Veteran colorist Beau Leon recently worked with director Spike Jonze on a Beastie Boys documentary and a spot for cannabis retailer MedMen.
What’s your title and company?
I’m senior colorist at LA’s Framestore
What kind of services does Framestore offer?
Framestore is a multi-Oscar-winning creative studio founded over 30 years ago, and the services offered have evolved considerably over the decades. We work across film, television, advertising, music videos, cinematic data visualization, VR, AR, XR, theme park rides… the list is endless and continues to change as new platforms emerge.
As a colorist, what would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
Despite creative direction or the equipment used to shoot something, whether it be for film or TV, people might not factor in how much color or tone can dictate the impact a story has on its audience. As a colorist, my role often involves acting as a mediator of sorts between various creative stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page about what we’re trying to convey, as it can translate differently through color.
Are you sometimes asked to do more than just color on projects?
Earlier in my career, the process was more collaborative with DPs and directors who would bring color in at the beginning of a project. Now, particularly when it comes to commercials with tighter deadlines and turnarounds, many of those conversations happen during pre-production without grading factored in until later in the pipeline.
Building strong relationships and working on multiple projects with DPs or directors always allows for more trust and creative control on my end. Some of the best examples I’ve seen of this are on music video projects, like Rihanna’s Needed Me, which I graded here at Framestore for a DP I’d grown up in the industry with. That gave me the opportunity to push the creative boundaries.
What system do you work on?
You recently worked on the new Beastie Boys documentary, Beastie Boys Story. Can you talk a bit about what you did and any challenges relating to deadlines?
I’ve been privileged to work with Spike Jonze on a number of projects throughout my career, so going into Beastie Boys Story, we already had a strong dialogue. He’s a very collaborative director and respectful of everyone’s craft and expertise, which can be surprisingly rare within our industry.
The unique thing about this project was that, with so much old footage being used, it needed to be mastered in HDR as well as reworked for IMAX. And with Spike being so open to different ideas, the hardest part was deciding which direction to choose. Whether you’re a hardcore Beastie Boys fan or not, the documentary is well worth watching once it will air on AppleTV+ in April.
Any suggestions for getting the most out of a project from a color perspective?
As an audience, our eyes have evolved a great deal over the last few decades. I would argue that most of what we see on TV and film today is extremely oversaturated compared to what we’d experience in our real environment. I think it speaks to how we treat consumers and anticipate what we think they want — colorful, bright and eye-catching. When it’s appropriate, I try to challenge clients to think outside those new norms.
How do you prefer to work with the DP or director?
Whether it’s working with a DP or director, the more involved I can be early on in the conversation, the more seamless the process becomes during post production and ultimately leads to a better end result. In my experience, this type of access is more common when working on music videos.
Most one-off commercial projects see us dealing with an agency more often than the director, but an exception to the rule that comes to mind is on another occasion when I had the chance to collaborate on a project with Spike Jonze for the first ever brand campaign for cannabis retailer MedMen called The New Normal. He placed an important emphasis on grading and was very open to my recommendations and vision.
How do you like getting feedback in terms of the look?
A conversation is always the best way to receive feedback versus a written interpretation of imagery, which tends to become very personal. An example might be when a client wants to create the feeling of a warm climate in a particular scene. Some might interpret that as adding more warm color tones, when in fact, if you think about some of the hottest places you’ve ever visited, the sun shines so fiercely that it casts a bright white hue.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
That’s an easy answer — to me, it’s all about the amazing people you meet in this industry and the creative collaboration that happens as a result. So many of my colleagues over the years have become great friends.
Any least favorites?
There isn’t much that I don’t love about my job, but I have witnessed a change over the years in the way that our industry has begun to undervalue relationships, which I think is a shame.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I would be an art teacher. It combines my passion for color and visual inspiration with a forum for sharing knowledge and fostering creativity.
How early did you know this would be your path?
In my early 20s, I started working on dailies (think The Dukes of Hazzard, The Karate Kid, Fantasy Island) at a place in The Valley that had a telecine machine that transferred at a frame rate faster than anywhere else in LA at the time. It was there that I started coloring (without technically realizing that was the job I was doing, or that it was even a profession).
Soon after, I received a call from a company called 525 asking me to join them. They worked on all of the top music videos during the prime “I Want My MTV” era, and after working on music videos as a side hustle at night, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. When I first walked into the building, I was struck by how much more advanced their technology was and immediately felt out of my depth. Luckily, someone saw something in me before I recognized it within myself. I worked on everything from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to TLC’s “Waterfalls” and The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” I found such joy in collaborating with some of the most creative and spirited directors in the business, many of whom were inspiring artists, designers and photographers in their spare time.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m lucky to live in a city like LA with such a rich artistic scene, so I make a point to attend as many gallery openings and exhibitions as I can. Some of my favorite spaces are the Annenberg Space for Photography, the Hammer Museum and Hauser & Wirth. On the weekends I also stop by Arcana bookstore in Culver City, where they source rare books on art and design.
Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I think I would be completely fine if I had to survive without technology.
This industry comes with tight deadlines. How do you de-stress from it all?
After a long day, cooking helps me decompress and express my creativity through a different outlet. I never miss a trip to my local farmer’s market, which also helps to keep me inspired. And when I’m not looking at other people’s art, I’m painting my own abstract pieces at my home studio.