Color grading HBO's <I>Succession</I>
Sam Daley
January 12, 2022

Color grading HBO's Succession

Much to the delight of devoted fans, the wonderfully self-absorbed Roy family are back. And what a whirlwind it’s been. For those of us working behind-the-scenes on HBO’s Succession, Season 3 has presented a host of new challenges.

How it’s done

I’ve been involved with Succession since the camera tests for the pilot episode, working with cinematographer Andrij Parekh to establish the look, which I would characterize as “classic flashed film”. The show is shot on Kodak 35mm negative with underexposure to soften the contrast, and a proprietary film-print emulation LUT to maintain an analog feel in the grade. I’ve collaborated with series cinematographers Patrick Capone and Christopher Norr to maintain the show’s iconic look in Seasons 2 and 3. 

As a colorist, my work is about finding the inherent drama in every frame, not forcing it by artificial means. When film-acquired images are over manipulated in the grade, the image can lose its authenticity and feel like a digital file with a film look plug-in applied. Succession’s story relies upon realism, so I ensure what is captured on film is preserved in the grade. 

I learned the craft of color grading by working with film, and I’ve been based in New York City my entire career. I know how the light bounces off the buildings and cuts across the avenues, so grading Succession feels like home to me. 

The challenges

The Succession post production process relies heavily on collaboration and technology, with Light Iron working alongside Postworks, which handles the scanning and conform. I alternate between working from my home in New Jersey and at Light Iron’s SoHo offices, with final reviews at Postworks in the West Village. All systems I use run Linux with (Blackmagic Design’s) DaVinci Resolve V.17. My attic studio is mirrored after my studio at Light Iron, but with an RGS connection and a Streambox decoder delivering the image so I don’t require local media.

The third season of Succession has been challenging, not just because COVID-19 made collaboration more difficult, but also due to pandemic-related filming restrictions. Succession is a very location-intensive show, and for the first time, LED walls were needed in certain scenes, so I pre-graded the plates to ensure consistency and realism. Also, the crew wasn’t always able to spend as much time lighting, so we helped the cinematographers bridge this gap.

Season 3 is airing now and I do watch the show, but it’s difficult to turn off being a colorist. I watch to check the streaming quality and to hear the final audio mix for the first time. I really enjoy how fans react to the show, and on Monday morning, I log onto social media to see which frames I graded have been immortalized as memes. Succession has, to quote Cousin Greg, “good meme-age”.

Sam Daley is senior colorist at Light Iron, a Panavision Company.