Digital Convergence Episode 109: Color My World With Dale Grahn


Dale Grahn’s resume as a color timer is impressive. He’s worked extensively with Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. He must have one of the longest list of films under one name in the IMDB database! Dale talks about the craft of color timing feature films. We get the inside scoop on how he helped develop the bleach bypass look of Saving Private Ryan. Dale is the grand master of color for feature films and broadcast television series. He’s the guy, as Chris Fenwick says, you want to watch over their shoulder as they perform their craft. Dale talks about his new iPad app that helps you learn the basics of color grading. The app has several video tutorials with Dale Grahn explaining how to produce different looks. Then you get the opportunity to try to match what he does. The game-like approach is a great teaching aid.

Dale was very gracious to talk with us and also very patient. We had the worst Skype related technical issues ever in the history recording the DCP! Yikes! Thanks to Chris’ editing prowess we lobotomized the gremlins.

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CARL 00:12 Today is Wednesday, February 6, 2013. We would like to welcome you to another edition of The Digital Convergence Podcast, the number one talk show about photography, video, and post-production. This is Episode Number 109, “Color My World.” The Digital Convergence Podcast is sponsored by the following: CrumplePop, [sound effect] film and broadcast effects for Final Cut Pro.

MITCH 01:31 Yay.


CARL 01:32 It’s pretty cool. I think we’ve come of age. People want to sponsor our podcast and we’re very grateful.


MITCH 01:39 Ah, it’s so nice to be rich.


CARL 01:40 Yeah, right. We define wealth in terms of time and the experiences that we have.


MITCH 01:49 That’s right.


CARL 01:51 Because the dollars sure aren’t coming in. Alright, my name is Carl Olson, I’m with Digital Film TV, and I’m here with my cohorts and colleagues, Mr. Chris Fenwick of Slice Editorial and


CHRIS 02:02 In the morning to you.


CARL 02:05 Hailing from the west coast. Then the home of the Golden Gateway, is it called the Golden Gateway?


MITCH 02:12 No, Gateway to the West.


CARL 02:13 Gateway to the West. I keep thinking of McDonald’s.


CHRIS 02:16 I’m the guy with the Golden Gate. [laughter]


MITCH 02:20 We’ve only got one arch, not two.


CARL 02:23 They ran out of money. Planet Mitch of


MITCH 02:28 And soon to be a new football stadium, but that’s a whole other story.


CARL 02:31 Then I have one more guest. Now, I Tweeted a question this morning. I said, “What do the films Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, The Lion King, Die Hard, and The Legend of Bagger Vance all have in common?”


CHRIS 02:47 Dale Grahn.


CARL 02:48 Dale Grahn.


MITCH 02:50 Yeah.


CARL 02:51 Dale, welcome aboard.


DALE 02:53 Hello.


CARL 02:55 We’re glad to have you here. I hope you haven’t started regretting being with us.


CHRIS 03:00 He’s having second thoughts.


DALE 03:02 No, not yet.


CARL 03:04 Seriously, we’re glad to have you here. Dale is going to be talking a lot about color today. Chris and I, earlier, we were looking at the IMDB database


CHRIS 03:17 It’s really a shame you haven’t done more work, Dale.


DALE 03:20 Well, you know, I’m a little lazy.


CARL 03:23 Oh, my word!


CHRIS 03:24 The who’s who of, actually, some of my favorite movies.


CARL 03:27 Like what?


CHRIS 03:39 I think one of my favorite movies, but worse DVDs because they made it wrong, was The American President. But then there’s other ones like A.I., which are so rich visually and Minority Report, which has such a broad spectrum of looks and acts and scenes to it. They are really gorgeous, gorgeous movies.


DALE 03:52 Thank you.


CHRIS 03:55 Then Apocalypse Now, good night!


MITCH 03:59 Hannibal? Miss Congeniality? There’s so many names on this list.


CARL 04:04 Oh, I missed that one. Miss Congeniality? Wow. Sandra Bullock. Coming up in this episode, after the news from Mr. Planet Mitch in just a minute, like I mentioned we’re going to talk about color. What can we learn from the founding fathers of color grading and color timing in today’s digital world? Then we’ll have some product picks. We’ve got some great, short movies we want to talk about today, if time permits, and much, much more.


MITCH 04:36 First, his mouth shut.


CARL 04:44 Everybody know what time it is?


CHRIS 04:47 It’s time for a sound effect.


MITCH 04:48 It’s news time.


CARL 04:49 Yeah, it’s news time.


MITCH 04:51 Time for sound effects? [laughter]


CARL 04:53 From the planet5D news room, what is happening in the world of video and photographer, Mr. Mitch?


MITCH 04:58 I think I have my giggle box on today. That’s bad. One of my sponsors over at planet5D, whom I don’t think I’ve talked about very much, is the good folks at LockCircle. They have announced a new set of…and it’s really sort of hard to describe. They’re not new lenses, they’re old lenses from Zeiss, but they’ve got a package where you can take Zeiss photography lenses, the ZF.2 line, and they mod them. They’ve got one set of mods now for Canon EF mounts. They’ve just announced this new set of mods for Nikon F-Mounts. If you have Zeiss photography lenses, and maybe many of our listeners do, you can now mount those as CineStyle lenses to make movies on your Nikon. Which I think is pretty cool.


CARL 06:01 How much is it?


MITCH 06:03 They didn’t give me a price, they just announced them and they should be available in three or four weeks. They haven’t even updated their website yet, so I don’t have any pricing on that. Basically, you send them your Zeiss ZF.2 lens and they de-click them, they put on some fancy, new focus ring kind of things, they put some new markings on them, and they put a new mount. So, it’s not even an adapter, they actually change the mount on the back of the lens so that it fits your Nikon. That’s pretty cool stuff.


