Film colorist

Film Colorist

aka: colorist, grader, post digital imaging technician

The colorist designs the film’s visual style by adjusting the mood and look with color grading software. They work alongside the editor, director, and DOP to enhance the film’s visuals. As such, this highly creative job requires teamwork skills and a keen eye for detail.

But how do you find work as a colorist, and what is the career route? Like all film job roles, there are different paths and varied career sectors you can work within. Below, we detail the colorist role, including career advice, salary, education, and career progress.

What is a Colorist in Film?

The colorist designs and improves the film’s color palette. In post-production, they work with the director and DOP to determine the color and mood throughout the film.

In filmmaking, color theory dictates how the audience interacts with the film. By changing the film’s color, you can evoke emotions in the audience. In addition, color adds to the story by representing characters, for example, the hero wearing white and the villain in black.

Job Description

The colorist can be either a freelancer or work for a company. They always work after the editor has locked the final cut. At the start of a project, the DIT might hand them camera notes on behalf of the DOP. These notes help the colorist understand the DOP’s vision.

In addition, the colorist might spend time talking with the editor, director, and DOP. Each person will provide insight into the scene’s color grade and correction. Then, they will make several drafts of the edit before locking the final image.

After the color design, the sound designer and composer will add their parts to the film. The amount of time a colorist works on a project will change, with VFX films taking longer (as a general guide, you can expect to work on a project for at least two months).

Post-production Duties

When the editor has locked the film, they will hand the edit to the colorist. The colorist will then use software to change the colors and look of the film. They do this with color grading software and by working with the director and DOP, who will guide their vision.

On some sets, the colorist will also work on visual effect shots. Either way, the colorist will make several drafts of each scene before locking the final image. The completion of drafts usually involves two processes, let’s take a closer look at these stages in detail.

Color Correction – this is the term for the technical process of fixing the color in the edit. During this first step, the colorist adjusts things like the exposure, contrast, and white balance. The goal is to maintain continuity between different cameras and light sources.

Color Grading – after the color correction is done the colorist then moves on to color grading. This is where they change the hue, saturation, shadows, highlights, midtones, gamma, and luminescence of the footage. They can even change the color of a scene or prop entirely by using grading and effects to get the desired look.

Education and Skills

The film colorist position doesn’t require any formal education. However, you might like to attend a film school to learn the filmmaking process. Many people start out as runners and assistant editors. After training as an editor, you will have to specialize in color grading.

You will also need to understand color grading software, including programs like DaVinci Resolve and Lightworks. In addition, you will need familiarity with both editing and VFX software. You can take online courses or attend workshops to learn these extra skills.

Most importantly, the film colorist needs to work as part of a team. They work alongside many people during the post-production process and so must understand everyone’s position. The job also requires knowledge of color theory and how different colors elicit emotions.

Key Colourist Skills:

  • Knowledge of post-production
  • Keen eye and attention to detail
  • Color and editing software
  • Work as part of a team
  • Color theory

Career Route

Firstly, if you want to become a colorist you will need to get familiar with editing. Many people start their careers as post-runners and editing assistants. Networking with post-houses and directors is essential for freelance editors and colorists to work on major productions.

To find work, you will have to create a color demo reel to show your skills. You can also work on smaller projects, such as short films and online videos, before moving up to fiction. Many directors and editors hire and work with the same people on multiple projects.

For many people, being a colorist is the end goal. However, you can move into other roles, such as post-production supervisor and editor. In addition, you can also explore career paths in VFX with similar roles, such as VFX colorist and grading assistant.

Salary

The colorist is a below-the-line post-production job role. If you work for a company you will have a salary and freelancers will have a daily rate. You must negotiate with the producer before starting work on your wages and any extras such as overtime pay.

Another factor determining your salary is whether or not you are part of a film union. If you work in America, being part of a union is integral to getting paid fairly. You can contact your local union or create a personal daily rate to determine what to charge.

The editors’ guild recommends that colorists have a going rate of $353 for budgets of $1 million and over. Of course, you can change this depending on your experience.

Finding Work

At the start of your career, you can find entry-level jobs on film job sites. Other ways to find work are to look on the career pages of post-houses, join Facebook groups, and assist with low-budget films. It’s typical to begin your career as a runner or assistant editor. 

Getting into the film industry relies heavily on networking and making contacts. After a few years of initial experience, you will find work from recommendations. It’s also common for editors and directors to work on multiple projects with the same team.

As mentioned, the colorist might benefit from having a demo reel. The reel is a mix of different scenes showcasing color styles and skills. You can send this reel directly to post-houses and editors or use it as a promotion for finding work online.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, the colorist works with the locked film after the editor. Using software, they enhance the film, which in turn helps to tell the story. It’s a creative and technical job role that would suit someone who loves filmmaking but doesn’t want to work on set.

Before considering this job role, try to gain some work experience in editing. You can always download free editing software and play with footage to learn basic editing skills. We hope this guide has helped you learn more about this film role and if it is for you.

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