New Talent: Mikey Pehanich
A native of Chicago, Mikey Pehanich was the first local hire of the The Mill’s Chicago studio when it opened its doors back in 2013. Joining as a colour assistant, Mikey quickly proved himself and worked his way up the ranks, being promoted to full-fledged colourist this year. Having recently worked on Prada’s ‘Miu Miu Scenique’ Summer campaign and Regina Spektor’s latest music video ‘Black & White’, Mikey is surely a young talent to keep your eye on.
LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with Mikey to find out what inspires him as a colourist and more…
LBB> Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, and what kind of kid were you?
Mikey Pehanich> I grew up in the Western suburbs of Chicago - a little town called Westchester. It’s about the most typical suburb you can imagine. But I was fortunate enough to grow up with a lot of other kids who had similar interests as me. I knew from a very young age I only wanted to be in some sort of creative field.
I still dabbled in sports, but I had no interest in joining any of the serious teams in high school. Soon after that, I found myself behind a camera and simultaneously obsessed with skateboarding. I didn’t expect to have such a passion for photography but there was something about it that I was drawn to. I was so compelled by both filming and skateboarding that I begged my parents to give me a camcorder for a school project – next thing I knew, I was filming skate videos with it!
LBB> Did you always see yourself becoming a colourist?
MP> While I'd love to say ‘yes’ it really wasn't until I was in college that I realised that being a colourist was even a career option. After I got my BFA in Photography, I wanted to become a documentary/war photographer but in actuality, I was just as confused as any other college student on where I was going to end up. Fortunately for me, a lot of the same fundamentals and aesthetics apply to photography and colour grading. Fast forward a few years and Randy McEntee [Head of 2D at The Mill Chicago], put me in touch with the right people and I was hired as the first local employee at The Mill in Chicago.
LBB> You started at The Mill as Colour Assistant, before being promoted to fully-fledged colourist this year (congratulations!). What has your time at The Mill been like?
MP> It's funny because I actually look back on my time at The Mill fairly often. Working here is easily the best thing that has ever happened to me for a variety of reasons. To work in an environment where people from all around the world share the same sort of passion and creativity as me is beyond amazing. Naturally, thanks to this type of setting, I’ve met some of my closest friends. I am fortunate to be where I am. Not just in my role but at The Mill in general: to get to walk into work every day and do something different, creatively and technically challenging, with the best group of people imaginable is unreal. As my friend Greg says, it really does feel like I've hit the ‘career lottery’.
LBB> On a ‘typical’ spot, what’s your starting point for finding the right ‘look’?
MP> Contrast is always first for me. When working with any sort of log footage, I like to give it some shape straight away which then gives me an idea as to where I can take the grade from there. Then I tackle tone; regardless of what look we're looking to achieve, I like to get the broad brush strokes out of the way first. That means getting the overall exposure and tone in a good place before applying them across the piece. After that, it's down to the nitty gritty and giving it a bespoke ‘look’. I've found that it's much easier to build a ‘look’ once an overall feel for everything is established. Part of what I love and appreciate so much about colour grading is the collaboration that happens between the colourist, the director, the agency, the whole team really. Because colour is so subjective there's no limit to how something will turn out.
LBB> Last year you worked on the 'Miu Miu Scenique' Summer campaign with April Milano and director Francesco Maria Tiribelli. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
MP> Miu Miu was an absolute blast to work on. I remember seeing the offline and I immediately knew it was going to be special. The piece naturally leant itself to warm, pastel hues. We all agreed that the contrast shouldn't be too harsh so we worked on bringing out lovely, soft and rolled-off blacks to complement the color palette. The underwater section was the trickiest because whenever something is captured underwater, you automatically lose a lot of the red channel. With that in mind, our main priority was to ensure we still achieved a nice skin tone to go along the cool cyan tones of the pool. All in all, it was an amazing project to work on with a phenomenal group of people.
LBB> Which projects that you’ve worked on recently have proved particularly challenging and enjoyable? Why?
MP> No two projects are ever the same and that's another reason why I love what I do. Although I'm always using similar methods and operators, I enjoy changing it up to some degree. I recently worked on an amazing Clorox campaign that was shot primarily with Phantom, so there were all these amazing and crazy high-speed shots with all sorts of different speed ramps. Phantom requires a bit more finesse than other camera formats. I had to be ingenious about the tools and processes I utilised.
LBB> What inspires you creatively, and what are your biggest influences?
MP> I find inspiration in everything I'm surrounded by: films, music, friends, photography, skateboarding, fishing...the list goes on. Films are high up there as they're often references for the projects I work on.
I recently took a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina with several of my closest friends. There’s something almost sacred about being down there on the beaches, or out 60 miles at sea. It's a special place to be in. You really experience the scale and magnitude of the ocean and just how small you really are in the universe. Aside from that, my biggest influences are the people I work with. Luke Morrison, our Head of Colour, has been one of the largest influences in my career. We've worked alongside each other for almost five years now. He’s been my mentor since day one. His guidance and support over the years have been invaluable and I'm honoured to work with him as a colourist. I'm also influenced by anything gold. Seriously, anything.
LBB> How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
MP> I try to get outdoors as much as possible. Fishing with friends, taking photos, travelling. I'm all about meeting people and experiencing new things. 35mm film is my photography outlet these days. I've abandoned the digital realm of photography and I'm really glad I did. There's something so incredibly satisfying about shooting a roll of film and eagerly waiting to see how the photos will turn out. Luke (Morrison) and I started the S35 Photography Club at The Mill Chicago just so we could share this passion with our friends, colleagues and clients. I'm also in the early stages of making a short film which is completely unchartered territory for me and really exciting!
LBB> Any tips for aspiring colourists out there?
MP> Stick with it. It isn't always the easiest. Those 18-20 hour days will challenge you to remain persistent and not get discouraged. Drink as much coffee as your body can physically handle, believe me, you’ll need it. Sit in the suite for as long as the caffeine allows you to, and then challenge yourself, make mistakes. There’s no better way to learn than by trying something, failing, and having to pick yourself back up. It's all part of the process.