Nucoda Film Master builds tension on Mistresses


Fans of popular UK television drama Mistresses saw the third series air on BBC One and BBC HD in August. Shot in Bristol on RED, the four x 60 minute drama was edited and graded at Bristol-based post production facility Films@59, who also supplied the camera kit. Produced by Ecosse Films, Mistresses delves into the tangled lives of four female friends and their relationships.
Films@59 Colourist Tony Osborne, who carried out the grade using Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master, knew from very early discussions with the series producer Rhonda Smith and DoP Alan Almond that they required a very different look and feel from the first two series, which had a glossy, glamorous sensibility and softer storylines. They also wanted to move away from film and go digital and so opted for the RED digital camera system.
Osborne explains, “Initially Alan Almond did some lighting tests with stand-in models to assess whether he should use filtration and which particular filters should be used. He opted for the Tiffen soft effects filters, which give a really nice diffuse look without being too obvious. We processed the dailies and when the rushes started coming back I did some test grades and we were all delighted with the lighting that he’d selected.”
As well as achieving a different look from the first two series the producers and director, Tim Fywell, also wanted to distinguish Mistresses from other contemporary television dramas. The idea was to achieve a look that was darker and richer but without too much contrast and one that would not be overly saturated. Osborne says, “From the start of the project Alan said that he didn’t want the American look that you get with some dramas, which have vibrant brash colours, really deep crushed blacks and really bright highlights. He wanted a natural look - that was the premise throughout filming.”
The series opens in the present with a prologue. The remainder of episodes one, two and three then look back, dealing with issues leading up to the point we started at. The climax - episode four - then picks up where episode one started with the prologue. Osborne explains, “The idea was to conjure up a feeling of tension and unease. There are unresolved issues and the viewer doesn’t yet know what they are so it had to draw the audience in immediately. The DoP, producer and director wanted to give that first scene a completely different look to the rest of the series. Instead of having a dark, rich, colourful feel, we still had a dark feel with lots of playing on the light and the shadows, allowing parts of the frame to fall off into complete shadow. We also went for a far less saturated look, partly monochromatic but with a definite bias towards the blues. Alan kept the overall lighting levels right down. The story lines are dark and it was important that this was reflected in the grade.”
Another crucial element to the look is the colour theme for each of the four main characters played out in their houses and costumes. For example, Katie (Sarah Parish) favours blues and greys: her kitchen is blue and she wears mainly blue or grey clothing. Siobhan (Orla Brady) lives in a small cottage that has green or grey green walls while Trudi (Sharon Small) has a red house and her bakery also has some vibrant red and burgundy so this was carefully thought out by the designers and the costume department. Jess (Shelley Conn) lives in a contemporary flat featuring lots of reds and magentas. Osborne explains, “When I was grading I was sensitive to maintain this theme because it helps the story flow and also connects different locations. Trudi’s office in her bakery has very similar coloured walls to her bedroom. These are clever touches that help the story move smoothly. It was important not to detract from that. The prologue plays out in the early evening in Katie’s kitchen and the blue/grey colour theme works well with the colour coding further adding to the tense atmosphere.”
Osborne used Nucoda Film Master for three stages of the post production process. The first-stage was to carry out the data conform from the RED RAW files processing out to LOG files. He says, “This gives us the best starting point for grading as the OpenEXR format, which is built into the Nucoda Film Master, retains greater detail in the shadows and the highlights than other systems. The floating point, which OpenEXR facilitates, means that the grade is not disrupted. The second-stage was the grade itself and during the third-stage Osborne used elements of Nucoda Film Master’s DVO toolset to reduce shimmer and grain.
Osborne says, “We wanted deep shadows and quite a heavy look but we didn’t want to sacrifice detail in the blacks where there was detail that we could retain so I used a lot of Nucoda Film Master’s RGB Curve tool to tuck the blacks in and retain that detail. Alan didn’t want a look with bright highlights that are actually clipped with no detail and heavy dead blacks. I used Nucoda Film Master in the opening sequence to push more blue into the image. It puts a kink into the blue curve in the blacks to give a slightly odd colour palette and I also used the system’s blending mode, Hard Light, which gives a lot of contrast with plenty of bite. It’s very effective when used sparingly.
“Also because the series was shot in the spring there were lots of greens and yellows in the hedgerows, bushes and flowers, which were not appropriate for this scene so I used the keyer based secondaries to selectively de-saturate things like greens and yellows. Again this was one of the wishes of the DoP. In the scene you shouldn’t be aware that it was filmed in the spring it should be non-specific so I selectively muted those colours. In some scenes we’ve allowed more colour. In episode two the beautiful golden light, which was actually there in the scene, comes through. The other scenes are less saturated so we adopted a less is more approach to let the original skill of the DoP and Director come through.”
Osborne concludes, “We were all delighted with the final look, which really is quite unique and completely different from the first two series, reflecting the change in storyline and adding to the drama of the production.”

Tags: digital vision | nucoda | mistrisses | red | bbc 1 | bbc hd | films@59 | tiffen | grading | iss044 | dop | film master | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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