Alkemy X

Janet Falcon has been colouring for over 30 years. She began her career in Miami, Florida on a Rank Cintel Mark III, grading 16 and 35mm negative for national and international clients such as Volkswagen, Miller Lite, and Coca-Cola. Most recently, she has graded national spots for T-Mobile, Google, and a Super Bowl ad for Headspace featuring John Legend. She likes to be involved in the creative process and collaborate with the director, DP, and agency creatives to understand the overall look and feel of a project. This enables her to combine her own creative input with the goals of the client. Janet gives 100% to everything she does and treats every client with the same importance.

LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?

Janet> My first exposure to grading film was at my first job in New Orleans at a company called Teleproductions. I interned there in the sales department, and I was hired when I graduated from Tulane in 1987. My interest was on the technical side, and I was trained as an editorial assistant, but I spent most of my free time in the film transfer suite. There was no colourist at the time, so I used notes to set up the film scanner, a Bosch FDL 60 with a corporate colour corrector, and I experimented with the film left behind in the library. I did several jobs since I was the only one who knew how to use the equipment, but I was  far from being a colourist! It wasn’t until my next job at Edefx in Miami, where I assisted a full-time colourist for several years, that I decided I would like to pursue being a colourist.

LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?

Janet> There was not one project, but rather several clients that I began to work with as a 2nd shift colourist at Edefx who brought me great projects from all over South and Central America and Mexico. 

LBB> How/where did you hone your craft and did you have any particular mentors?

Janet> I honed my craft at Edefx in Miami while working on all types of projects, mostly from South and Central America, Mexico, and Brazil. David Reif, whom I assisted for several years, was the colourist who first exposed me to grading and working closely with clients. Once I began my own grading career, I spent countless hours with one particular client, Maria Elena Rico, from HMS films. She and I worked on hundreds of projects, and she pushed me to explore all types of looks and styles for her clients. 

LBB> Tell us more about your creative process - (e.g.when you get a project, how do you go about developing a look?)

Janet> Since I work remotely now, the first thing I usually do is ask for any specific client input. After that, I watch and listen to the rough cut to get the overall feeling of the piece. From there I build a base grade that represents what has been captured in the image. To create the 'look' I often consider what each member of the creative team might want… After many years of working in supervised sessions, sometimes with many creatives present, I am aware that each brings their own concerns to the project. I listen in my head for the voice of the DP, the director, the agency creative, and the final client.

LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?

Janet> I love photography but I don’t have a lot of time to pursue it beyond a casual hobby. I am personally inspired by my children and being as involved in their lives as possible.

LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?

Janet> I spent many years grading film exclusively, then a combination of both, and eventually just digitally acquired images. Early on with digital images, the emphasis was always to emulate film, adding grain and sometimes softness, flicker, and weave. Eventually, the imperfect qualities of film became less desirable and the cleaner look of digital was mostly preferred. Since my early exposure was all film, I usually try to create a film-like quality to the grade, when the creative allows. To me, this would involve darker, less saturated images that do not “pop” as much.  

LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets and what sort of conversations do you have with creatives and clients about that (e.g. is there often a strategic/consistent ‘look’ for a brand? Can these be too heavy handed?) 

Janet> Colour always creates a mood, and for some projects, it is desirable for it to be consistent across a brand or campaign. Depending on the client, the style may be based on eliciting a feeling and/or emotion: exciting, edgy, soft, gentle, nostalgic…or it could be about accentuating brand colours most of all. For sure, certain looks can be too heavy-handed, such as the super flat grayish style that was popular in the past…never one of my favorites! 

LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?

Janet> Communication.

LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

Janet> Spend as much time as possible with a competent colourist in person and ask as many questions as you can…In addition, try multiple ways to grade, LUTs, curves, LGG and notice the subtle differences. I often use a combination of tools. Also, experiment grading the same image multiple different ways, assuming a different back story for each.    

LBB> In your opinion, what’s the difference between a good grade and a great grade?

Janet> Paying attention to details, and making sure the grade complements the narrative. The grade should enhance and support the style of the piece, not conflict or upstage the overall story (unless that is the intent of the creative).

LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?

Janet> It has completely morphed during my career, from a room full of creatives (with no cell phones or laptops) focussed completely on a stack of film to mostly unsupervised grading on a finished piece. The tools in the past were extremely limited, and now there is no limit to how an image can be modified. One of the hardest things is to know how to manage all of the possibilities and deliver a great product on time and within budget. Making the client happy is still my number one goal.