDR, then used that version to create an SDR trim pass. She found the biggest challenge of working in HDR on this film to be reining in unwanted specular highlights in night scenes. To adjust for this, she would often window specific areas of the shot, an approach that leveraged the benefits of HDR without pushing the look to the extreme. She used Blackmagic Resolve 15 along with the occasional Boris FX Sapphire plugins.
“Everyone involved on this project had a keen attention to detail and was so invested in the final look of the project, which made for such great experience,” says Rourke. “I have many favorite shots, but I love how the visual of the dead crow on the ground perfectly captures the silver feel. Craig and Vincenzo created such stunning imagery, and I was just happy to be along for the ride. Also, I had no idea that head squishing could be so gleeful and fun.”
In the Tall Grass is now streaming on Netflix.