A Spotlight on colour grading for smaller budget productions

Since the dawn of colour cinema, there has always been a demand for a skilled and sympathetic person to guide colour throughout a production. But, even today, while the director and cinematographer may be household names, the work of the colourist is often not recognised. In 2021, to correct this neglect of a vital talent in the overall creative team, the FilmLight Colour Awards were born. 

“We launched the Colour Awards with a goal to ensure that the wonderful efforts of colourists around the world are recognised and celebrated – not just within the narrow circle of the industry, but widely and publicly,” comments Wolfgang Lempp, co-founder and CEO of FilmLight.

The 2023 awards are currently open to users of any grading platform, closing on 31 July. They are judged by an independent panel of renowned cinematographers, directors and colourists and will be presented at the EnergaCAMERIMAGE festival in Toruń, Poland, in November. 

In its second year, 2022, FilmLight added a new category: the Spotlight award. This award seeks to find the unsung talents in the industry, who have contributed to the creative impact of a lower budget (less than $3 million USD) feature film or television movie. 

“We added this category to create some balance,” explains Lempp. “There are some films that are so big and have such high production values that it would be unfair to have them in direct competition with smaller budget productions. Amongst the 2022 winning projects, for example, we had the exceptional and high budget West Side Story graded by Michael Hatzer at Picture Shop – as well as the lower budget movie, Dear Mr Führer – graded by Aljoscha Hoffman. They both deserved (and received) an award, but were extremely different in terms of what they were trying to do and how they achieved it.”

Grading under budget restraints

Lempp believes that one of the key differences for colourists when working on productions with smaller budgets is the quality of the content they start out with. 

“When operating under the constraints of a budget, the cinematographer will have to make compromises and will not always capture everything perfectly or have the time to re-shoot,” he explains. “A good colourist can compensate for much of this in post.”

“Colourists of large and small budgets have quite different starting points,” adds Lempp. “The Spotlight category acknowledges the amount of effort that goes into making the best out of something that wasn’t necessarily optimal in the first place.”

Ricky Gausis, senior colourist and creative partner at TRAFIK, and 2023 Colour Awards jury member, agrees with this observation. 

“Whether you’re a colourist at the top of your game or just starting out, you likely will have dealt with lower budget projects at some point and will know how challenging they can be,” he explains. “Often the DoP wouldn’t have had the budget to light the way they would have liked and will lean heavily on the colourist to ‘relight’ the shot. It’s a great skill to understand what is and isn’t attainable with all types of footage, and low budget projects really help a colourist to hone this important skill.”

Aljoscha Hoffman, freelance senior colourist and FilmLight’s 2022 Spotlight award winner, points out that lower budget projects usually mean “less of everything”.

“Less preparation, less shooting days, less or no time to develop looks. And usually fewer grading days, too,” he explains. “You may have to do a lot more repair work and it might be more difficult to match. You also have less time for the grading itself and less time to try looks, less preparation and less well-turned material.“


“However, from my experience, it is always possible to make a great film,” Hoffman adds. “With the combination of great teamwork, good craft and some speed, you can make something great out of material that was created under difficult conditions.”

Dear Mr. Führer

Colourist Aljoscha Hoffmann worked with DoP Tim Kuhn on Dear Mr. Führer at CinePostproduction. Directed by Christian Lerch, the movie is set in Germany in 1945, told through the eyes of a child. The gritty film look was based on stills by German photographer, Hugo Jaeger – the World War II photographer, and former personal photographer of Adolf Hitler.

Before the shoot, Aljoscha carried out camera tests with Tim at the camera rental company, which was just across the street from Aljoscha’s studio at CinePostproduction. “Tim chose to shoot the project on the Sony VENICE. His central idea was to base the project’s look on contemporary stills by Hugo Jaeger,” said Aljoscha.

“Since the wonderful Tim Kuhn was the DoP, there were fewer difficulties because he was very committed to a look development session and we had time to develop a show LUT,” comments Hoffman. “It was also important to him that I do, or at least supervise, the dailies.

“The base was already relatively well developed, when it came to the grading sessions, but there were certain scenes and shots that were difficult to work on, because of less time with lighting on set.”

“Whenever someone tells me that it would not be possible to shoot a test or do a look development session, I use Dear Mr. Führer as a great, outstanding example that it is possible – even if the circumstances are difficult. And for the film and everything that has to do with the picture, it is much easier in retrospect.”

Recognising talent 

As in previous years, the 2023 Colour Award entries will be independently judged by a panel of high-profile creatives, cinematographers and colourists – all of whom share a unique, but keen eye for talent and creativity. 

“I am very honoured to be part of the 2023 jury,” says Hoffman. “For me it is important to support the FilmLight Colour Awards in any way possible, because it helps our profession to be seen.”

Gausis adds, “To me, FilmLight is a name synonymous with high-end colour grading and has always stood out as the company that truly cares the most about image crafting and working closely with colourists to give them the best tools to achieve any desired outcome.”

In 2023 entries, Hoffman is looking for consistency while Gausis is keeping an eye out for colour control. 

“In 2023 entries I will be looking to see if the grade supports the cinematography and that it isn’t ‘over-graded’, says Hoffman. I’ll also be looking for good craftsmanship and consistency.”

Gausis concludes, “Personally, I am looking forward to seeing work that shows originality and is executed with control. Historically, many awards shows confuse ‘best’ colour with ‘most’ colour so I will be scoring restraint shown by the colourist as highly as any other factors.” 

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