Emmy Award-winning DP John Simmons, ASC, knows a few things about colorist-DP relationships. He’s been working with colorist Jod Soraci of APT-4 in Marina del Rey, CA for more than 30 years and he spent four seasons of Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn alongside Technicolor colorist Roy Vasich. Now, Simmons is paired with senior colorists Dan Judy and Rick Dalby of LA’s DigitalFilm Tree (www.digitalfilmtree.com) on the hit reboot of
Roseanne, which was recently cancelled.
(L-R): Judy, Simmons and Dalby
Simmons views color grading as “the second step” in his creative process. “When I approach a project, I develop a look, along with the art direction and script, that I feel interprets the show in the best way. By the time I get to color, I’m not establishing the look. It’s the next [tool] in my paint box to enhance and refine the look. I can open things up or create subtleties I wasn’t able to do on set.”
He credits shooting music videos in the early 1980s with giving him “a wonderful foundation” in color grading. “I got to learn what was possible and how to communicate with the colorist,” Simmons says. “I’d like to think I have a pretty good knowledge of where I can take a look when I’m shooting a project — what I might be able to do in the color grade to interpret the narrative better than I could do practically on set.”
Simmons always tries to participate as much as he can in the color process, “especially for the first few episodes of a series; I’m in there a lot. For the new Roseanne I’ve spent time in the color bay for every episode even though Dan and Rick landed the look we’d talked about and that I baked into the camera. They’re really able to bring that look to life without my being there. They’re as passionate about the look as I am.”
Developing a look for Roseanne 20 years after it finished its original run was no easy matter. The Connors were a beloved heartland family, but time hasn’t stood still for them — the kids are grown and there are new generations to bicker with and new issues to cope with.
“We wanted to honor the previous show while making the new show unique and contemporary at the same time,” says Judy. “Everyone wanted to pay homage to the family feel of the show,” which he likens to a “warm familiar blanket” that viewers can wrap themselves in.
Simmons shoots Roseanne on the Panasonic VariCam 3700, capturing the show in HD. “The smaller chip gives us more depth of field and feels a bit closer to the look of the original show,” he reports.
Dalby recalls look development as “a long, multi-layered process.” Before Dan Judy joined DigitalFilm Tree and before any camera test material was available, Dalby was already creating dozens of different “style pieces that might suggest a somewhat retro look.” They featured “a huge variety of manipulation of images from compressed color to DaVinci layer mixer effects that imitate some of the layering that you might do in Photoshop. DaVinci Resolve is node-based, so it was quite easy to play with lots of different looks by combining layers and selecting which ones had the desirable effect.”
When the camera test became available, he and Judy found that “hours turned into days as we played with a range from dramatic low-light looks to traditional ’80s-’90s sitcom looks. Literally, everyone from the producers to the DP to Dan and I and the rest of the room had a say.”
Once production got underway Simmons, shooting Rec. 709 on the VariCam, “typically got 90 percent of the look in camera,” says Dalby. “The Panasonic camera and subdued lighting add grittiness” to scenes before post begins.
The two colorists, who collaborated on projects prior to reuniting at DigitalFilm Tree, spot an episode together, divvy up scenes then use Resolve’s live chat feature to communicate and track each other’s progress.
“We turn over our first passes in about five hours with each of us working on an area of the show,” says Dalby. “That time includes the first beauty touch ups and Resolve OFX tools. With Resolve, we are literally able to have the same project open to as many colorists as we want, working at the same time. The only shot not available to me is the one the other colorist is currently doing. As soon as I step off a shot it’s saved, and Dan and I can continue however we’d like.”
“We could all feel that the show was something special, that it had a special energy to it,” says Judy. “To see it come back and get the reviews and ratings it did has been really gratifying,” adds Dalby.