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September 2014
Issue: March 1, 2011

Coloring 'The Fighter'

By: Randi Altman
HOLLYWOOD — Director David O. Russell’s multi-Oscar-nominated film The Fighter, which was released on Blu-ray this month, features a large Irish family from a blue-collar Boston neighborhood during the mid-1980s.

Capturing a realistic “feel” that was gritty and raw for the characters and environments — a boxing ring and the working class Lowell, Massachusetts — was front and center when it came time to digitally color grade the film in post.

Technicolor’s (www.technicolor.com) Tony Dustin, who got involved after the film’s conform, worked with director Russell and DP Hoyte Van Hoytema to make sure they got what they needed.

POST: Did David O. Russell and Hoyte Van Hoytema pre-set any looks while on set?

TONY DUSTIN: “They did. They definitely had an idea of what they wanted to do, and Hoyte had built some stuff into the dailies. Just some generalized looks; nothing that was over the top. This was so we would have a guide later when we put it all together for previews, so it would be somewhere in the realm of what they wanted.”

POST: When did you get the footage, and what was your direction?

DUSTIN: “I received the footage after we scanned everything 2K. Once I get footage, I usually take a couple of days and go through the film and prep everything — general color corrections and stuff like that — before anybody comes in and takes a look. Actually in this case I had only a day because Hoyte, who lives in Switzerland, was only here for two weeks. He came in on the second day and we started going through it for a few days, and then David came in. He would provide input, go away for a while, come back, provide input, and that is how the process went.”

POST: Is two weeks enough time with the director of photography?
DUSTIN: “It really varies from film to film. In this particular case two weeks was enough time. I’ve had films that were less, and films that were more. It all depends on the length of the movie, how involved they want to be in the process.”

POST: What about the director? Do you prefer to have them in the room with you?

DUSTIN: “I do. I think the more time they are with me the better I feel about getting them exactly what they want.”

POST: Can you describe what kind of direction you got from David and Hoyte in terms of what they wanted the look and feel to be?

DUSTIN: “It was actually really interesting. This was David’s first time with digital color timing. It takes a little bit of time to get the communication really working, and David is absolutely brilliant. He spoke more in feelings and emotions instead of saying, ‘More red, brighter, darker.’ It was more like ‘sweaty and rich.’ They didn’t want it to look like anything else they had seen. They wanted the audience to feel the boxing ring, and wanted the characters to feel real in their environments.”

POST: How did you go about creating those looks?

DUSTIN: “They said they wanted to go gritty, so within that I was careful to preserve the skin tones. It’s a situation where you are trying to create a look and a feel that’s gritty and sweaty, as David said, but at the same time you can’t have your actors looking bad. So there is a balance of making sure everybody looks good but still fits into their environment.

“There were de-saturations and selective re-saturations of certain colors, certain reds, yellows and greens that were done. It all depended where it was in the story. Overall my instructions from David were to make it rich, make everyone feel alive and true to the characters’ Irish background and the neighborhood and community.”

POST: Was there a particular scene or look that was more challenging than others?

DUSTIN: “I should be clear — the film was shot absolutely beautifully. All the exposures and everything were spot on, so as far as challenges related to that, no.

“There is integrated Beta SP footage, of the fight footage, integrated with the 35mm 2-perf. The bigger challenge was to make sure those images would blend, but then again not blend. You definitely wanted to feel like they were different but then again not pull the audience completely out of the movie.”

POST: You use the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve on Linux. How did that help?

DUSTIN: “With the Resolve, it’s the ability to do multilayered keys. There were a lot of things that we did subtle de-saturation on. Kind of an overall image, but there were wardrobe selections that fit the time period of the film that we really wanted to make stand out. It was about being able to hold out skin tones and over-saturate the wardrobe and small details.”

POST: Have you always worked on the DaVinci Resolve?
DUSTIN: “For the last two years, yes. I pretty much have always worked on a DaVinci system, even though I am trained and capable to work on other systems.”

POST: What are some of your favorite functions of the Resolve?

DUSTIN: “For me there are two advantages. One of my favorite things is the multipoint window tracking. It’s a huge reason why I use it. Another is its speed. It’s really fast.”