LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?
Mark> The first time I experienced colour grading was at a post house called The Sanctuary where I was a runner in 2006, I went into this very dark room with lots of machinery, full of lights and buttons and thought WOW what is all this! After learning what the role of a colourist was, to me it seemed like a form of digital painting and having always had a background in art I was immediately drawn to it.
LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?
Mark> I have worked on some great adverts and music videos over the years one that stand out for me was Dawn Black Badge for Rolls Royce, the director and DOP had a vision of creating an apocalyptic dawn landscape with a dark aura, which gave me the opportunity to create an extreme look, with dark, heavy shadows and ice-white highlights without losing focus on the hero of the shot-whether it is the car or the models. This job was a real challenge and it was something I was really happy with once complete. However I would say that it has been the directors, DOPs, clients (good and bad) that have changed my career the most over time rather than one specific job due to all the things I have learnt through these interactions.
LBB> How/where did you hone your craft and did you have any particular mentors?
Mark> I honed my craft at Smoke & Mirrors, I was there for 12 years working my way up for TK assistant - lacing and balancing film, to junior colourist - grading short films and freebies in the evening and then on to colourist. All under the watchful eye of Mark Horribin, who I learnt so much from in that time, he is someone I feel very lucky to have worked with as he had no problem sharing all his knowledge and tricks of the trade.
LBB> Tell us more about your creative process.
Mark> Once I have reviewed the footage I will discuss the project with the director, DOP, and other key creatives to establish their vision, goals, the desired tone and overall look and feel for the project. As the grade progresses I will continue to refine the look and collaborate with all the creatives and clients to achieve the desired result. Visual references are always very helpful and welcomed to get an insight in the clients vision and can explain so much more than verbal exchange.
LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?
Mark> I watch a lot of films and television, probably too much to be honest. I also love art and photography and try to paint whenever I get the chance, I visit galleries and enjoy street art and digital artists such as JJ Adams and Mark Davies. I take a lot of inspiration from nature and the beauty of country landscapes.
LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?
Mark> When I worked as a TK assistant every job was shot on film then overnight all rushes seemed to be arriving in digital format on drives and film became non existent. Thankfully film has seen a comeback as it has a unique texture and colour palette that can be difficult to replicate with digital formats. Digital cameras have come a long way since I was a TK assistant and no longer seem to have the issue of looking too clean, sterile and lacking character as they once did, which is great. That being said, I don't think you can beat well shot 35mm film to work on.
LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets and what sort of conversations do you have with creatives and clients about that?
Mark> Colour grading can play a significant role in enhancing a brands assets in commercials as the grade can help establish a brands identity quickly and precisely to the viewer, convey emotions and create a visual language that resonates with the target audience. I am often supplied with Pantone samples, stills from photoshoots of the products and the actual products themselves in order to achieve the correct colours associated with the brand.
LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?
Mark> Like any relationship it is important to listen to the other person, understand their views and convey your own ideas in a way that is respectful. Hopefully this will create an environment that is collaborative and enjoyable to work in and having a bit of a laugh along the way always helps too.
LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?
Mark> Learn the basics, practice every chance you get, stay up to date with the latest software, technology and industry trends. Build relationships, don't take criticism of your work to heart, be patient and stay passionate.
LBB> In your opinion, what’s the difference between a good grade and a great grade?
Mark> A good grade is something that ticks all the requirements and looks nice, a great grade is something that becomes a reference point for other creatives.
LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?
Mark> I think the pandemic created a real shift in the way grading sessions take place, there is now software to allow clients to live stream the sessions, meaning clients can virtually attend from anywhere in the world. Which has its pros and cons. Also the grading is more accessible for smaller post houses due to the reduction in cost of equipment and software, meaning there are more colourist than ever.