Electric Theatre Collective’s LA-based colourist on grading Queen for his first ever job and the differences between working with film and digital
Jason Walis’s latest grading project may have been for Apple, but his first ever job in a suite was arguably bigger and with more pressure. He was tasked with handling the colour on a 2012 reboot of a 1986 concert film for Queen. Yes, Apple are one of the world’s biggest brands, but are they Freddie Mercury…? His path to becoming a colour grader began when he was working in an airport and dabbling in photography in his spare time, before landing a few jobs shooting grime artists in London for Grime Daily and other music websites.
These days Jason plies his trade in the LA office of Electric Theatre Collective, one of the world’s most exciting post houses. LBB’s Addison Capper picked his brains on all things colour in 2018.
LBB> Your first foray into photography and filmmaking was while working at airport security - can you tell us a bit more about how that came about? Were you drawn to imagery before that?
JW> I’ve always had an interest in art and photography, taking pictures in my spare time as a hobby, though I had always thought my career would be something more IT-based. However, when I discovered Lightroom and how it gave me the ability to completely alter the look and feel of pictures I’d taken, I was hooked! This was my first taste of colour grading.
I landed a few commissioned jobs for London urban music websites like Grime Daily taking behind-the-scenes photos of artists on video shoots. At this time shooting video on DSLRs had started to become popular. So on top of stills, I began to get asked to shoot the additional BTS video, then edit and colour correct it. After a while I realised that I enjoyed the colour correction aspect most of all and decided to pursue it full-time.
LBB> And your first colour grading job was pretty mega! You worked on a 1986 concert film for Queen - how did you land that job? Did the band play any role in the grade?
JW> It was surreal to grade footage that was shot a few years before I was even born. The project was done in 2012 and it was my first job working as a colourist at The Look, a post house in London.
LBB> What are your fondest memories of that job?
JW> For my introduction to grading, it was quite a big project! Obviously, Queen are incredible, Freddie Mercury is insanely talented. Just being able to have a hand in something Queen-related and preserving their legacy was amazing.
LBB> You eventually moved into commercials after grading the feature film The Goob - what tempted you over to this world?
JW> Working on the The Goob was great. I got to work with an amazing crew of people who I still work with today (Deepa Keshvala, Alex Hulsey, Tom Hardiman). Everyone wanted to push it creatively, which allowed me to have more freedom with the grade. I’d often watch commercial grades and see this happening; the style and approach to each job was very different. The Goob was almost like a taster in to that. I knew if I moved into the commercial world that I’d have even more opportunity to work collaboratively with directors and creatives like this. Moving into short-form was also a great opportunity to learn because of quicker turnaround times, I went from working on something for weeks to days.
LBB> How has colour grading evolved in the years you’ve been involved in it?
JW> I think the biggest change has come from the rise of social media and streaming. How and where media is viewed has really opened up. I am very aware of this so checking grades on my phone, laptop, and iPad is a must.
Grading has also become much more accessible; anyone can download grading software and spend a few hours watching YouTube tutorials and then grade something. This is great as it raises awareness to the craft.
LBB> How has it stayed the same?
JW> People still want a very proficient colourist. Yes, there are more colourists grading from their bedrooms, but clients want to know they’re in safe hands. They’ll always seek out the top talent.
LBB> What are your first steps when approaching a job?
JW> Watching it, understanding it. Talking with the director / DOP / creatives, looking at references. Deciding what the right look and feel for the piece is. My next steps really depend on what I am trying to achieve - I don't have a set technical approach for all grades but it usually involves trying a few things to get to know what’s been shot.
LBB> It’s becoming more popular again to shoot on film - how does this affect you as a colourist?
JW> It’s great when shot well.
So often the end goal of the grade is for footage shot digitally to look like film, so working with film you skip that whole process. It requires less work for a film job to look beautiful. Skin looks great, it has an organic quality - imperfections - it’s unpredictable in that way, it has a life of its own.
LBB> Editors play an important role in any project. What kind of relationships do you have with editors? How important is that relationship?
JW> I find it extremely important. I work with Fouad Gaber at TRIM a lot, he is also a very close friend. Even if it means seeing a cut earlier, having more time to think about the creative, it all helps. We work closely on some projects, relating the approach in edit to a possible aesthetic.
LBB> Which projects that you’ve been involved in recently have you been particularly proud of and why?
JW> Projects for adidas and Mura Masa feat. Octavian with director Yoni Lappin.
A Mercedes project with Tom Hardiman. Also Kareem Kalokoh's music video for “Rambo” and Rimmel London’s “Match Perfect” with Leonn Ward.
LBB> What and/or who inspired your work?
JW> A lot of different sources. I have a folder of reference stills I regularly add to. Anything that makes me feel something or looks interesting. I like learning about different image processes from modern day retouching to the older three-strip technicolor process. Classic films are always good references. Kubrick, Tarkovsky, and Scorsese never disappoint.
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