Uncut Gems is the latest movie from directing duo, the Safdie Brothers. The movie tells the story of a charismatic New York City jeweller and gambler (Adam Sandler), and is set in the diamond industry of New York. So it is appropriate that the colour palette was created at The Mill NY by colourist and director of DI, Damien Van Der Cruyssen.
Van Der Cruyssen collaborated closely with cinematographer Darius Khondji, as well as the Safdie Brothers, all of whom he had worked with previously on the Jay-Z video for Mercy Me. “At that point I got a good understanding of their relationships and how I could fit into the equation.”
Visually, Uncut Gems has a classic New York City look, but with a modern twist. “The Diamond District hasn’t changed much over the last forty years, so it automatically had that 70s ‘noir’ feel,” commented Van Der Cruyssen. “But we wanted to break away from the steely, gritty New York to a more real-life aesthetic – less forced and contrived.”
Around half of the movie was shot on 35mm film to give it a more natural look, which meant Van Der Cruyssen had to treat the digital footage to match. “Marrying the film footage with the digital scenes was quite challenging,” he explained. “So I asked the crew to shoot some grain elements that could be overlaid in Baselight and adjusted per scene.”
Conversely, there were some scenes that were deliberately treated with a modern feel, such as a nightclub with black light. “For this scene, we pushed all the green and blue hues that are present in the black opal you see in the opening title shot,” said Van Der Cruyssen.
The team took advantage of Baselight’s BLG metadata workflow to speed the grade from dailies right through to final deliverables. “I actually graded the dailies on Baselight,” Van Der Cruyssen recalled. “We saved those precious settings in BLG files as a starting point for the final DI – that saved at least a day. The show LUTs were then created and adjusted through production so we had a solid base.”
Van Der Cruyssen and Khondji then worked together closely on the final grade. “We initially did a loose session, starting from the dailies settings, before starting the two weeks of final grade. Darius prefers to think in printer points, so the main work was done in Baselight’s Film Grade, using printer points for contrast, saturation and exposure – mimicking what a print lab would do.”
“While the directors attended often, Darius was there every day,” he continued. “It could get a little frenzied with all of us in the room, but more often than not we were on the same page.”
As is the norm on productions of this scale, multiple deliverables were required: including theatrical, Dolby Vision, HDR and SDR. Baselight’s ability to work in different colour spaces easily was vital for efficiency. “From the final grade, the straightforward colour space conversion tools in Baselight allowed the team to create the multiple versions.”
“Baselight is both very powerful and very creative,” said Van Der Cruyssen. “For me, the technical aspects should always come second; the creativity is the driving force. But they both feed you in a way: a new tool brings new creative ideas. And a new creative idea can open a discussion with FilmLight for a new tool, or even just a way to do it differently.”