MPC heads to La-La-Land

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The Moving Picture Company (MPC) is making the move from London to the California coast later this summer to open a fully operational post production office in Santa Monica. The shop had already established an approval office in Hollywood but decided to make the move to a full facility. "With the number of 'hot spots' flourishing in the advertising industry clients tend to find themselves working in all manner of different time zones, (so) it makes sense for us to have a presence in L.A. - the center of film production," says MPC, L.A. managing director Mark Tobin.

Senior MPC colorist Mark Gethin, whose work includes Cadbury's Gorilla and Sony's Paint, is also making the move to L.A. We spoke to him about relocating, the job's changing technology and asked him to unlock a bit of the mystery behind just what a colorist does.

Mark Gethin
Mark Gethin
What are you looking forward to most in this move?
Well, other than the obvious beach and hot weather, two things we haven't got in London, I'm excited about the new challenges moving to LA will offer in terms of the variety of new clients (I'm sure I'll still see some of the old friends!) and also the new equipment and technology that will be available to me at MPC, L.A. Also, the building looks amazing.

What makes a good vs. great spot from a grading standpoint?
That's a tricky one, to be honest; I don't really think the grade should take away from the spot itself. It really needs to remain sensitive and consistent with the director's vision for the feel of the job, so for, a sensitive filmic commercial I wouldn't want to apply a really stylized, over the top grade. A great spot from my view is when a director totally trusts me and gives me the time to play around with the neg or digital data and come up with something special.

What types of decisions do you make that can significantly alter or change a spot?
All sorts of things; this usually happens in collaboration with the director and DP. The colorist always tries to add a bit extra. It can be quite experimental, sometimes you just try something and it works really well.

For example, when I graded Jonathan Glazer's "Ice Skating Priests" ad, for Stella Artois and Lowe, London the job started out with a really stylized grade, but people kept commenting on how beautiful it looked rather than the narrative nature of the film and how clever that was. Jonathan decided to strip the grade right back and simplified it; we all felt this reflected the atmosphere, tone and mood of the film really well.

You've worked with a wide array of talented directors. How does your job differ from director to director? What are the various working relationships like between director and telecine artist?
They are all different, some directors might send me a photographer's name, send in tones or other reference ideas and I'll do a bit of research before they come in. Others come in with a strong idea of what they want, or bring in a still they have found somewhere, or even just a tone they ripped out of a magazine that they thought was really cool and ask me to go towards that. Others don't say a thing and pretty much leave me to it. I guess it boils down to trust. If I know the client well and have worked with them a lot, they often understand and respect that I will always strive for the very best for their film.

How has your job and that of every colorist/telecine artist changed in the last couple of years? How will that progress in the years ahead?
I think that with the increase in people doing digital photography and using tools like Photoshop they are becoming a lot more aware of composition and how things look, so they have a greater point of reference than they may have had previously. There's also a greater awareness of telecine and what it can do. I feel that a little of the "mystique" of what colorists do has been lost, but this in itself has really helped to make the creative process more of a collaboration.

Also, the technology involved has - and will continue to – develop. The tools available in Non Linear Grading (NLG) today are more powerful and mean that we have so much more to offer to clients in terms of what we can do to the image. The great thing about the new technology is that there are no limits to what we can do, we're not going to run out of windows or channels anymore and there are a lot more creative tools available. I can also grab a matte from the flame guys while he/she is working on it, grade it and give it back to them while not losing any time in either suite as we are all working off one central disk, and this is only going to get better over time.

What is Digital Intermediate and what has its impact been on your work?
DI is a non linear grading film technology; MPC has used it on feature films for a while now. We offer NLG with a "cinema experience" which we are now using for commercials. Images are viewed on a 9-foot by 6-foot screen through a 2K projector. We scan in negative at high res and create a digital version of the rushes. Once this is done, we can work on a conformed edit of the film, so when the client comes into the suite, the rushes are already in the system and they can see the cut on screen (rather than going back-and-forth between numerous reels of film) then we do our stuff and by the end of the session they see the graded edit prior to taking it to the VFX suite.

What are some of your creative influences?
I'm really into stills, and try to approach my work with as much a photographic approach as possible, so seeing and making beautiful images inspires me. My main photographic influences are Bill Henson, Gregory Crewdson and William Eggleston.
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