Color Grading: FotoKem's David Cole completes work on <I>Minari</I>
Issue: March/April 2021

Color Grading: FotoKem's David Cole completes work on Minari

Minari, from American/Korean director/writer/producer Lee Isaac Chung is a bi-lingual family drama that looks at how one generation of a family risks everything to plant the dreams of the next. Set in the 1980s on a farm in the Ozarks, the feature received six Oscar nominations, including Actor in a Leading Role (Steven Yeun), Actress in a Supporting Role (Yuh-Jung Youn), Directing (Lee Isaac Chung), Music - Original Score (Emile Mosseri), Best Picture, and Writing – Original Screenplay (Lee Isaac Chung). Here, FotoKem senior colorist David Cole (pictured below) talks about his work on the film, and how he collaborated with cinematographer Lachlan Milne, ACS, NZCS.

How did you get involved in this project? 

“I was already doing the DI on Lachlan’s Milne’s Love and Monsters at FotoKem, and we thought it would be extremely helpful to Lachie to do both films back to back. Lachie was actually off shooting another film, so we set up a remote pipeline that worked for him to collaborate with us. Lachie and I are both from Australia and after two projects, have yet to meet in person! We’re honored to be his trusted partner.”
How early did you start working on Minari?  

“Lachie and I spoke extensively about the film prior to the color grade. He had built a LUT for the Arri Alexa Mini he used, and then I took that and evolved the LUT to make it more robust, so I could lean into the visual direction they wanted to take with the film.”

Tell us about the conversations you had about the film. How did director Lee Isaac Chung and the DP describe the look they were going for to you? 

“We talked about this movie being a human drama about the family’s struggles. The two filmmakers wanted the look to be realistic yet idealized, but not in a hyper sense. Jacob (Steven Yeun) was seeking the American dream, yet his struggles building a farm were very real and extremely difficult. We wanted the landscape to reflect his hopes of what the future could hold for him and his family. In that sense, the aesthetic of the film was very much driven by the story. 
“They also wanted Minari to be grounded in the 1980s, but not in an overt way, keeping it more subtle. They didn’t want it to have a ‘retro movie’ feel. To do that, we kept the greens warm and leaned toward earth tones. I also played with tonalities and hues in the DI a bit to subdue contrast as well.”

How were you able to all work together? 

“We had a finite amount of time to finish the grade, so I manipulated the basic LUT to address the overall feel. We didn’t want it to be too desaturated or monochrome. I set some looks using Lachie’s impeccable footage and sent stills to both him and Isaac, creating a visual storyboard of the ebbs and flows of the story. Once they were happy with that, I went to work. Isaac did come into the suite once I had made a pass on the film to review everything and then interactively finesse some scenes to fulfill his vision. It was a very collaborative endeavor and we were all of like minds in terms of the look of the film.”

What was the camera format you were working with and what system did you use for the grade?

“Lachlan shot on an Arri Alexa Mini and I color graded on the Resolve.”
Minari was shot at all practical locations. How did that influence the work you had to do? 

“There was some work that had to be done for consistency, but we also had some scenes where we wanted to heighten the mood of the shot. For example, there is wide shot of Paul (Will Patton), the farmhand, walking along a field with a cross on his back. It is a single, standalone shot that had a dreamlike postcard feel to it, so I really went to town on that shot, isolating all of its components to embrace the moment. There were other poignant scenes where we enhanced the mood that had been captured, so as to emphasis that even amidst all of the family’s struggles, there are beautiful moments when their worries weren’t wearing them down, like when Monica (Yeri Han) builds a swing for her kids at magic hour. We wanted to make those scenes special and augment the emotions that the performances evoke. We even added subtle ‘God rays’ as Paul looks to the heavens in one shot to go with how his character experienced the world.

“For this film, it’s especially important to feel the cinematography and look of Minari, but it doesn’t require the viewer to focus on that. It supports the emotional ups and downs of the narrative. I wanted the images to be a character in the film, but not in a distracting way. It was a delicate balance with a creative touch that enhances the story of the family’s journey and the vision of the filmmakers.”