Dirk Meier, freelance colourist and lecturer


A freelance colorist, post-production consultant and lecturer, Dirk Meier has worked for companies such as ARRI, Farbkult, The Post Republic, WeFadeToGrey and Zentropa, and on films such as Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist”, Sebastian Lelio’s “A fantastic Woman”, Alice Rohrwacher’s “Happy as Lazzaro” and Roy Andersson’s “About endlessness”. He was head of UP.GRADE, the world’s first long-term educational program for color grading from 2015 to 2019 and is a full member of the IMAGO Technical Committee, the German Society of Cinematographers BVK and the Colorist Society CSI.

Before diving into color grading Dirk was co-founder of the company director’s friend in 1998 that developed a portable non-linear editing system that later became the world’s first mobile uncompressed recording system for high-definition video signals, which was used to capture the one-take-movie “Russian Ark” by Aleksandr Sokurov in 2001.

His interest in cinematography and post-production then led him to a career in color grading. Since 2005 he has been working on various grading platforms mostly on documentaries and art-house fiction feature films as well as a few series.

You won best colour grading in TV/episodic in 2023. Today you are a judge for the 2024 edition. What do you believe are the key elements to becoming a winner?

It has to be the right project. One that allows you to come up with a specific look and a story about its inception and how it supports the visual storytelling of the project. There are so many really well graded films, episodes, commercials and music videos out there, but in the end, as jurors, we will be looking for something that stands out in one way or another. 

And, I feel it’s important to emphasise that in order to illustrate this uniqueness, you’ll have to provide some interesting supporting material along your submission.

What are you looking for in entries this year?

For me, the collaboration with the cinematographer plays a very important role in the process of look development. With this in mind, one thing I’ll be looking for are stories about this process and the communication between the colourist and the cinematographer – or, indeed, other key collaborators, such as the director, production designer, editor or VFX supervisor.

As a teacher and lecturer do you have any advice for young colourists? 

That’s a difficult question to answer in a few sentences. Image post-production is changing very rapidly and access to tools and knowledge is completely different to 2005 or 2015 already. I see myself struggling to keep up with software developments and new technical trends. 

However, what will remain true for colourists and many other professionals is the fact that we need a skillset in three main fields:

  1. Empathy and social skills are key to communicate successfully with your clients. 
  2. Know-how and technical skills are necessary to manage the gear, modern workflow requirements and to understand new technologies like HDR and colour management. 
  3. And creativity, artistic skills or talent and some taste is essential to come up with original ideas and suggestions in a grading session. 

So, my advice is to work on understanding your own strengths and weaknesses in each of these fields and then focus on strengthening your weaker parts.  

How do you prefer to work with the DoP on colour?

For me, the collaboration between DoP and colourist should start a few weeks or months before production begins. 

I like to read the script(s) and learn about the visual world that the DoP imagines. Often the production designers have already started assembling mood boards, which are great to discuss the colour palette, locations and lighting situations. This is very important to establish a language with the DoP – especially if we haven’t collaborated before, as we need time to get to know each other’s vocabularies and preferences regarding images, colours, light, moods and texture.

And then we plan for a camera, lens and look test, which is often the “hair and make-up” test at the same time. Based on that footage we build a first version of the overall look and condense a LUT from this to be used during shooting. But the LUT can only hold the colour transforms, and – with the development of new tools for “spatial operations” in the grading systems – my work on the texture of the images has become a very important aspect for me. This can usually not be applied to the rushes, but I like to discuss this before principal photography as well.

What are the key challenges of your role as colourist?

Communication. While I will try to establish a language with the DoP in pre-production, that usually excludes the director. And for them the challenge is to be in a grading suite for 10 days only every other year, at least for feature films. So how should they know the technical terminology that I can use with the DoP?

I try to imagine how I would do joining the final rehearsal of a theatre play, while taking the position of director. I hopefully will have read the script, but now I’m supposed to give detailed feedback on every actor’s performance while keeping an eye on the overall dramaturgy. Having seen and graded many films, I might have a better sensitivity to an actor’s performance than an “average moviegoer”, but I don’t have the vocabulary to talk to them. And I haven’t spent months or years developing and analysing the script.

So, in my job as colourist, I try to be a careful listener and translator. 

What are your thoughts on the Spotlight category?

First, it is really great that you came up with it! I remember the first year of the awards without the Spotlight category. A very good friend of mine was nominated in the feature category with an extraordinary grade of a super low-budget, arthouse movie and competed against, and lost to, David Fincher’s, Mank – which totally deserved the award. But given the circumstances and possibilities of such a big-budget production versus the limitations of a small independent film, I believe it is very important to have the separate category and allows the jurors to shine a light on the lower budget work. 

Especially in this field of work creative solutions to support the visual storytelling are key and almost more important than in big-budget productions with outstanding production design, locations and ‘unlimited’ resources in lighting or VFX.

What advice would you give to colourists submitting their work? Particularly regarding their supporting material? 

Assign enough time to assemble a good balance of detailed descriptions and background information on the process of the grading and look development. I believe the supporting material is key to standing out and capturing the interest of the jury members. Without this, it is very difficult to assess the contribution of the colourist in the final work. 

But, you also want to keep it short enough that it will be read. I found striking this balance really difficult when I submitted my work last year, and it took me easily one or two days to finalise. 

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