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Film "20 Feet From Stardom" Casts the Spotlight on Background Singers

Blackmagic Design's Teranex 2D Processor and DaVinci Resolve color correction solutions were used in project

For many backup singers, the tale is all too familiar. Despite earning spots singing backup for well known musical acts, so many talented background singers never quite receive the success and recognition they want. Using Blackmagic Design's Teranex 2D Processor and DaVinci Resolve color correction, Tremolo Productions has transformed the plight of the background singer into an awe inspiring documentary called "20 Feet From Stardom."

 

The film focuses on several former backup singers whose voices were famous even if their names were not, including Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega and Jo Lawry. In addition to interviews with these singers and with music legends like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder, the film includes a combination of archival footage from old television appearances and studio sessions, as well as live concert footage, new interviews and even footage from YouTube.

Music documentary company Tremolo Productions, which has received several Grammy nominations, hired West Los Angeles post house Different by Design to do all of the picture finishing on the film. Different by Design offers a variety of post production services, including color correction and conversions, and has done the picture finishing on numerous Sundance Film Festival winners and even an Oscar nominated film.

 

 

 

"What is unique about this film is that we were dealing with footage from all generations, upwards of 50 or 60 years old," said Brian Hutchings, the main colorist on the film. According to Brian, the group's approach was to simplify the entire process of compiling the wide variations of footage they came across into the final film.

 

Restoring the Footage

To bring all of the footage together to a common denominator, Different by Design used Blackmagic Design's Teranex 2D Processor. Matt Radecki, co owner of Different By Design, does most of the company's online and conversion work. 

"We're often working with many different frame rates and frame sizes," said Matt.  "We use the Teranex because it is the absolute best box for the money for up converting and 3:2 pulldown removal." 

For "20 Feet from Stardom," Matt used the Teranex to convert SD material to HD and to remove 3:2 pulldown. He did the conversions "system to system," meaning that he played the original material on one edit system as SD, passed it through the Teranex and captured it on a second system as HD. He treats each Teranex conversion like a telecine session: they are supervised by the filmmaking team and he is able to make adjustments as they go.

"We felt the Teranex was the best way for us to deal with the huge variations in material that we received," said Matt. "'20 Feet From Stardom' covers about 50 years of history, so we received source footage from nearly every format imaginable. The Teranex helped us bring all those sources to a common frame rate, frame size and codec and helped the film look as good as possible."

 

Dazzling with Color

Brian Hutchings, a 25 year veteran of the color correction industry whose portfolio includes television shows like Project Runway and Oscar nominated films like "Encounters at the End of the World" and "The Invisible War," used Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve to color grade the film at Different By Design's facility.

"DaVinci Resolve is my favorite tool and I wouldn't have chosen anything else to help me color this documentary," said Brian. "The refinements that have been made over time to Resolve are amazing. The way that it does its math, it's the closest thing to the 'old days' of film with the way it interacts with the medium that you're color correcting."

The film's director, Morgan Neville of Tremolo Productions, wanted to create a very organic, natural feel within the film. According to Brian, Neville was not going for glitz or glamour, and Resolve allowed him to do a lot of problem solving and correction of things that the audience might not notice, while still keeping a very natural feel to the film.

"For example, some of the interviews were done in dark clubs, cramped rehearsal studios or onstage in less than ideal situations," said Brian. "Morgan had a big concern about the focus in the interviewees' eyes. So we used a little bit of the blur sharpening window over the eyes. That tracker is the most amazing thing in the world. It performed exceptionally in helping us to correct footage that was less than pristine."

 

Brian also said some of the interviews were shot under fluorescent lights, and Resolve gave him the firepower to correct that. The flexibility of having multiple windows also gave him the ability to do a lot of work on an image but not have the end result look overworked.

"They shot an interview with Bruce Springsteen that was framed beautifully," said Brian. "It was shot in natural light, but obviously the light changed over the course of the interview, and I had to compensate for that. The use of curves was handy in digging into the shadows of some of the footage that was too dark, and with multiple windows I could finesse the footage without having it feel like it was too much."

"As a colorist, I'm extension of the Director, and I'm only as good as the guy who shot the scene," said Brian. "My job is to give the directors the image that they want or to tell the story they want to tell. In this case, we had such wide, diverse footage, ranging from pristinely shot interviews with Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger to decades old footage that had been dug up from the archives. Resolve helped me make it all look good. It made the process of taking all these different elements and smoothing them together to really transport the viewer into the story."


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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Teranex 2D Processor, DaVinci Resolve. color correction, Tremolo Productions

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