NEW YORK CITY — Based on Nella Larsen’s novel, the Netflix film Passing follows Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a black woman in 1920s New York City, whose world is upended when her life becomes intertwined with former childhood friend, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), who's passing as white. The film marks the directorial debut of Rebecca Hall, who also adapted the screenplay.
Passing was shot by DP Eduard Grau. Together Hall, Grau and colorist Roman Hankewycz of Harbor (https://harborpicturecompany.com) collaborated to bring the film, which was shot in color, to final delivery in black & white.
“In some ways, grading in black and white is easier because you don't have to deal with color,” explains Hankewycz. “However, on the other hand, you gain a heightened sensitivity to brightness and contrast. Therefore, we spent a lot of time adjusting different parts of each frame to achieve the right look. Edu shot the film in color and dressed the set using bold colors. Shooting in color allowed us to key specific elements within the frame and adjust them as needed in the black & white grade.”
Hankewycz used Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve Studio for the grade and had to be very nuanced in his approach in order to help support the storyline through the B&W look.
“Skin complexion plays a significant role in the story, so it was important to Rebecca that each character's complexion was rendered accurately in the grade,” Hankewycz explains. “Often, we needed to isolate characters’ faces to ensure their complexions were correct. There's a deliberate grade transition that occurs at the beginning of the film. We open the film with a very pushed and bright look, as Irene carefully navigates the white world. Through the grade, Irene’s complexion is lighter. This helps her fit in with the people around her, while the searing brightness works to heighten the viewer’s sense of discomfort with her situation.”
Once Irene returns to her neighborhood, the look drastically changes.
“The darker, high-contrast look of Irene’s neighborhood is immediately calming, but, in time, has its own affect on the viewer,” Hankewycz adds. “The chiaroscuro reflects the complexities of Irene's world: what is shown and what is hidden, what is said and what is unspoken.
“Edu had a very clear vision of how he wanted the film to look, which allowed us to work quickly and do a few passes through the film to incrementally refine the grade,” Hankewycz recalls. “We did a lot of dodging and burning, decreasing and increasing exposure to create lighter and darker areas to accentuate the contrast in each shot. In addition to the grade, we also worked to adjust the framing in nearly every shot to create the highly-composed look of the film.”
Passing is now streaming on Netflix.