From Color Grading Commercials to Dailies Color Grading

From Commercial Colorist to Dailies – How Does the Job Change?

January 19, 2019

A successful commercials colorist color grades dailies. He shares his challenges, mistakes, and how it's different than commercials.

Day 17: 25 Insights in 25 Days 2019 New Year Marathon!

Tax credits open career opportunities

Over the last couple of years Massachusetts has become a popular destination for filmmakers and studios.  An aggressive tax credit (25% production credit, 25% payroll credit, and sales tax exemption) has drawn many films to the New England area and has kept the people of the Bay state quite busy.  While the extra work is normally on the production end, some of it does trickle down to post production.  Yes, most of a film’s editing, color, and vfx still takes place on the west coast, but there are occasions when local vendors are able to get in on the action.

Breaking into dailies: Round 2

Rob Bessette's Color Grading Suite
My color grading suite, grading dailies on a yet-to-be-released film.

With all the films coming to shoot in Massachusetts, I was presented the opportunity to color dailies for some of the productions shooting in town.  I was excited for the opportunity, as some of the films were pretty high end with some big name DPs.  The only problem was, I didn’t have a ton of experience with dailies.  I had done two dailies jobs back in 2012 and 2013 when the tax credit was in it’s infancy, but hadn’t done any since then.  And when I look back at those projects, I realize I actually didn’t do them correctly.  Sure, the color looked good, but I didn’t pay enough attention to the overall workflow, which is one of the most important aspects of dailies.  Quite frankly, I kind of lucked out that nobody called me out on it, but we’ve all been there, right???

As we were bidding my second go-round at coloring dailies I wanted to make sure I was prepared this time to execute the job correctly.  I did a bunch of research and chatted with some other colorists, DPs, and DITs.  The one thing that they all said was, “you already know how to color, just pay special attention to the overall workflow”.  I had to figure out the best approach to make sure that I nailed the workflow while still coloring effectively.

Color Grading commercials is about final polish

Anyone that has colored commercials knows that it’s a totally different beast than anything long form.  The prep, the approach, and the overall method of attack are completely different.  A :30 commercial normally books 3-4 hours in the color suite.  If I were to treat a feature in the same manner it would take me forever to get the work done and I’d probably be out of a job!  Commercial work is pretty straight forward.  The edit is locked and you’re nearly finished.  Unless there’s heavy VFX integration, you already have a pretty good idea of what the final piece is going to look like.  You can focus on tweaking brand colors, highlighting/tracking faces, and other specific tasks that give the piece it’s final polish.  You’re free to spend 15-20 minutes on a single shot and nobody will blink an eye.

Coloring dailies is a completely different workflow and mindset

Dailies, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Rather than a :30 commercial consisting of carefully selects shots, you’re receiving hours of footage every day.  Day after day, week after week, month after month.  My personal record is 10 hours of footage in one day.  Yikes!!!  So obviously you’re not going to be able to treat dailies as if they were commercials.

CDLs are required for interchangeability

A lot of the times you’re going to be working with LUTs that have been created under the supervision of the DP.  That helps move things along right from the start.  Another thing to be aware of when coloring dailies you need to keep CDL values intact.  So only 4 parameters can be adjusted:

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Homepage Forums From Commercial Colorist to Dailies – How Does the Job Change?

  • Marc Wielage

    I have trained people for dailies before, and one thing I’ve warned them is DON’T EVER RELAX. Don’t take things for granted. You have to constantly check everything, and that means timecode windows, metadata, file names, color, sound sync, backups, the works. There’s so much potential for getting things wrong, it’s a real challenge. Dailies are a marathon, not a sprint, so the key is to use precisely the same workflow every day for consistency. And don’t ever forget that they judge the DPs work on the basis of how the image looks. I have been reminded many times by DPs that “if you don’t make the effort, they yell at ME, not you.” Very tough job, but I agree, there’s always satisfaction in doing it right.

  • Rob Bessette

    I agree with you 100%, Marc. Dailies can be very stressful at times. And the kicker is, you’re only as good as your last day. You need to be on the ball 24/7. If you think to yourself, “ah, they’ll never notice that”, it’s almost certain that they will. Even if it sets you back an hour or two, it’s in your best interest to fix any problems and get things right before the footage goes out into the world. Everyone has their guard up and is looking at the footage so critically. You have to make sure you put out the best possible product day after day.

    I know a dailies colorist who worked with Roger Deakins during the early days of the Alexa. The images were stunning, but there were still some kinks to be worked out by Arri. It was of no fault of the dailies colorist, but he caught a lot of flack over the image looking a specific way when in actuality it was an issue with the camera. Thankfully it was during camera tests. But after that movie he swore never to work on dailies again after all the stress it caused him. And quite frankly, I don’t blame him.

  • Rich Roddman

    I do a lot of dailes and the one thing you must have is a proven workflow, not just with the data but a physical one as well. On my cart data and cards flow from left to right. This way if you are in the 13th hour and someone distracts you with questions or pulls you away from your cart, just one glance as you return should tell you exactly where something is in the process. A successfully proven workflow is key.

  • Brian Singler

    After reading your post, Rob. It’s hard for to envision how being a dailies colorist is worth it, especially at the level you are. Sounds like there’s so many opportunities to make a mistake and not a lot of payoff or credit. One thing that made me curious was whether doing dailies work then helped you as a finishing colorist, either in terms of skills gained or whatever.

  • Rob Bessette

    Quite honestly, it’s not. High risk, no reward kind of situation. I will say that it has opened a lot of doors for me, though, which is exactly why I took it on. Is it something I want to do long term? Definitely not. But it has broadened my horizons and introduced me to things that I don’t normally see in the commercial world.

  • Rob Bessette

    Very good point, Rich. Moving footage, wiping drives, and just organization in general is paramount.

  • Paul C

    As a finisher, I’d like to add that it is very important the get the framing correct from day one. Have a discussion with the D.P. and agree to the exact extraction area (get it in writing to CYA). And for goodness sake, have them shoot a framing chart!! Oh, and don’t delete camera cards until you are sure you got it backed up. How many stories I can tell where they created Avid media and then lost the raw media.

  • Paul C

    And can I add… if you are shooting with multiple GoPros/drones/whatever and they all name the files the exact same, go ahead a rename them at the beginning of the process so that you don’t have the dreaded duplicate tape and timecode. Everyone will thank you later.

  • Rob Bessette

    This is pure gold. All of it. Our natural instinct is to never rename a source file. But in an instance like this, I’m all for it. You just have to make sure everyone knows and it happens across the board. Communication is everything.

  • Brian Singler

    OK, that makes a lot of sense, the opening doors part. I suppose we’ve all taken projects because of the people we’ll get introduced or whatever. Thanks for the reply.

  • Sherwin L

    Thanks for this great insight, Rob! Glad to see you’re getting the opportunity to get out of the commercial world!

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