Your Not So Typical Job
WALTER CAVATOI A PROFESSIONAL COLOURIST IN DOHA GIVES QH THE LOWDOWN ON WHAT THIS NICHE PROFESSION IS ALL ABOUT.
Being a professional colourist, what drove you into this industry?
A few years ago not many knew what a colourist was, me included. I got into the industry at the beginning of 2001 when technology became cheaper and with other friends I started filmmaking to have a political voice. We founded a pirate TV in Italy – Orfeo TV – and I was doing a bit of everything: shooting, directing and editing.
Back then Youtube didn’t exist, and social media and video sharing on the Internet was at its very early stages. Through filmmaking we were highlighting stories and social conflicts forgotten by the mainstream media. Later, editing became my specialty and colouring was part of the job. I quickly fell in love with it and I spent the last 10 years improving that skill as a colourist and finding my place in the industry.
Name top colourists that inspire you in your daily work?
There is so many out there: Dave Hussey, Steve Scott, Peter Doyle, Tom Poole. Also photographers and painters are great inspiration. The work of Roger Deakins, to stay within the cinema industry is tremendously evocative and inspirational.
For the people who don’t know what colour grading means, can you give us the lowdown?
Everybody knows what is Photoshop, right? What a colourist does is similar but on thousands moving images. We put the image in a correct technical place and following the director’s notes we manipulate colours to help tell a story. Then, of course, a colourist has to fix shooting mistakes or add digital beauty makeup. Finally he has to adapt the digital master to many different outputs and make sure everything will be seen has intended. That’s very challenging now days with so many platforms: TV, cinema, Netflix, web, etc..
If a Chef can be compared to a director, a colourist would be the one who makes the topping and decoration. A great dish has to taste great but also to look good. Content and visual – ultimately – have to convey the same coherent message.
Tell us your most challenging projects you’ve had to encounter as a colourist and why?
Every project is a new challenge. It may be hard the first time working with a new director or in a new country because everything changes. The cultural references, the fashion trends, the lingo. One of the most challenging projects I have recently encountered is a TV series, 13.11, with 6 independent episodes all shot in different parts of Europe by 6 directors and 6 different crews.
It was very hard to deal remotely with so many different teams and try to make every episode unique and still consistent with the others.
Which has been your proudest film/project you’ve colour graded and why?
I am proud of all those projects where I can put a lot of myself into without overstepping.I am proud when the audience is in love with my images without feeling they have been coloured.
That’s usually the case with documentaries: big efforts and low return in terms of exposure for a colourist, but very important work. It makes the difference, even more than on a commercial film.
One of the latest Docs I am more proud of is: “The Black Sheep” by Antonio Martino shot on a war zone in Libya. Despite all the difficulties is a great looking film.
If you could have the opportunity to have a sit down with any filmmaker, or colourist – who would it be and why?
I would sit down with Lars Von Trier. I hate him and like him at the same time. I still haven’t figured out how he is an artist and human being. It’s fascinating. For different reasons I would also sit with Aki Kaurismaki, he is one of a kind and I like his humor.
In your opinion, what are some challenges faced as a colourist here in Doha?
Traditions and culture play a big role in Doha, with a constant tension towards modernity and also more western values. All this complexity has to be carefully crafted into a unique visual style. As a colourist I need to have intimate understanding of the local sensibility and translate that into colours. For example, skin tones have to be in the right place and there is a special care in not showing too much of people’s body. And on that note, I have many of tools and techniques I can use to hide and focus viewers’ attention somewhere else. Colour wise, Doha has definitely more yellow tones than any other place I have been working in. Desert and sand project strong yellow/green hues; buildings, people’s clothes, and seawater are affected and even our perception of the sky’s colour.
If we would go through your music playlist, what kind of tunes would we find?
My playlist is quite outdated. You will find weird mix of different stuff from classical music to jazz and electronic. LCD soundsystem is one of my favourite bands and Miles Davis and his “kind of blue” has been on my playlist for over 15 years.
And lastly, favourite spot in Doha to visit?
The former fire station, now turned into an art centre.
Follow Walter Cavatoi @waltercavatoi