CULVER CITY, CA — Colorworks, located on the Sony Pictures (www.sonypictures.com) lot in Culver City, recently provided post services for the new documentary by Werner Herzog, Into the Abyss. The studio was challenged with creating continuity among the many shots for the film, which follows the execution of young Texas man, Michael Perry, who’s been convicted of three grisly murders.
Colorworks handled color grading and editorial finishing of the film. The story is told through Herzog’s prison interviews with Perry, as well as via interviews with his accomplices, victims’ family members, and others involved in the case. Herzog spent nearly two years recording interviews for Into the Abyss and Death Row, a four-part television documentary for Discovery that’s also undergoing post at Colorworks. The prison interviews were particularly hard to shoot due to security restrictions imposed by the various institutions. In Texas, for example, Herzog’s interviews were conducted in cramped visiting rooms and limited to 45 minutes with no advance preparation. The director was assisted by a cameraman and recordist.
For the color grading sessions at Colorworks, Herzog worked with Sheri Eisenberg. “Although the subject matter is grim, Werner wanted a nice looking image — it should be pleasing even if the subject wasn’t,” explains Eisenberg. “There is a lot of beautiful scenery in Texas and he wanted to create a snapshot of the small towns. It looks inviting.”
Eisenberg describes the look of the film as “bright and natural” and says that brightness is intended to make a point. “Some of the people he interviews have done terrible things and, even though he may not like them, he wants us to see them as people,” she explains. “We didn’t want to take their humanity away, so we kept it bright, kept the flesh tones looking nice. That was a core issue for Werner. He wants us to see that this guy is someone who, under other circumstances, could be living down the street.”
The color treatment, then, helps frame the narrative, but, as Herzog is quick to point out, it does so in a subtler and less manipulative way than in dramatic films. “The challenges are the same and the processes are the same, but features are generally more complex,” he says. “Here, it is very straightforward. Everything is reduced. It’s raw, very direct and basic.”
Herzog adds that Eisenberg understood the understated aesthetic he was aiming for and that made it easier to achieve. “It’s not just about doing the mechanics,” he says. “At Colorworks, there is a climate of artistic excitement. Everyone involved in the color correction and finishing shared an artistic understanding and excitement.”