CARL 06:43 You said Nikon, would it also do Canon? Did you mention Canon?


MITCH 06:46 They had previously released a Canon EF mount, same product. But now they’re doing Nikons.


CARL 06:51 Oh, okay. Very nice.


MITCH 06:53 They’ve got all sorts of products over there if you want to check them out over at

CHRIS 06:58 Somehow the phrase, “void your warranty” comes to mind. [laughter]


MITCH 07:03 Actually, I don’t think they do, because last year at NAB, Lockcircle was actually in the Zeiss booth. I believe they’ve got sort of an arrangement going on there. I don’t know the details, but if it was a fly-by-night thing, you would not…


CHRIS 07:18 I’m not saying it voids your warranty, I’m just saying that phrase comes to mind.


MITCH 07:23 Are you guys hearing that crackle and static?


CARL 07:25 Yeah, I don’t know where that’s coming from.



CHRIS 07:27 Am I crackling?


MITCH 07:29 That’s a whole other story. Also, I’m hearing that GH3 from Panasonic is finally showing up in many stores at this point. They’ve been very hard to find, I hope that’s coming of news. I thought this was interesting, we were talking about 4K cameras a couple of weeks ago, and how we don’t know where…consumers won’t be using them.


I found this article over on NoFilm School that actually appeared during the Super Bowl, where CBS was using 4K cameras on many spots of the field, clearly to be able to zoom in on situations like if there was a close call or somebody fumbled. They would take the 4K footage and be able to zoom in and of course, down-res it to 1080 or 720 or whatever they’re broadcasting. But I thought I’d mention that, purely for the fact that it’s one more way of using 4K, and still only putting out what we’re traditionally using as HD.


CHRIS 08:41 That’s amazing that they can do that in a live situation, interesting.


MITCH 08:48 Somebody steps on the sidelines…and they’ve always had kind of fuzzy views, and everybody kind of guessed whether they stepped on the line. Well, if you can zoom in on 4K footage, theoretically you’ll have more resolution and be able to know better.


CARL 09:04 That’s a technique, and I’ve mentioned it before on the show, that I shoot with a Canon 5D and I’m using, a lot of times, just one camera and it’s a talking head. I can do jump cuts and things like that, where I move in closer or back without having to do multiple takes. Because everything I do is at 720p for the Reets.TV product that I do.


CHRIS 09:32 Yeah, we do that all the time, too. We shoot at 1080 and post at 720 so we can reframe.


CARL 09:38 That static sounds like it’s on your side, Chris.


CHRIS 09:41 Really?


CARL 09:43 Yeah, every time you talk.


MITCH 09:45 It wasn’t there in pre-show, so I’m wondering where it came from.


CHRIS 09:48 I’ll be back. You guys keep talking, I’m listening.


CARL 09:53 Alright. What else do you have for us today, Mr. Planet Mitch?


MITCH 09:57 You’re going to have to remind me, did I talk about the SmartLav from Rode last week?


CARL 10:02 You did a little bit, because you had been out at…


MITCH 10:06 I know when we had…


CARL 10:08 …Los Angeles.


MITCH 10:09 …at the show last week, the website was not available. They hadn’t really actually announced the SmartLav yet. Just to let you know that is the place you can go to find out about that $60 LavMic that plugs right into your iPhone. I’ve been using it on several of my recordings recently, and it’s so simple and easy to use your iPhone to be recording things. I connect with my iPhone to Dropbox, so when I get back to my computer the recordings are there. It’s very simple. If you were curious about it last week, the website’s available now –


CARL 10:52 Very good. Stu Maschwitz did a blog post on the Rode SmartLav, seems to be a fan.


MITCH 11:03 Yeah, he does.


CHRIS 11:04 I think he might have stirred up a little bit of controversy among some people about this, but I think this is moving in the right direction. The iPhone and the Android devices are just so cool as being tools for film making.


MITCH 11:23 Yep, that’s all I have.


CHRIS 11:24 That was a great news segment, what’s next? [laughter]


CARL 11:30 Wait, wait, wait.


MITCH 11:32 Chris, you got your backup on?


CHRIS 11:34 I recorded all the troubleshooting, are you kidding? I’m going to release this as a special show.


CARL 11:41 Man, that’s blackmail money. I take back all those mean things I said about you, Chris. There is one other news item I wanted to discuss. Did you guys see the new iPad app called Pro Cut X for Final Cut Pro 10?


CHRIS 11:57 I did.


CARL 11:59 What do you think?


CHRIS 12:00 I’m a touch typist so I operate my edit system from my keyboard, and typing or doing something on an iPad where you don’t have the positive reinforcement of the button under your finger, I don’t see that thing as a benefit. Everything it does, I can do from the keyboard anyway. I’m not impressed. It might be neat if you want to lean back and put that thing on your lap.


MITCH 12:33 Edit from a…


CHRIS 12:35 Prone position.


MITCH 12:36 We have photos of you with your feet up on the desk, don’t we?


CHRIS 12:39 Yeah, but my keyboard cable is long enough, I can take it with me.


CARL 12:47 I think that’s some of the complaints on FCP.CO. They have an article on this, that Planet Mitch was kind enough to forward to me this morning. I think basically all this thing does, while it’s very beautiful, it looks like it just sends keyboard shortcuts to the application.


CHRIS 13:06 Yeah, it’s very cool.


CARL 13:07 And so there’s latency with that.


CHRIS 13:09 Yeah, latency is bad.

