Tales Of A Self-Taught Colorist On Michigan Indie Film ‘Alan’s Song’

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(credit: Clever Girl Films)

(credit: Clever Girl Films)

Late last summer a friend of mine asked if I wanted to help make a movie. I thought, “Hey. Why not?” You’ll always regret the things you don’t try, right?

Flash forward more than a year and now the creators have released the entire film “Alan’s Song” for free on Vimeo.

“Alan’s Song” as described by director E. Albert Bansom is, “a disillusioned songwriter and a struggling painter find inspiration in one another after a chance meeting during a critical moment in their lives.”

The script was a group effort with Bansom’s wife Angela Branstrom contributing immensely as well as producer Christian Herominski.

Describing the experience of working with his wife, Bansom said, “Having Angela help out was something that was really exciting and not something everyone gets to do in a marriage so I really want her talents to be noticed.”

Watch the movie. Honestly, it’s an achievement. There’s intelligent writing, powerful acting, top-notch cinematography, crystal clear sound, original music. What more could you ask for?

I mainly worked with the key team of Bansom and Herominski with some brief contact with cinematographer Robert Lewis. Bansom directed, appeared in and edited the film. In addition to producing, Herominski appeared in the film, recorded the dialogue, provided the original score and mixed the soundtrack. Yes, on a no-budget crew, a lot of hats are worn. I’m pretty sure everyone on the film volunteered their time and resources. Any of the minimal expenses probably came out of the pocket of the filmmakers and volunteers.

The Job At Hand

I knew it would be a commitment to get the film from a raw state to its final destinations of the Web and Blu-ray. I wouldn’t get rich either. But, since I know my way around video editing from doing it for my day job here at CBS and CW50 as well as my freelance video / photo business — I felt compelled to lend a hand.

Not shockingly, there were a few bumps in the road and moments of doubt. There were times I couldn’t see a end where we would have a watchable film, but we kept at it, and now it’s ready for the world.

My specific roles on the film were in post-production. I served as colorist and provided post production services to the film. A colorist takes the sequence of clips, applies color correction to optimize the quality of the captured video.

Operating Systems, Software Woes

Bansom edited the film in iMovie, I use Premiere Pro. These two systems aren’t friendly. To work with his edit, Bansom exported to iMovie then used a plugin called Xto7 to create a .XML version of the project. To our surprise and excitement, the .XML imported to Premiere with associated video files. Eureka! A proof of concept.

Cinema Look

The cinematographer, Robert Lewis, used a Canon 5D Mark II. He installed a Magic Lantern plugin on his camera to shoot with custom image settings called Technicolor CineStyle. This captures a lower contrast image and allows for better results when applying color correction in post-production. In a nutshell, my layman’s understanding is this technique provides more image data in the highlights and shadows and as opposed to being blown out bright or dark.

The first step is to apply a Lookup Table (LUT) preset with Red Giant’s LUT Buddy plugin to restore the intended brightness and contrast.

All of my color work relied on effects in Premiere Pro including Brightness and Contrast, RGB Curves and, to a lesser extent, Three Way Color Corrector — when shots in the same sequence didn’t match well.

I worked closely with Bansom to achieve looks for certain scenes. For example, the scene where Moira breaks down in her apartment needed to be dramatic with stark contrast and not overly warm. Alternatively, the antique shop scene called for warmth which lends to the tone of romance and optimism between Moria and Alan’s budding relationship.

All of my color work relied on effects in Premiere Pro including Brightness and Contrast, RGB Curves and, to a lesser extent, Three Way Color Corrector when shots in the same sequence didn’t match well.

Getting the aspect ratio down required some hand holding from the cinematographer Robert Lewis and a smattering of research so I felt confident. Lewis intended the final movie to be in a 2:4:1 ratio and used crop marks accordingly. I eventually found that if I created a sequence in Premiere at 1920 x 800 (square pixels) that it resulted in a 12:5 (2:40:1) aspect ratio. This “really wide” cinema standard goes a long way toward making video look like a bona fide movie.

Assembling The Monster

There were hundreds of missing elements since we hadn’t migrated all of the hundreds of video audio files from his system to mine. Aggrevated, we realized his aging external hard drive wouldn’t talk to Windows (grrr). I proceeded to copy files over SDHC flash memory cards and Wifi until all of the holes were filled. I felt good that there was a consolidated copy of the film to work on.

Sound Design

This was all on Christian Herominski — and he knocked it out of the park. Syncing countless dialogue clips must have been maddening, but he got it done quickly. Fitting the pre-produced songs to the scenes and rounding out with his score took the film to the next level. We’re almost there now!

I’d like to give recognition to the musicians whose songs are featured in the film including Jim Novak, Morgan Peak, Michael Govier, Travis Roy, Jim Takacs, Adam Forsyth, Ben Collins, Tim Reahard and Jess Peak. Check out a full listing of the songs in the end credits of the film.

Final Tweaks

Bansom and I recreated the intro and end titles since they didn’t come over from iMovie. We revised scenes over several weeks and several versions. All in all it wasn’t that bad. We got to where we were all really happy with the final film within two rounds of revisions.

Thanks again to Bansom and Herominski for involving me in this project. It was a great opportunity to learn and be part of something truly creative.

Watch “Alan’s Song” and share it with everyone you know. Help support independent filmmaking.

George Fox is a Spartan, a Michigander, and Web Producer for CBS 62/CW50 in Detroit. When I’m not working on content for the CBS Local websites, I’m probably hanging out on the boat, at deer camp or spending quality time with the fam. Follow George on Twitter @GeorgeJFox.

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