Assistant Skills

Essential Skills For Assistant Colorists : Introduction

August 20, 2014

Essential Skills For Assistant Colorists to help you get the job in a big facility. Being an assistant is hard work but you'll learn so much

Essential Skills For Assistant Colorists : Introduction

Most of my Insights, have been based in the creative & technical parts of color grading – helping you become a better colorist with skills that I’ve learned over the years.

But recently, I thought it would be great to change gears a little bit and dive into the world of becoming a career colorist.

Being creative and pushing yourself is a huge part of becoming a professional colorist but how exactly do you land that first big job?

What is the secret to getting paid every day to grade commercials and feature films?

I’ve worked in large facilities my whole post career so that’s what I’ll be focusing on, plus I’ll share a secret, I’ve always been a bit too scared to go freelance!

New Series

In this Insight, we’ll be taking a look at the skill sets that you may need to refine to help your chances of getting a job as an assistant colorist.

Later on in this series, I’ll be showing you how to apply these skills in DaVinci Resolve.

If you want to get into the world of color grading by going through a facility rather than being a freelance colorist you will probably end up starting in an entry level position – and that entry level job might be very entry level!

Even if you have a PhD in film-making, but you have zero experience as a colorist your first job is probably going to involve making tea or fetching coffee.

This is not a knock on your knowledge but post houses run on trust. We run to such tight deadlines and high pressure situations people need to get to know you and see your knowledge in action before they will trust you with bigger jobs.

What People Look For In An Assistant

The reason we have assistant colorists at my facility is due to the simple fact that the grading suites should always be filled with clients grading and grading with the colorist who mans that room.

This is where an assistant colorist comes in.

From my perspective as a senior colorist, I want someone that I can trust to prepare the project right up to the point where I open the project in the grading suite as the clients walk in.

For example, my assistant checks xmls , offline reference movies, audio and generally kicks ass on the workflow side of things.

At Smoke and Mirrors, we trust our assistants with our whole session and even the final delivery on some projects so finding the right person is essential.

So you might be thinking what are the specific skill sets that an assistant must have?  Great question, I’ll answer that over the next few sections.

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Homepage Forums Essential Skills For Assistant Colorists : Introduction

  • Id like to what workflows an assistant goes through when the XML conform isnt working properly with the assets the client provided. What should they try to do or communicate before giving in to a baked down DPX sort of workflow? And if you do, how do you address the clients need for handles at the end of a project?


  • Dan Diaz

    Do facilities usually post about hiring assistants or could you ask if they are looking for an assistant?

  • RobbieCarman

    Dan – In my experience getting into assistant color work happens in one of two ways. 1. General intern for the facility and you cozy up to the colorist(s) 2. You get in the door through another avenue like editorial, graphics etc and then show your color skills and then move over the color dept.

    For sure you can call facilities and ask but the big players – Company 3, Technicolor, MPC etc are hard nuts to crack. Often the assistants there are promoted to that role from another one like machine room operator etc. However the landscape is changing probably doesn’t hurt to ask!

  • RobbieCarman

    Isaac – I’ll let Dan chime in a bit more but to answer the second part of your question – in my facility it all comes down to communication with the client. If we’re having a problem with a conform we try to:

    1. Document the problems in a clear and concise manner that the client will actually understand (meaning not in colorist speak)
    2. Toy with the budget to see if we can find some more time to work thru the conform.
    3. Sometimes put in overtime and just eat the costs/time for the extra work on the conform to keep the client happy.
    4. Before go all in on a baked workflow we’ll try to see if its a just one or two shots that have an issue or even if its more can we still conform most of the show and just fix the problems by baking individual shots or sections.

    Finally, with the bit about handles in my experience handles are one of those things that clients can get hung up on. But assuming you are not having to bake the entire show – often we’ll have the editor when the make a bake for us of a shot or series of shots create handles before exporting.

    Hope this helps, I’m sure Dan will have more to add.

  • Dan Moran

    Hey Isaac,

    I think this should be my next insight!

    The number one goal is normally to find out what is the root of the problem, communicate that to the grading producer and then together work out the best plan of action.

    Some example situations would be :

    Do we have all the media or is missing media causing the problem?

    Is the issue XML or EDL based..a pro tip is always get an EDL with your xmls as they are much easier to read and can show up issues like incorrect reel names or bad time codes like the dreaded 00:00:00:00 source clip time codes from a bad transcode onset or by the editor.

    There is lots and lots to cover in this area!

    On a baked in workflow we always ask for it as naked as possible. No luts, no plugins, no anything applied except for time remapping.

    It gives me as many options in the grade as possible. Sure clients can be cranky that they will need to re do some work post grade but I always guarantee this route will give us the best results and they warm to the idea!

    Always happy to work in a handles world. Our standard is 50 frames on every shot. You have to warn clients before you start if you do use a pre conformed / baked dpx workflow there will be NO handles!

    Hopefully this helps but please do send me any questions you have and I’ll make sure to include them in my next insight!