CARL 13:12 I like keyboard shortcuts, too, because that speeds things up. So, if there’s going to be latency and I’m going to press a button on that…I don’t want to short circuit this out real soon, because I know these guys have put a lot of work into it. It’s a very beautiful app. I have been intrigued with the idea of having touch surfaces for controls. Hopefully, what we’re going to see, as this becomes more refined, that it becomes a good interface tool. Because there are external hardware tools for editing and color like the TangentWave and so forth.


MITCH 13:48 I don’t see it as something for a high-end person like Chris. My wife has been helping me out and doing some editing recently. She’s not the biggest fan of keyboard shortcuts, which drives me crazy but that’s a whole other story. I can envision somebody who’s just trying to learn Final Cut or somebody who’s not a hardcore keyboard user using this app quite successfully. It may not be for everybody.


CHRIS 14:19 People love their iPads and they love touching that thing, so if it reduces a barrier to make you feel more comfortable with it, then surely it’s a good thing.

MITCH 14:28 Absolutely.


CHRIS 14:29 I just like my keyboard. I’ve got 88 keys on it or whatever, 102 keys on it and I know what they all do. I am actually quite comfortable with what I have.


CARL 14:40 It’s something worth watching. Very, very, very, very good.


MITCH 14:46 Great news segment. [music]


CARL 14:51 It’s now time to talk about our sponsors and podcast friends at CrumplePop, film and broadcast effects for Final Cut Pro. You can find them at Cool, cool, cool effects. I use them every single day that I edit, when I edit. Does that make sense? So, every time I’m in Final Cut somehow or another, CrumplePop finds its way into my edit.


CHRIS 15:20 And into your heart.


CARL 15:22 They went into my heart a long time ago. I love their stuff. I still have some old, legacy Final Cut Pro 7 projects, and I even use some of their old Final Cut Pro 7 plug-ins like Lower Thirds and that sort of thing, because I am so embedded in that. I love the look, I love the feel and love the support that you get there, they’re very accessible. All our DPC listeners, they can get a 20% discount on all CrumplePop products. All you have to do when you checkout, you pick your favorite plug-ins, load your cart up full, just buy everything, okay? Just put everything in the cart. To start off with something, Retrograde would be a good one to start off with.


CHRIS 16:12   I love Retrograde.


CARL 16:15 It is cool. I like [inaudible] 35. I use that a lot. Anyway, use the coupon code DCP20, 20% discount off already reasonably-priced plug-ins.


MITCH 16:36 I have to say again, the support over there is phenomenal. I don’t know if it’s just because they love me or what, but I had a problem with one of the plug-ins when I was editing 4K footage. They responded with a fix within a day or two.


CARL 16:50 Wow. That’s awesome. Speaking of CrumplePop, that’s how we came to know…[music] Mr. Dale Grahn. [laughter] Hey, Dale. You still with us?


DALE 17:07 Yes, I am.


CARL 17:10 We’ve had a rough Skype-y morning this morning.


MITCH 17:14 Which the users know pretty much nothing about, it’s all edited out.


CHRIS 17:17 We’re going to cut out 12 minutes of troubleshooting.


DALE 17:20 Sounds great.


CARL 17:22 Then we’re going to sell that as premium products. [laughter] Patrick Inhofer in his Tao of Color Newsletter, he said this about the app that CrumplePop and you had collaborated on, I’ll just read it verbatim, “Be a color timer. Dale Grahn Color App, Dale Grahn himself will teach you his techniques and you will be able to practice them by trying to recreate the famous looks of Private Ryan, Gladiator, or Minority Report. You will have 21 invaluable video lessons, in three levels of difficulties based on your experience. The real gem of this app are the included video tutorials by Dale Grahn. All your corrections are limited by the controls of the film timer. No user shapes or HSL selections here, it’s all printer points and density, terrific.” Now, that’s high praise from the Tao of Color.


DALE 18:20 That’s very high praise and I’m very grateful for his kind words. There’s only one thing I would say is we didn’t actually try to recreate any of those looks in the app. I don’t want to mislead anybody to think that’s what we’re teaching them how to do. What we are teaching is the technique of how all of those looks had been created. We’re trying to do that in a beginner, entry-level stage.


CARL 08:57 Very cool. We’ll talk about that a little bit more as we go on, but I think it would nice first to hear about your background. How did you become a color timer? How did you get into the business of film?


DALE 19:10 Actually, I started off at MGM Laboratories as a stock boy pushing raw stock around and delivering it to the printing department. An opening came up for an assistant in the timing department, and I put in for it and I was chosen for it. That’s where I began. MGM Laboratories was one of the only film laboratories that actually had what they call “timing assistants.” It was a great program because you were creating and teaching people how to be timers, as well as helping the color timer himself how to do his job. It was a great learning program. They were one of the only ones who actually used that system. That’s how I learned. I started as an assistant. I was an assistant for about six-and-a-half years. Then I got an opportunity to become a color timer.


CARL 20:18 Did you start out thinking that’s what you wanted to be, a color timer?


DALE 20:23 No. Actually, when I entered into the department, I knew it was an exciting department, but to be perfectly honest I couldn’t actually see what they were doing. The corrections were so small, I wasn’t really aware of what they were looking at, until after a while and a couple of months of being in the department. Because it was all visual, and some of these framer points are very minimal and very difficult to see. You don’t have an immediate reaction. You don’t dial it in, you have to call out a correction and then it has to be printed. Then you can see what happens to the film afterwards. It’s quite different and a lot more time consuming, and a lot more visual.


CARL 21:17 We’ve already thrown out a bunch of terms that I think need some definitions. Let’s go the basics here. What is color timing? What is a color timer?


