“The coloring process is not unlike finding the right groove with a band,” says Frederik Bokkenheuser, a colorist with the state-of-the-art post-production house Picture Shop.
Besides being a colorist with 27 years of experience, Bokkenheuser is a musician, and knows that bands gel more quickly when all the players can reference the same songs or sounds — more Metallica, less White Stripes! It’s the same with coloring a film, he says.
“The first question is normally, can I get some references?” he says in our latest video, above. “What is the mood board, what’s the look book? When you have a common denominator and go like, That is red, you all know what it is regardless of what shape the person will see it as.”
Colorists must determine exactly what the director envisions — while adding their own insights into what looks good on screen.
“As a colorist, I’m using all of my tools and technical knowledge, but I’m also using my taste,” Bokkenheuser says.
One of his most recent Picture Shop projects was Next Exit, a ghostly road trip film from director Mali Elfman, which won Best Cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“The look of Next Exit is super filmic, yet really real. We wanted to be part of the road trip and the two main characters’ story and not feel alienated by a look. We wanted to get closer to them,” Bokkenheuser says. “So not too crunchy — and it’s a very organic feel.”
Another recent project was the Netflix series Archive 81, which presented an exciting challenge because it combines several formats, including Hi-8, Beta SP, 16mm and 8mm. Luckily, Bokkenheuser had worked with many of the older formats, which assisted him in emulating their appearance digitally.
“All these different formats are formats I’d had in my hands, so that really helped me in my understanding of, What is it we’re trying to fake?” he says. “If you don’t know what 35mm is, it’s going to be harder to reproduce.”
He advises filmmakers that you can fix almost anything in post – but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s better to save yourself time by planning ahead.
“The fun saying ‘fix it in post’ is the bane of every person in post’s existence. However, you can do most things in post,” Bokkenheuser says. “It’s just time-consuming.”
He continues: “A lot of times, you are actually stealing time from your own project by saying ‘fix it in post.’ When you point your camera at something, if it doesn’t look good there, it isn’t going to look good in post. … We’re able to do a lot of things in post, but fix it in pre — please?” he laughs.
Bokkenheuser loves collaborating with clients, even on matters as specific as whether a particular blue is too cyan. “If there’s something you don’t like, you have to speak up. And it’s OK, because we see things differently,” he says.
Main image: Picture Shop colorist Freddy Bokkenheuser.