by Dov Kornits

Look up Vicki Matich on IMDB, and you’ll note that she’s working on dozens of productions each year in her role as senior colourist, across film, TV, documentary, drama, reality, etc. It’s a privileged behind the scenes role that the Sydney raised Matich doesn’t take lightly.

So, what does a colourist actually do? “In the simplest terms, I digitally manipulate images to elicit a response from the viewer,” she tells us. “These manipulations usually involve – but are not restricted to – hue, saturation, contrast, brightness, isolation and detail.”

Is there a career path?

Generally speaking, one would start as a runner at a post-production house and work your way up to grading assist, junior colourist, then senior colourist/colourist.

How important is technology in terms of your job, and is it constantly changing?

It’s obviously hugely important. The job is as equally technologically driven as it is creatively. You have to be able to understand both very well. The speed and efficacy with which you are now able to grade as opposed to when I began as a colourist 15 years ago, is quite remarkable. The technology is constantly evolving and progressing. Grading technology gets pushed to keep up from all sides, cameras are constantly moving forward, creating the need for more camera LUTs [look up tables], more storage and more processing power, colourists are required to do more in the suite – tracking, secondaries, comping, etc – and faster, and at the other end you have VOD [Video on Demand] service providers such as Netflix, Prime Video, etc, which have their own delivery specs. Not to mention 3D, UHD and HDR… I could go on! As a colourist, clients need to know that you are across all the latest technological developments and will often ask you prior to shooting, how to capture the best images for the grade.

Can you speak to the creative aspect of the job?

Colour is so subjective. Particular colours can elicit a different emotional response from person to person, culture to culture. As a good colourist, you have to use all your experience and knowledge of art and popular culture to build a kind of database in your head. Clients will often talk about a particular film, or painting as reference for how they would like their project to look and feel. Some clients will just use words like “filmic”, “ambient’, “premium”, “sexy”, “painterly”, etc, to suggest an approach. A colourist has to digest all these ideas and then try and communicate them through the grade.

Vicki Matich

Did you study before entering the industry, and do you think study can help, or is it all learn-on-the-job?

I got a B.A. (Art History and Theory, University of Sydney) which absolutely informs all of my work, but I also did a 6-month course in Film and Television Production Techniques at North Sydney College of TAFE which was so brilliant. The teachers were amazing. Most of it was practical and hands on; clapper-loading, editing film on a steenbeck, writing, directing and recording an “as live” variety show (with outside broadcasts!) from a professional television studio. Though short, the course gave me a real sense of what a job in film and TV would entail. Having said all that, there is no substitute for on-the-job training. Colour grading in particular requires a very certain set of skills. You will only really know if you can do it once you’re thrown in the deep end! I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a bit of both.

What are some of the highlights of your job so far?

So many! I’ve been lucky enough to work with Danny Boyle, Paul W.S. Anderson and David Attenborough to name a few… no need to qualify these. I remember, many years ago now, grading my first big commercial. It was for RSA Films, a big telecoms ad and directed by a big new name in that world. There were about ten people in the suite, everybody loved the grade (it looked great) and I remember thinking at the end of the day that I could really “run a room”. It was a huge confidence boost. More recently I worked on the documentary Leaving Neverland [Amos Pictures]. It was a huge privilege to grade… an absolute masterclass in filmmaking and it’s had a huge impact worldwide. I’ve also completed the second series of a comedy called Stath Lets Flats [Roughcut TV]. It’s been hugely enjoyable to help create Stath’s world and working with the most fantastic team who make it. It’s got a huge cult following here in the U.K. It’s unique and hilarious. I have many clients that I’ve worked with over the years that come back to me over and over again. That they make great films and trust me with them is a real privilege and perhaps the biggest highlight of all.

What are some of the frustrations?

Time and scheduling conflicts. Very boring.

Who are you most interacting with on a production?

It really depends on what kind of project you’re working on. For an ongoing show in its 3rd or 4th series, having established the style in the first series, I’m often left to grade unattended and clients will come in just for the review. On long running series, more often than not, I work with the series producer or a showrunner as, by the time it gets to the grade, directors have often moved on to the next project. With single documentaries, it’s usually the director and sometimes the DP. Dramas and comedies almost always have the director, DP and producers present, and commercials will inevitably involve the director, DP, creatives, producers and clients for final sign off.

What work were you doing in Australia, and was the move to the UK career-driven?

I was working at the ABC and after years of freelancing on live television found myself in the colour grading suite. I had realised by this stage that it was a very niche profession with very few well known and very good colourists out there. I began to spend time at Digital Pictures after work and began looking for opportunities abroad online.

Did you land a job upon arriving in the UK, or was it a difficult transition?

I didn’t have a British passport or working visa, so I was very lucky to land a job in the UK prior to leaving Australia. I submitted an online application which was followed by a number of phone interviews and then an offer of employment. It provided me with my working visa. All in all, it took about 6 months and once I really settled in and eventually moved to London everything fell into place. I’ve been here almost 15 years now and London definitely feels like home.

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