DALE 21:30 A color time, historically, began in the black-and-white days where he would actually run tests in developing, to try and get the right contrast ratios and such. Then he would also, after doing that…and it was the amount of time that the negative would be in the developers, so that’s why it was called a timer. You would also do the printing process, the answer print process which would be showing the client the work. He would have to adjust the density in black-and-white, perhaps adjust the contrast but hopefully not adjust the contrast, hopefully that’s all done in the developing area, so all the contrast ratios match.


Then it moved from that point to color. When it moved into color, the timer was no longer involved in the developing process, he was only involved in the answer print process in showing the client the work, and actually adjusting the color visually. They used color mattes in the beginning, which they’d have to actually cut and choose different levels of color mattes to print the film with. If that filter didn’t work, they’d put in another filter or a different filter, very labor intensive and very visual again.


CARL 23:04 So that had to be done frame by frame?


DALE 23:07 Not frame-by-frame, it was always done cut-by-cut. There was always a benefit if you had a roll, say a television show, you’re shooting shots with a man and a woman on the same roll, a very good chance that they’re going to print very close to each other.


CARL 23:48 I have absolutely no experience in this space whatsoever.


MITCH 23:34 So, a novice question. Was this done after the edit or before the editor saw the film?


DALE 23:39 No, this was done after the edit. Actually, what happens is they would go through what they call the daily process. They would create what was called a work print. Most often the work prints were not timed because that was more money to have timed dailies. They would cut together the work print and then what you would do, what the timer would do, is he would sit together with the client and run through the work print, and choose what direction they wanted to go in every sequence. Then it was the timer’s job to move the film into that direction and, of course, do all the technical work cleaning up, making cutbacks the same, keeping the density the same, evening out sequences, and just the technical, but then also the aesthetic as well.


CHRIS 24:35 It really almost sounds like…compared to the way most people just sit at a mouse or some sort of a color grading table now, it almost sounds like Fred Flintstone making a movie. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, it’s astonishing to think of the way things used to be. In the 80’s and 90’s, I was just making TV shows…


DALE 25:07 I guess you would call it skill-oriented. In order to the job, you’d have to be able to look at the image and know what’s right and wrong about the image, and make your adjustments based on what you know, what you see, what the image is telling you. You don’t have any tools to tell you what’s wrong with the image. You have to be able to know by looking. Experience, really, is the only way to gain that, knowledge and repetition, over and over and over again.


CHRIS 25:37 Hence, the six-and-a-half years of apprentice-ship as an assistant. Kids nowadays, they think, “God, if I’ve got to watch over this guy’s shoulder for six hours, I’m going to gouge my eyes out.” They just want to jump in and do it. Let’s talk about the apprenticeship and the different levels that you…ways you could get started back then.


DALE 25:59 The only way that you could get started back then would be to go into…to be lucky enough to get into the timing department and then start off as an assistant and learn from there. You had to prove yourself as an assistant. Some assistants never made it timer because they couldn’t do the job. You would also always have to prove yourself at every level in order to advance to the next. There were a number of rankings.


You start off doing very basic stuff. Then you would go maybe 16MM and then you might be doing something important like dailies in 35MM. Then you might move up to television shows. From television shows you move up to features and within features, you move up the ranks there to the higher-profile clients. Only certain timers would get the really high-profile films and clients, because they would not want to put someone in a room with an individual and give them responsibility with a multi-million dollar project unless they were capable of doing it.


CHRIS 27:15 At what point in your career did people start asking for you, as opposed to you getting lucky enough to be assigned the client, do you remember that?


DALE 27:29 Actually, I remember it completely. It started right away, immediately. It was very unique. I had been at MGM lab for a long time and they finally were about to go out of business. They actually wrote a letter up and sent me over to Deluxe Labs because they said you’re probably not going to be able to be a timer anymore over here, ever again, just because of seniority. They said if you really want to be a timer and keep going, we’ll send you over to Deluxe. So they did, they sent me over with a reference letter, and I started over there doing trailers. I did a trailer called Predator. I was working at night, and somewhere around midnight Joel Silver walks in and we’re running the trailer. He comes in and says, “Are you my color timer?” I said, “No. I’m just here to show you the trailer.”


He says, “Well, why aren’t you timing my movie, are you not good enough?” I said, “No, sir. You’ve been assigned another timer. He works days, I work nights. You wanted to see the trailer so I worked on the trailer. I do trailers. He said, “I don’t know why I don’t have…” He wanted the timer to be doing the trailer. I said, “Well, if you just sit down, we’ll take a look at the trailer, or you can wait until tomorrow morning when he comes in and you can watch it.” So, we ran the trailer and he stands up and says, “That’s the greatest blank, blank trailer I’ve ever seen in my life. You’re timing my movie.” And I said, “Sir, I can’t time your movie. You’ve already been assigned a timer.” He says, “I’m Joel Silver and you’re timing my movie.” And he walked out. [laughter]


CHRIS 29:33 That’s great. That’s a great story.


DALE 29:35 The next night I got a phone call from the president of the company and he said, “Dale, what did you say to that client last night?” I’m thinking, “Oh, god. That’s it. I’m fired. I’m going to get fired.” I said, “I don’t know, sir. He wanted…he asked for me.” He said, “I understand that, kid. But, he likes you. You’re timing that movie.”


CHRIS 29:58 That’s awesome.


DALE 29:59 I moved from nights to days, and once I did Predator, people started requesting me. And also Field of Dreams, when I did Field of Dreams, people started requesting me after that as well.


CHRIS 30:13 Another really beautiful movie.


DALE 30:17 What I liked about…and that’s really been my whole career, and that’s been people seeing my work and choosing me for my work rather than choosing me for my name or my position, say for being head timer or whatever. I was never head timer and I actually always turned it down, because I wanted people to choose me because of me and my work, not because of who I was positionally or even what movie I had worked on. Look at my work, don’t look at the name or titles. How did they look? Were they good? Is that what you want?


