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Colour grading is definitely not a new phenomenon in filmmaking but recently there has been a trend in the process where it no longer becomes a useful tool to use in the edit to assist the film as an acceptance to the rule but rather it has now become the rule completely dominating the decisions on the film set. I will try to go into the positives of grading your film as much as possible whilst at the same time warning caution for the overuse of grading.

The ever hated phrase of "Don't worry we can fix it in post" is well known by filmmakers and many would say they don't go by that approach when creating films however I don't think those that say that are being entirely honest. With the exception of green screen keying Ive seen the gradual take over of the production process by the edit suite and in particular the limited use of visionary Cinematographers and DOPs to visually tell a story. Ive noticed fantastic shots being completely wasted by a lack of care on the day of the shoot and having that 'the colour grade will sort all that out' mentality and I can see a lot of expert DOPs getting frustrated with what the final product turns out like.

A great comparison of this change in attitudes is the huge difference between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy. I won't go far in depth about which trilogy I prefer (trust me I could go on for hours about that) but of all the criticisms and comparisons people make between the two I never hear anyone talk about the grading of each trilogy. Bearing in mind both had the same team of people working on it, the same director, the same DOP and yet both look so fundamentally different you would swear it was all made in a sound stage in L.A. Surely this couldn't have been made in New Zealand as well? Obviously the LOTR had grading within its trilogy as well no question but it was used sparingly and sensibly, despite it being set in a fictional world thanks to the landscape of New Zealand it brought a sense of realism and familiarity to the viewer which made it all the more easier for us to accept it. The Hobbit goes in a completely different path altogether and although the high frame rate doesn't help its case it does suffer from almost every scene looking different. I understand this is Middle Earth but it also has to be consistent. Bearing in mind this isn't our first entry into the world of Tolkien so there shouldn't really be a huge contrast between Hobbiton in LOTR and the one portrayed in the Hobbit. The two images below really show the difference. Just something to point out is that the image in the Hobbit is supposed to be in the morning and yet looks a lot like the evening. Hobbiton is supposed to represent the English countryside in Tolkiens works and yet I can say as someone who grew up in the English countryside that I have never experienced colours so bright and artificial that I have to wear a pair of sunglasses as Im walking down the road. It just looks like someone took the original shot from LOTR and coated all the hills with paint and inserted a mini Martin Freeman running towards the camera. The bottom line is it doesn't look real and unfortunately that plagues the entire trilogy.

This is Hobbiton

This not so much

Im not going to lie I am also guilty of the overuse of colour grading within my films, if you watch any of my films you'll see something just doesn't look right. I never had any intention to do insane grading on my films until I graded that one shot and now I feel I have to grade every single bit of footage. My original vision for a film almost always never ends up being what it was meant to be while the grading process gets under way. Films that require low to no grading at all end up falling victim to losing its genre with just a single click of the mouse. I have to try to resist and train myself not to grade as much as I currently do because the end result always turns out artificial and fake.

Most young filmmakers starting out assume that the more graded it is the more professional the film looks which couldn't be further from the truth. Grading is a tool, a miraculous tool that can completely alter a film to get that look you are after but if your not going to give your own film the honour of capturing its tone and look on the day of production then how can you hope to make it work in the edit? Whether to grade a scene or film is entirely dependant on what your film needs at the time. It might sound crazy but the decision to use a fade to black transition over a cross dissolve might be the most important decision you could make in the final edit of your particular film. Do you fade to black leaving a few seconds of suspense or do you want to quickly move on to the next scene? The choice is always yours and never feel like you have to use every skill in your arsenal. Figure out what your film needs and stick to it as best as you can, otherwise you'll just become another Hobbit. Just remember that LOTR used grading sparingly and won 11 Oscars, the Hobbit being the confusing artificial mess that it is garnered 0. Some food for thought.