MTI Film Applies Novel Color Grading Approach to National Geographic Documentary Series “The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman”
HOLLYWOOD — MTI Film recently provided final post-production services for The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman, a six-part documentary series on National Geographic. The facility handled editorial conforming and color grading for the series in which the veteran actor travels the globe “in search of an answer to one fundamental question for humanity: what are the common forces that bind us together?”
Each one-hour episode presents a series of short, thought-provoking segments whose subjects include “Angola Three” member Albert Woodfox, who was falsely imprisoned for more than three decades; Joshua Coombes, founder of social campaign #DoSomethingForNothing; and Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. The show mixes Freeman’s interviews with his subjects alongside a wide range of supporting archival media.
Working under the direction of series executive producer James Younger and post producer Kevin Mueller, MTI Film colorist Tanner Buschman had the challenge of establishing visual consistency among media drawn from a diversity of sources. “The archival media included 16mm and 35mm film, digital and videotape,” he recalls. “Watching clips from different sources back to back can be very disorienting, so we used a variety of techniques to make it look like it was shot from the same camera. In some cases, we degraded shots to make them blend.”
Buschman also used color to support the emotional tone of the stories. For the segment on Woodfox, Buschman subtly muted the color of interviews shot in the former inmate’s home to evoke the atmosphere of his time in prison. “The look is stark, almost monochromatic,” he explains. “It feels as though the walls are moving in on you.”
At the end of that segment, the color balance shifts. “The story has an upbeat resolution,” Buschman says. “Albert’s with his children and he’s become an advocate for other people who’ve been falsely imprisoned. That scene is more saturated and warm.”
Buschman applied distinct looks to many of the individual segments. In one focused on Victoria Khan, a transgender woman who grew up in Afghanistan, archival scenes are cast in severe shades of yellow and red, an allusion to her war-torn country and tough childhood. “During one of the grading sessions someone said that those scenes actually make you feel hot,” Buschman recalls.
“What’s interesting about working on this series is that it lends itself to out of the box thinking,” he adds. “Each story lasts only a few minutes, so you can apply an extreme look and not have to sustain it for the whole hour. We get to have a lot of fun.”