That’s always been my motif, if you want to call it. It’s always worked out that way. That’s how I got to work with Steven Spielberg because of Dracula. J Kaminski saw Dracula. I did not get a screen credit on that, but he saw it and he called up the lab. He had done a film called Huck Finn and he said, “I need to know who the timer was on that film because he knows exactly how to time Huck Finn.” I started a relationship with him and then he brought me Steven with Amistad.


CHRIS 31:38 Very cool.


DALE 31:39 Again, it was all because of seeing my work and wanting to work with me because of that, and that’s really what timing was all about for me.


CARL 31:51 So from that point from being a stock boy to working with Steven Spielberg, how much time had elapsed there? How much time are we talking about?


DALE 32:07 I guess I started working with Steven…I started working with Steven on Amistad, what was that?


DALE 32:12 ’97.


DALE 32:13 ’97, yeah. I had just come back from Pixar. I actually worked at Pixar for six months, went through Pixar University, graduate of Pixar University. That’s another story. John Lasseter hired me to work with him at Pixar because he saw something in me that he wanted in his company. But it didn’t work out because my family just couldn’t move up there. We tried it for six months, but it just didn’t work out. That was one of the best companies I ever worked for. It was great.


CARL 33:00  It had to be hard to say, “You know what? I can’t do this anymore.”


DALE 33:04 Oh, you can’t believe how hard it was then to leave. That was just like a dream come true, working there. But, I went back to Technicolor because I wanted to finish the project I had started there which was Bug’s Life. So, I went back to Technicolor and that’s when I met Steven.


CARL 33:30 I have a real dumb question. Again, I have no insight on how this stuff works. You just mentioned you did Bug’s Life. That was a computer animated movie. What role does a color…I would assume that in the rendering and all that all the color would have just been taken care of in the render. So, what role does a color timer play in a movie like Bug’s Life or Toy Story?


DALE 33:59 In the beginning, that was not the case. In the beginning, they were not as sophisticated. They definitely needed color timing. They actually developed a laser printer, I hope I’m not breaking a contract by telling you this, and then they were able to create their own negatives. When they did that, they were more capable of making the color more exact. But, when you’re creating a negative piece by piece, it has to be timed together. In animation, we had a thing called successive exposure in Disney films like Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Aladdin. They all went through successive exposure format.


CARL 35:01 What does that mean, successive exposure format?


DALE 35:04 That means they photograph three images of black and white, three records. They’re going back to a YCM and they marry those frames and it creates a hyper…like a more saturated color palette, more beautiful negatives, very expensive though and very time-consuming. It takes about three hours to print each reel.


CARL 35:33 Wow. It’s amazing to think how far along technology has come today. People like me, I got into this because the tools are inexpensive. I can do a lot with inexpensive software. It doesn’t mean I have the craftsmanship that you have in doing this, but it’s amazing how far this has come along.


DALE 35:55 Yeah, there are good advancements, because in our day everything was so expensive to have to do. To try and change contrasting the scene was very, very difficult. Very few people were willing to pay for the process to do it. In fact, I only know of one cameraman that I did it with, I think on three films, and that was Vittorio Storraro. We would actually change the contrast scene to scene by pre-flashing the stock and then running the stock back through developing system to increase the contrast in our system.


CHRIS 36:48 I noticed looking at your IMDB credits, you’re always listed as a color timer, never as color grader or a colorist. Did you ever get involved in the digital tools?


DALE 37:00 No.


CHRIS 37:04 What did you think of them?


DALE 37:05 I never got involved in the sense that I actually did the work. I actually supervised several digital colorist sessions.


CHRIS 37:18 There’s a dream job, to have a guy like you over your shoulder, teaching me the ways of some of the greatest films of the last 20 or 30 years, and talking me through how to use my tool better. With your eye, you’ve got to know that person got the schooling of a lifetime. That would be an honor.


DALE 37:45 Thank you, thank you. It would be great to be able to do that. In fact, when I left I was going to work with eFilm to do just that, to teach them their colors, how to time film, how to become film timers. But, it didn’t work out because I had retired recently and my wife said, “You just retired and now you’re going back again.”


CHRIS 38:22 It’s like working for the Mafia, they always suck you back in.


DALE 38:25 Yeah, so I had to make the decision you’re out or you’re in, so I had to go out. I passed up a lot of good opportunities, but I needed to take a break from the industry.


CARL 38:40 Speaking of breaks, I’d like to take a sponsor break at this point. Dale’s been in the business so long he knows how to create a good Segway there. [laughter] We do have a sponsor I do want to take some time to talk about, and that’s Kre8insights. One of the topics that’s really hot topic on this podcast is the business of filmmaking, really taking your video business to the next level, being profitable. That’s what we all want to do – we want to make money while we practice our art. One of the best resources on how to get jobs, how to prepare your proposals, how to market what you’re doing, is Kre8insights. It’s a special membership site that is just chalk full of practical information on how to turbo charge your video business.


If you want to get on the fast track of video production in the film industry, you need to check out They also have a 30-day membership that’s free and no credit card is required. All you have to do is go to Kre8, that’s and our listeners will be able to get a 30-day free membership. You’ll have access to just about everything in there. Give it a look. There are forums in it, a number of videos and another thing they just started…they had their first what they call “Expert Interrogation.” They do a spreecast, I think they’re going to do this…oh, my goodness.


MITCH 40:29 Tuesdays and Thursdays.


CARL 40:31 Tuesdays and Thursdays. I believe you’re going to be on one of those, aren’t you Mr. Mitch?