  • Awesome thanks for the response!

    Id say there are 2 situations where the XML conform becomes trouble for me….

    This one I will see when using proxies, and still has me puzzled. My fix has been to re-transcode the prores-proxies im using with the resolve delivery preset “export for FCP”. Then whatever was wrong appears to be fixed, and the XML conform works. I dont understand what makes the prores I export with that preset different from a prores exported without starting with that preset.

    When using slow-mo 5D footage in Premiere CC 2014, for some reason it needs me to MODIFY>INTERPRET FOOTAGE> and change the frame rate to 23.976 to get the slow-mo effect. I should have guessed, but XML conforming that did not work at all, so I was forced into baking it down. Moving forward I plan to use prores transcodes that dont need to be interpreted. If you have any other workflows for that type of situation Id love to hear them.

    Also im always curious when and how to use the MASTER PROJECT SETTINGS > CONFORM OPTIONS. I bet that could be a whole insight on its own ha.

    Thanks again!

  • Thanks Robbie!

    Yea seems safer to just assume they will want handles when needing to bake down, then to drop the bomb about needing adjusted files later in the process. Not to mention having to adjust any tracking, or windowing that no longer works right with the extra frames added.

  • Patrick Inhofer

    My experience jibes with Robbie’s comment. The most common route is internally… unless it’s a fast growing post house and need to staff up quick – but then they’ll want an assistant with experience, usually.

    Your best bet is to show up at the post house(s) you want to work at and look for a foot in the door. Every few months.

    One thing to look out for is if a facility has a history of promoting from within. If Tape Ops and Assists are there for years without any moving into the big chair… chances are you won’t get that opportunity at that facility. It’s a cultural thing and some facilities promote from within, others prefer hiring after other companies do the training. You want to figure out which camp your post house belongs to to help you make your long-term career plans.

  • I work in LA, where the market is really owned by the big irons (TCS, Deluxe, among others). I’ve tried working through the graphics artists path, but it wasnt very successful as the graphics people didnt have too much interest in color, aside from it being accurate. As someone looking to take my color grading to the next level professionally, would you recommend taking time away from my regular 9-5 (which doesnt involve color at all) to go work on color specifically and build up a good reel with a few projects under my belt? I’ve been very limited in what I can work on as I can only color on nights and weekends, and no indie feature can be colored that quickly. I’ve graded several indie short films (professionally, not pro bono) and have enjoyed the experience immensely, so I’m looking how to move forward however I can. Any advice for someone working in entertainment, but not in the right area.

  • Ayumi Ashley

    I would be interested in a series of posts on cameras popular on the current market from a colorists’s perspective. I’m often asked my opinion on cameras, it would be helpful to have a resource i can access directly that is curated to colorists!

  • Patrick Inhofer

    Jason – I wonder if from your current position you can then introduce yourself to the management team of the color grading dept? If you show them your work, it’s just to show that you know the lingo, the goals and have a passion. See where that takes you.

    Or, approach the senior colorist (or the producer for the senior colorist) and offer to buy coffee for 5 minutes of face time and see if there’s an opportunity to get transferred to their department.

    Often, the best route is through your current company. If that’s a dead end, time to reach out to all the other companies in town and see if someone will open their door to you.

    And while that’s going on, keep taking those shorts. They’re a great way to get experience, not just coloring but interacting with clients and grading to someone else’s vision.

  • Unfortunately, I spent the past several years trying to get into the “right” department at my current company, but I seem to have hit a dead end and no color work is done internally at my current company. I even pushed to move TOWARDS color like in graphics, as its closer to color but it didnt work out. Lastly, I recently discovered all color work is done out of house at places like the Mill, etc. Seems unfortunate, but it doesnt seem like I have many options for true color positions within my current employer. I was at a local production group last night where I met a very nice colorist who suggested I was young enough to knock on the doors of the big three , state im passionate about color, and ask them do you have anything I can do. Seems like this goes against the way thing are working recently based on what im hearing, but Im 100% open for any suggestions if it has any chance of success.

    In the meantime, I will continue coloring in my free time, picking up shorts as I as can, keeping educated w gradealongs and mixing light (obviously), and hitting the pavement to try and find a finishing house thats looking for someone who is passionate about color to the extreme. Not sure if its supposed to feel this way, but It seems like I’m relying a LOT on a positive attitude and pure passion for color to try leverage a future within this area of post. Scary but seems thats the only choice. Thank you so much for you advice!

    Not sure if this is accurate, but someone mentioned there was approx 100 finishing houses in Santa Monica, which seem slightly positive. Anyone know this to be accurate?

  • woul LOVE an insight more on this, as Im using this work flow more and more? What do you have you clients back in, etc? Things to avoid? Things to watch out for? Thanks Dan!

  • DavidPowell

    Thanks for this. I’d be interested in some videos/articles on conform issues and deeper EDL insights.

  • Victor Nguyen

    Hi Dan. what a coincidence seeing you here.

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