<I>You Were My First Boyfriend</I>: Color grading this hybrid documentary
November 20, 2023

You Were My First Boyfriend: Color grading this hybrid documentary

BROOKLYN, NY — In the hybrid documentary You Were My First Boyfriend, filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo rewrites her adolescence via a new take on the high school reunion movie. With immersive re-enactments, Aldarondo revisits her childhood experiences, both the good and the cringeworthy, embarking on a cathartic journey to reconcile her teen years. Aldarondo even plays the role of her younger self at times, while casting teenagers to play her high school contemporaries, as the film oscillates between past and present. and showcases how both adolescence and time impact our lives and memories.

Director Aldarondo, left, during production

With a premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival in March 2023. and subsequent streaming release on Max in November 2023, You Were My First Boyfriend, has been captivating audiences not only with its intriguing hybrid format, but also with its nostalgia via nods to iconic teen television series, music and movies.

In post, colorist Marika Litz of Brooklyn-based post house Nice Dissolve, used DaVinci Resolve Studio and a DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel to help bring this nostalgia to life. Grading from their home studio with collaborative sessions with the production team in the DI theater at Nice Dissolve, Litz was able to share the project remotely with the onsite team using Blackmagic Cloud. 

Colorist Marika Litz 

“The color inspiration for You Were My First Boyfriend was inspired by ‘80s comedy-dramas, like Steel Magnolias,” Litz explains. “Films of this era were shot on film and often the ‘look’ of the film was true-to-reality and created with set design, wardrobe and lighting in production, completed by the texture of the film stock it was shot on. In You Were My First Boyfriend, for the modern-day sequences, we wanted it to be clean, cohesive and true-to-reality as well. Nothing super stylized. Then there were two very specific sequences inspired by Tori Amos’ music video Crucify and the ‘90s TV show My So-Called Life.” 

Litz elaborated, saying, “The production team did an incredible job with both the music video and TV show recreation, matching as many details as they could to the originals. So then it was up to me to really bring the ‘looks’ home in the film by matching the contrast and specific colors to the originals. For example, for the Crucify music video, we made sure the wardrobe matched exactly in color, like the olive-brown dress in the tub sequence. We also used DaVinci Resolve’s grain OFX tool to add a little texture to the music video. In the My So-Called Life sequence, I remember spending a lot of time on matching Cecilia’s red wig to Claire Danes’ hair from the show.”
Relying on DaVinci Resolve Studio’s color management tools for the source footage shot on Arri Alexa and Sony cameras, Litz used each camera’s input color space LUT up front before starting the grade. 

“Then, I mostly created all the looks using primaries and curves,” Litz explains. “For some of the flashback scenes, I used the glow OFX tool on the softlight composite mode to give a more dream-like, glowy, not-reality type feeling.”
Litz adds that luckily, there were no challenges marrying the different sequences, since the production design and lighting were very intentional for all of the super stylized scenes. 

“The best looks are always created in production, and then colorist can come in and polish that off, and that’s what I felt I did for this film.”

Litz was able to create very stylized looks with very minimal tools on the project.

“There are times when I use different OFX tools on my jobs, like lens reflections, halation, analog damage, etc., but those weren’t needed for this film. I’ve found that it’s not always about the bells and whistles, and instead about finding the one or two aspects that really sell the look the director wants. For example, for the My So-Called Life sequence, a desat, a little cyan in the highlights, and the 4:3 aspect ratio are all small details that really sold that look.”