MITCH 40:35 I am. I’m going to be on in March. I had a great talk with Michael Gebben just the other day, and he got me so pumped up, I was revving to go for hours after that phone call.


CARL 40:48 They had Ryan Koral on from EpicMotion yesterday, so they got off to a really good start. They had almost a hundred people there.


MITCH 40:56 Yeah, there were almost a hundred.


CARL 40:59 Yeah, it was really good. Check them out, To get the 30-day membership, go to Kre8, for your free, 30-day membership. Alright, let’s get back into it, Dale. I got a couple of listener questions, here. Some of our listeners wanted to ask you…for example, we have DC Reels, he says, “Good get, Carl.” So, everybody’s happy that you’re joining us today, despite our Skype issues.


DALE 41:38 Great.


CARL 41:39 So he says, “On your typical gig, how much time are you given to do your job as a color timer?


DALE 41:49 That depends on the schedule and when a film would come in. What it would normally take just for all of the editorial to get done and everything compiled and ready, if you went straight with no hitches, probably three weeks to time the film, maybe three to four passes of color timing.


CARL 42:20 Now that work week, was that three to four weeks your typical 9 to 5, or is that more like 12 to 14 hours?


DALE 42:29 No, usually our shift was a standard 10-hour day, but usually we’d never go home in 10. It would be 12 or 13. But again, it would depend on how many shows we were working on at the time. So, I would usually be working on three to five shows at a time.


CARL 42:53 Three to five shows at a time. I’m trying to visualize how your workspace must have looked.


DALE 43:04 Absolutely a mess, film everywhere, older prints, all kinds of stuff.


CARL 43:15 So, there’s got to be some kind of machinery involved in this. I found this photo that I put in my show notes, just this kind of a reference of a Rank Cintel. I would love to have one of these, because it looks like such a cool gadget. Is this anything type of the kind of gear that you worked on, or is it something different?


DALE 43:32 No, no. The highest technology we had Hazeltine in our world. I think some laboratories used a Telecine machine but we never had one, because it was always at a starting place and the timer would…whenever you got a film, you’d almost take it in another direction, almost always.


CARL 44:04 Do you have any photos or anything like that, of the equipment that you worked on that we could put in the show notes?


DALE 44:11 Unfortunately, no. I don’t think so.


CHRIS 44:15 The lost art.


CARL 44:17 It’s the lost art, man.


DALE 44:18 There are basically two side-by-side projectors, one you hand crank through or power it through, and you would have the clip on side and the film on the other side. Then you would just wind through it. Or you would, in the old days, we actually used to do screen timing which was…we would time the film as it was running in the theater and call out the corrections to the assistant and he would write them down. That was pretty impressive. Very difficult to do.


CHRIS 44:50 Wow.


DALE 44:51 We had to make immediate decisions as you saw it on the screen. It was a good way of doing it, because you were watching the flow of the color and you’re making the decisions instantly.


MITCH 45:02 Do you do that with the sound on?


DALE 45:04 Yeah, you could. It would depend on how much work was necessary. If you were doing your first pass, then probably no sound, but if you were making your final run-through, then you probably want to be watching the film and listening to everything. Because you want to feel everything, because you’re trying to create emotion in the timing, if you’re doing a feature. If you’re doing television, you’re just trying to keep it within their color range. Because each show had its own palette, each television show. I used to do Cagney and Lacey, it had its own palette.


CHRIS 45:51 I have a question for you. I call it the deserted island question. If you were going to be stuck on a deserted island with a magic DVD player that didn’t need electricity and a screen, and you could watch one of your films for the foreseeable future until you got rescued, if you got rescued, what would it be?


DALE 46:14 Oh, golly. What would it be…?



CHRIS 46:19 I’ll have you know that if I had to make the same choice, I would actually choose of all films, my choice would be one of yours, but we’ll get to that.


DALE 46:27 Really? Thank you. I suppose Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now Redux or Dracula. Dracula, I think, was a very successful film for me, and I enjoyed thoroughly working on it. It’s hard to choose.


CHRIS 47:03 Yeah, it’s a tough question.

DALE 47:10 Then, some of my animation was really quite beautiful, I thought. Nightmare Before Christmas was difficult to do but I thought it looked wonderful. I have a lot of favorites.


MITCH 47:26 He didn’t pass the “just one” test, did he?

CHRIS 47:29 No, it’s a tough call. It’s interesting, though. Because when I look at your filmography here…Saving Private Ryan is referred to so often. It basically made bleach bypass a household term. We already mentioned A.I. I just remember that being a film where you just walk away from it and your head is spinning like, “How do I make something look like that?” Or Minority Report, same thing.

DALE 48:06 Right, very visual films.

CHRIS 48:09 They’re like landmark things that people in this business, they talk about all the time.

DALE 48:18 Janusz Kaminski is brilliant and so is Steven and Michael Kahn. They’re an amazing team. It’s always just the four of us. Whenever we would work together, that was it, it was just the four of us. It reminds me of the first time I met Steven. It was on Amistad, of course, and probably 20 people in thousand dollar suits, sitting and waiting in the theater for Steven to arrive. He walks in, paces back and forth and said, “Can I have your attention, please? I normally only do this with the cinematographer, the color timer, and the editor, so all the rest of you have the day off, so thank you for coming.” [laughter] Silently, everyone walked out the door without saying one word. I would have left if he hadn’t said color timer. That is the experience we had always. It was always the four of us with an occasional assistant of Michael Kahn. Only the four of us, we always decided everything. Every film that we did, it was a combination of all four of us.

CARL 49:49 Can you tell us a little bit about the thought process say behind, both Chris and you mentioned Saving Private Ryan has a very distinctive look. How did that decision come to be made to make that film look the way it did?

