Time Is Money

Never more so than when you’re sitting in the grading room with an hourly rate of X hundred pounds and very little sitting in the bank.

Today I went over to the labs and looked at the print of Fate & Fortune and I have to say it’s great. It still needs work but it’s nothing like the (scary) telecine I’d seen for the sound work. The scene I thought was pink (magenta) actually is nearer the gold colour it should be and most of the other things are okay.

Deluxe has a really nice little 20(ish) seat preview theatre by the way. I’d like one of these for my home. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen any time soon as the fortune part of Fate & Fortune still eludes me. My home today could probably fit inside that theatre with room to spare.

Time is running out though to get this work off to Cannes so while I was there I asked if we could do a graded telecine (transfer of film to video). Grading in this case means having an operator sitting there making sure all the shots match colours, contrast and brightness. The answer was yes although I’ll have to replace the wrong shot which the neg cutters added plus the soundtrack later.

Now, here’s the thing. A graded telecine transfer is a bit like a gameshow. The only person who sees the equipment regularly is the grader but you have to figure out in no time at all what it’s capable of and what decisions you want to make in order to get the best results on your videotape.

You go in and meet the grader (called Dave–everyone at the lab appears to be called Dave, Roy or Ray presumably to simplify things). He laces up your film on a very expensive piece of kit (the telecine machine) and you sit in a small suite in front of the most space-age control panel yet and a few monitors.

Dave then starts dialling glowing trackerballs and pushing buttons. The console beeps and your film starts moving on the monitor. He dials in the correct aspect ratio (a 1:185 letterbox) on the screen and then looks at the opening titles which should be white and sharp on a dense black background. Two beeps and they are. The black blobs on a couple of the opening shots (caused by dirt on the neg) aren’t so easily taken care of. In fact, they can’t be taken care of.

Then we look at the opening sequence and I tell him I’d like this all to have a blue colour cast as it’s meant to be morning. The pinks in the sky in some shots shouldn’t be there. And one or two burned out shots need bringing down in brightness. Dave sorts out the first two and then tells me why he can’t do the last exactly as me want it–because I haven’t got a low-contrast print and there’s not enough detail in the print I have got.

At one point I find myself saying repeatedly, “I’d like the contrast level reduced,” while Dave dials up the level to make the image look ‘punchier’. Eventually I get what I want. Memories of the first rerecording mixer nudge their way forwards as Dave finds reasons why things can’t be done the way I ask but I push those thoughts back because this is costing serious money and I need to stay focussed.

We get to the car showroom scene which should have the amber colour cast and after much contrived explanation of how it should look, I finally hit upon telling him we shot it on daylight film in daylight lighting with colour correction for tungsten stock (which reproduces daylight as blue). “Aha,” he says, “Wratten!” and dials in the numbers. Bingo, amber.

We’re now three pages into the script and half an hour has gone. At this rate it will take two and a half hours. And it still won’t get exactly the result I want. Wrong contrast stock, dirt on the neg, blah blah blah. I’ve enough money for one maybe two hours at a push. I start saying fewer things but commenting where it counts while Dave works to make the shots in each sequence match.

After an hour Roy the manager comes in because I’ve asked him to remind me how long I’ve been haemorrhaging cash, I mean how long I’ve been there when it gets to the sixty minute mark. By this point I’ve discovered that what looked fine projected on a big screen doesn’t look fine viewed via a TV camera on a small (48 inch) phosphorescent monitor. It all needs more work that it isn’t going to get.

Let me explain a little. When the size of the image is reduced, colours become denser and the image becomes darker. Because it’s television, contrast is lost anyway (because television sucks). This means that one shot following another might not match as well as it did when projected up because small differences in saturation, colour and brightness are actually made larger by this process.

Imagine adding some drops of food colouring to a small glass of water until you get a really deep colour (video). Now imagine adding the same amount of pigment to a large bath of water–the colour is going to be much less intense. It’s the same principle at work. The latter is the projected film, which needs more colour and density to cope with projection, while the former is video.

So I learn and we get it done in an hour and a half and we play it back and it looks pretty good. In fact, it looks damn good. Not perfect but honestly still beautiful and better than most short films you’re going to see in the near future. I hope. I just remembered I didn’t notice the dirt blobs so maybe I’ll get away with it, although ugh.

Four more stages to go. Sound mix–next week according to the rerecording mixer. Optical negative–after the sound mix, will take a day and night to make and process. Final answer print with sound–will take the following night (the lab only does processing at night). Transfer sound and missing shot to video via telecine.

Then I have to send a VHS off to France for Cannes.

Now before everyone breathes a sigh of relief and thinks that’s it, done and dusted, let’s look at the above stages again. Sound by next Friday. Optical neg the following Monday finished by Tuesday. Answer print finished by Wednesday. Friday is a bank holiday (it’s Good Friday) so that leaves a window of just two days to get the video work done and sent off.

Talk about cutting it fine.