In today’s world of movies, it’s hard for Independent Filmmakers to find Directors to use as inspiration for their own work. When the number of theaters and weekly box office numbers are celebrated 52 times a year, an environment that fosters arthouse, non-mainstream, independent filmmaker work is close to nonexistent. This can be seen so easily when it comes to awards season. This is the only time when these types of films are brought to the forefront and everyone is looking at the nominations and thinking, “never heard of that”. What they have heard of are the latest blockbusters. I’m not saying that the awards shows are a benchmark for great films, but it is at least a different focus from every other week in movies. It’s the difference between the latest Transformers movie being celebrated and a film that only played at a small number of theaters during its run.
I remember looking forward to the latest Paul Thomas Anderson film, Punch Drunk Love, coming out. I looked online for where it was playing. I looked at 5 miles from my current location, 10 miles, 15 miles, until I finally found it about an hour away at a small theater. We are very lucky that we still have some great Directors like Spielberg and Scorsese that will play at an abundance of theaters. Tarantino and some others can now also be added to that list.
I understand this is not a new problem as many smaller productions have always been largely ignored in the theater, but I feel it has gotten worse. The focus is more on the visual side of movies instead of the story driven films. The focus is on the moments in films and not the scenes. The one quick shot of a superhero silhouette instead of a close-up of someone telling a story. Today’s society, with our smart phones, social media, and texting, live for the quick thrill instead of the drawn-out building of the story.
I’m not saying I do not enjoy blockbusters, but there needs to be better balance with thought provoking and arthouse or short films.
In today’s environment, aspiring independent filmmakers need to stop making movies, without first learning from what they have previously done. There is a wealth of information that can be had from previous endeavors. Why do we, as independent film makers not take this advice? We create film after film and get feedback from friends and family potentially, but never from peers that are doing the same thing. Think of the great feedback you could get from one or many others in the independent filmmaking area. A few small changes identified, and each film becomes progressively better. There is a famous quote from Winston Churchill that states, “Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it”.
The reason this has come up is due to the many videos that can be found online. Within seconds, anyone can find a person whom has created 5 “films”, but each one is just as bad as the first. It does not seem like they are trying to get better. Maybe in some cases, they are not, but in most, it would be hard to believe they are not trying to improve with each venture. Say for example, they asked a peer filmmaker to watch their first video and the feedback was something like this; “It’s a great try, but you should really look at color correcting some scenes and spending some additional time on the audio.” It’s a simple piece of feedback, but that could lead to moviemaking gains like color correction and giving their second film a much more uniform and pleasing look. Additionally, maybe that person spent a lot more time on the camera use in the film and thought audio was not as important (it is). This small feedback would help them to re-evaluate that and work a little more on that aspect next time. This is just one small example on the first film. Now multiply this for each film that person makes going forward.
This seems like such an obvious activity, but it is obviously not done much. Again, friends and family feedback is great, but it can only take you so far. Rarely would they give feedback on the tone, color, sound, cinematography, etc. Unless your uncle is Spielberg or Scorsese. If so, ignore this article and go make more films and ask their thoughts (and tell us what they said). The real benefit is in asking others that are going through the same process, to exchange thoughts on each other’s work. This is how independent film making will continue to grow exponentially.
There are numerous places this type of constructive feedback from others in the same field can occur. The most common place is at film festivals. Submitted films are reviewed and awarded. This is a much more invasive approach than just getting informal feedback. Sometimes, people use sites such as Vimeo and Youtube to get feedback. Nine times out of 10, the feedback will come from people just watching the film and not from people that are also in the field.
A recommended activity is to look at online film festivals that include independent film reviews. This might be a much less invasive way to get feedback. There is also a great short films website called IndieFilmShare that forces people to review a film if they are submitting a film. These types of indie film websites are a great way to ensure the site is more focused on the constructive feedback side. It also increases the chances of people getting great feedback on how to improve their work so that they can progressively improve their craft. There are a number of films already there and the number will only increase as time goes by.
I have noticed a lot of people getting confused by the difference between color correction and color grading. This includes myself when I first started getting more and more involved in independent films and independent filmmaking. Once I understood the difference, I started really paying attention to a films color scheme and variations in the color as the film progressed. I also started ensuring this was part of my toolkit in my own independent film making.
To sum up the difference, color correction is the act of modifying the color of footage to make everything match up. Color Grading is the act of modifying the scenes to have a certain color tone to convey an emotion, show changes, or to signify something special in some way.
Color Correction: As mentioned, color correction is modifying the color of footage to make everything match. The reason for this is due to many various factors. Most importantly is because films are shot over a span of many days/nights. Even one scene could be shot over the span of multiple days. As you can imagine, each day could look slightly different and these variations would make it obvious the scene was not shot together and not look seamless. One day could be bright and sunny while the next could be overcast. These two different types of days come across very drastically on film. Color correction is applied during the editing process to modify the colors of the scenes to look as though they were shot at the same time. This can be done by lowering the brightness of the bright and sunny day while also bringing up the light slightly on the overcast day. A lot of care has to be taken not to go too far with one over the other and try to meet in the middle. This could lead to scenes that are too bright and "blown out". Going from bright to darker many times is much easier than going from dark to bright.
The main reason for this is that the camera does not see as much detail in darker scenes to make them bright. A bright scene can be made to look like a night scene fairly easy (called day for night). This is done in movies a lot. I have seen an example of this in American Pie when the guys are driving through town during the night time with their lights on. This was shot during the day and they lowered the brightness to make it look like night. A way you can notice this sometimes is by noticing the detail in the entire frame. A true night scene typically would have bright areas with some dark areas outside of the area of focus. A day scene shot to be night would have almost the entire scene with the same detail and lighting.
Color Grading: Color grading is modifying scenes to have a certain color tone. This can be done for numerous reasons from conveying an emotion or signify a change. The idea is to take the original footage and add certain color elements to the entire scene. An example is a scene that has a blue tint to it to convey a clean look or a melancholy feeling. An apparent film example is in Steven Soderbergh's film Traffic. The film follows a few storylines in parallel. Each storyline has a very distinct color tone to it.
One is a blue tint, another is more of an orange tint. This makes it easy to notice which storyline we are experiencing. Granted, it might only be subconsciously, but it is something that makes it easier to follow. Many times, the set can be changed in anticipation of knowing the color that will be used. For instance, certain furniture and lamps of a certain color will be placed in the scene because it will look better with the color that will be added to the scene in post-production (film editing). A great example of the trend of using colors can be found here. This shows a picture of the outline view of the film Black Hawk Down. As you can see, as the film progresses, the color grading is slightly different. It is consistent for a number of scenes, then gradually changes to another color for a while.
Finally, another, more recent, use of color grading is to make digital movies look more like they were shot on film. Lighting is a big part of this process, but color grading also has a huge impact on giving the movie a film look as opposed to the digital home movie feel. If an independent filmmaker does not have enough money for a lot of lights, they could rely more on color grading to make their film look more "normal" to someone.
I hope this article has helped to understand the difference between color correction and color grading. I also hope it will open eyes to the use of color in films which can be a very powerful tool to convey a message. You can find examples of films to potentially see the above in action at various independent film reviews sites. These indie film websites and short film websites are a great place to see a varying approach to all of these topics.