DALE 50:05 It actually was a mistake. We originally were running the process with…because we did both. We did bleach bypass the negative, and then we also did the ENR process and we were running at 50 on the ENR process. For one day of developing, they reached 100 and those shots were the ones that caught Steven’s eye. I’m over here in America, trying to reproduce the look of those two shots at 50 on the IR rating and I’m not getting anywhere near it. I can’t even match it. I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m done. I’m going to be fired from this job because I can’t match that shot that he loves.” I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, “It’s too saturated. I need to go higher.”

But I, at the time, did not know that we could go to 100 on the ENR process. I only found out from a casual conversation with the shift foremen saying, “If I could just get a little higher.” He said, “Well, I can take it to 100. Give it to me.” As soon as we hit 100 on the IR, the shot matched exactly and I was able to time the rest of the movie. So, it ran at 100 IR rating and the ER rating, plus we bypassed negative.

CARL 51:48 So, going back to the newbies in the audience, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it, I think I already exposed my ignorance quite a bit. What is this IRE that you’re talking about?

DALE 52:04 ENR. It was developed by Vittorio Storraro. It’s a process of developing where it retains more silver…the print stock retains more silver and gives higher contrast ratio.

CARL 52:26 I’m sorry, I dropped Mitch off the call somehow or the other.

DALE 52:28 Did you get me, though?

CARL 52:31 Yeah, I got you. That was good.

DALE 52:37 They increase the contrast ratio. The higher you want, the higher…it also causes desaturation as well.

CHRIS 52:45 I’m trying to add Mitch back in.

CARL 52:46 This is going to be the most edited show, ever.

CHRIS 52:48 Yeah, if we’re lucky we won’t have to color time this audio podcast.

CARL 52:53 Mitch, you there?

MITCH 52:54 I’m back.

CARL 52:55 Hey, hey. Welcome back to the Digital Convergence Podcast.

MITCH 52:59 I love Skype.


CHRIS 53:02 We have been going quite a while.


CARL 53:05 There’s a couple more questions I’d like to get in, then we need to move on. Dale, we will have to get you back on again. I tell you what, just that discussion you had there about the creative process, how you came up with look for Saving Private Ryan is very intriguing to me. Those are the kinds of things I like to hear there. But, I do have a question from Darren Yomamoto. He says, “What film or TV show would you like a crack at coloring?”


DALE 53:40 I think it…is it CSI that has kind of a hyper-color look to it?


CHRIS 53:47 Which one? Vegas, Miami?


DALE 53:51 I think it’s Miami.


CHRIS 53:53 Miami is the one…I call that one CSI Orange. It’s true. There’s something orange in every single frame.

DALE 54:02 I think I’d like to try to stabilize that or give it a different kind of look. Basically, anything where I could take it in another direction. Anything that could be manipulated like a period piece or create a time period or look, that would be exciting to me. For instance, it would have been nice to have worked on Lincoln, being a period piece.


CHRIS 54:40 To make it look like it was shot in the 1860’? I’m kidding.


DALE 54:45 Right, there’s so many beautiful things that you can do with the images there to create the feeling of being back then. Not necessarily be saturated or whatever, but really bring you into the frame.


CHRIS 55:00 I had mentioned earlier about what an honor it would be to have somebody like you sitting over your shoulder while you were trying to learn the craft. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about the app? Because I’d like to hear your explanation of it, your app that you did with CrumplePop? [sound effect] Sponsor of the show.


DALE 55:23 What we tried to do is we tried to simplify the color board, and also to increment it because a color timer needs increments. He needs to be able to recreate same correction, so he can be technically correct within the film itself, making cutbacks exactly match, putting the exact amounts of color or density or contrast or saturation in and being able to recreate that, so that he’s technically correct. That’s important. We didn’t want to make it too difficult. I didn’t want to make it too difficult for anybody. I wanted them to just have a little bit of difficulty in some of them, so they would have to go over it again and learn by repetition.


But mostly I tried to give the basics of simple contrast, making a normal neutral flush tone, trying to look at an image for what is the image telling you. Is the person wearing warm clothing, are they at the beach? Is it cold outside, is it sunny, should it be? You can tell by looking at the image what you need to do to it, what direction you need to go and/or what direction you can go by understanding the image. Again, color timing is all visual and all learning how to look at an image, whether it’s digital or film.


CARL 57:20 I like the approach because it’s not just video tutorials. There’s an exercise, you try and match. It’s almost like a game, if you will. Try and match what you do and that reinforces the principles and helps you retain what you’ve learned.


DALE 57:39 Hopefully.


CARL 57:40 Yeah, I hope. What are your plans? I got the feeling that you’re just scratching the surface with this. You cover a lot of ground and there’s a lot of opportunity here.


DALE 58:00 My plan would be to stay with CrumplePop and develop new products. There have been a lot of requests for this type of control board to be put into Final Cut Pro as a plug-in. So, if we were to do that it would be a little more elegant and have more tools. It would be based more on principle of color timing and it would be incredibly quick and very efficient, the design.


CARL 58:44 We’ve covered a lot of ground and there’s a lot more we could cover but time is becoming the limiting factor here. We do need to talk about another one of our sponsors here. This is Shutterstock. Shutterstock is where you’ll find over 800,000 stock video clips. You can start your search at to find that perfect clip for your website presentation or any other video project. In fact, you can go straight to the video footage at A lot of cool stuff out there. Very easy to use search and here’s a special deal for you guys, for listeners. I know a lot of you like to shoot your own stuff, but sometimes you just need that perfect shot from, I don’t know, say Thailand and you don’t have the budget to travel to Thailand.


Wouldn’t it be nice to just drop video footage from there? You can do it by going to Shutterstock and searching for your footage and you can get 30% off the footage that you select. How do you do it? You just enter this code when you check out: Digital and the number 2, so Digital2 and get 30% off of any package. Shutterstock, where you’ll find over 800,000 stock video clips,


We need to move on. I’d like to talk about…we have some beautiful films but we just don’t have time to talk about them today. I would like to get into product picks or tips of the week, then we’ll wrap up the show. I’m going to put Dale on the spot. Do you have a product…hint, hint…that you would like to recommend to our listeners today?


DALE 01:00:41 I do have the app, of course, that I would like to pitch to everyone. But, I would like to everybody just keep their eye on CrumplePop, and hopefully we’re going to be coming up with some new products, exciting products in the very near future. Keep your eye on CrumplePop.


CARL 01:01:12 That’s a very good pick. Planet Mitch?


MITCH 01:01:15 I’ve got something new in the mail this week that I’m going to be testing shortly called the Aviator Travel Jib, and it’s from the good folks over at Nice Industries. I’m just incredibly impressed with how small this thing is and it’s well built, so keep an eye on pLanet5D. I’ll have a review in a couple of weeks.


CARL 01:01:37 Sounds interesting. Mr. Chris Fenwick?


CHRIS 01:01:38 For the sake of time and lack of preparedness, I’ve got nothing.


CARL 01:01:43 Okay, we like that. [laughter] I’d like to expand our readers’, our listeners’ knowledge base and I just came across a really outstanding book. I’ve just started but it’s called The Facts of Business Life, What Every Business Owner Knows That You Don’t by Bill McBean. I’ll include that in the show notes. Mr. Dale Grahn, thank you so much for putting up with our technical glitches today and thank you for being on the show, we really appreciate it.


DALE 01:02:21 Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.


CARL 01:02:25 I’m so glad you feel that way. It’s not typical. [laughter] It really is not and we were so looking forward to…and it has been, We’ve got a lot of good info from you. Where can people find out more about you and follow what you’re doing today?


DALE 01:02:43 Actually, nowhere really. [laughter] You can look to CrumplePop in the future but as far as films, I’m kind of done in that area, so you won’t be seeing any new titles in my IMDB file. Hopefully, the new projects that we’re going to be doing at CrumplePop will be exciting and helpful to the industry. Because, that’s really what we want to do, help the industry not necessarily try to change it, just add what we can to it.


CARL 01:03:26 That’s awesome. You can find out about the app at Dale Grahn Color. That’s G-R-A-H-N, right?


DALE 01:03:36 Yes.


CARL 01:03:37 That’s and I’ll include a link to that. We’ll get you kicking and screaming into Twitter here before long, too. [laughter]


DALE 01:03:49 Okay.


CARL 01:03:51 That’s where the community is. We’ve got to get you on there.


DALE 01:03:53 I don’t have an account yet, but apparently I’m going to need to get one.


CARL 01:03:57 Yeah, just do it. Get it out of your system. I know it’s hard. I went through the same thing. I was a late adopter, but I did it. In fact, I did it then I quit it, then I went back. I think that describes a lot of people with it. [laughter] Alright, Mitch?


MITCH 01:04:19, that’s me.


CARL 01:04:23 Alright, Chris?


CHRIS 01:04:24 and Chris Fenwick on Twitter.


CARL 01:04:27 You can catch me at DigitalFilm.TV and I’m now on Twitter as The Carl Olson.


MITCH 01:04:37 Not A Carl Olson, but “The.”


CARL 01:04:39 Yeah, it’s very pretentious.


CHRIS 01:04:41 It’s a definitive article.


CARL 01:04:42 So, I am The definitive Carl Olson, and the only reason I’m the definitive Carl Olson is because I can’t get…somebody is squatting on Carl Olson and it’s not been used in years. Anyway, that’s branding issues. That’s not your problem, it’s just mine. We do want to thank our show sponsors. CrumplePop, [sound effect] film and broadcast effects for Final Cut Pro and we’ve got Mr. Dale Grahn here supporting that team as well, so that’s awesome.


Then,, helping talented and passionate filmmakers become successful entrepreneurs. Visit their website today for proven strategies that can help you grow your business. That’s Then, where you’ll find over 800,000 stock video clips. Digital and the number 2, Digital2, for your 30% off on your next order. Remember that, okay? Please rate us and leave feedback in iTunes and we really want to thank everyone who has. We certainly appreciate all the feedback, the questions that have come in. We really appreciate that. It’s encouraging to us and helps us to see where we need to go with the shows, because it’s just as much your show as it us sitting here.


We really appreciate that so continue to send it in. In fact, next week’s episode will focus on your questions and I have a few that’s backlogged already but keep sending them in. If there’s something that you would like for us to address, just send it in. You can do it by Twitter. You can do it by voicemail, on my website, email, carrier pigeon, pony express, I don’t care. Just get your questions to me, okay? Gentlemen, it’s been a great show. Thank you so much.


MITCH 01:06:35 Thanks, Dale.


DALE 01:06:36 Thank you.


CHRIS 01:06:37 Thanks, Dale. This was a real pleasure, thank you so much.


MITCH 01:06:39 I really want to have him back. Put that on the list, Carl.


CARL 01:06:42 We’ve got to make it up to him.


MITCH 01:06:46 I’ve still got more questions.


CARL 01:06:47 I do, too. Not enough time in the day.


CHRIS 01:06:53 We’ve now switched over to episode 110.


CARL 01:06:54 Yep, there you go. Get out there and tell a great story, everyone. That’s a wrap. [music]

by DConvergence
February, Feb 6th, 2013

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