Blackmagic Design has announced that the independent feature film ‘Something in the Dirt’, which was nominated for the NEXT Innovator Award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, was graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software.
When neighbours John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realise documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city and each other. Directed by and starring Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the film is a testament to Moorhead and Benson’s friendship as well as their passion for unique, out of the box stories.
Both Benson and Moorhead are no strangers to directing, having each served in that role on a wide range of projects, including episodes of both Disney’s ‘Moon Knight’ as well as Netflix’s ‘Archive 81’. But when it came to developing an idea for a unique feature, the two simply recalled some of the pitches they had offered to other studios. “For years we have been asked to pitch on maybe a dozen different haunted house franchises,” said Moorhead. “They would ask us to give our strangest, wildest, most left of centre ideas, which in the end was usually too left of centre for them. ‘Something in the Dirt’ is essentially an omnibus film of all our wildest ideas of a ‘haunting’ that we dug up from that graveyard.”
While not identifying as a colourist, Moorhead was trained as one earlier in his career, and felt confident he could grade the film. “I brushed up on DaVinci Resolve in about a week of watching and trying online tutorials, and I felt confident with the program as I dove in,” he said. “That’s not a pat on my back, it’s a testament to the unbelievably friendly engineering of Resolve. I used a ton of programs in my job as an indie filmmaker and Resolve is by far the smartest application I’ve ever used.”
The film was no straightforward shoot itself, using a combination of traditional cinematography combined with stock footage and original footage shot with a wide variety of video and digital cameras, including cell phone and security camera footage. “We tried to develop a look beforehand, something akin to our other films, such as ‘The Endless,’ but we always wanted to push it further,” continued Moorhead. “We find that degrading the footage is instinctually a great way to mold our films into a single experience, especially if we have as much mixed media as this film does.”
With the wide variation of footage, Benson and Moorhead knew they needed a unifying look but couldn’t settle on something prior to shooting. Instead they committed to developing the look in post, leaning on the idea of creating a throwback look similar to one they had developed from a previous film. Moorhead combined DaVinci Resolve with OFX plugin Dehancer Film Emulation for DaVinci Resolve to create the visual style for “Something in the Dirt.”
The nodal flow started with a small blur on the entire image, which softened the harder edges, emulsified the mixed media and helped the film grain, added later, look more natural. The second node was about balance. “We didn’t want the movie to look like it had any kind of colour or density wash on it,” added Moorhead. “If it looked affected, it feels a bit dishonest to the story that we’re trying to tell: that this is a bit of a ‘documentary’ that actually happened. We often used the ‘versus curves,’ including Hue vs Sat, Sat vs Sat, etc., to get our look.”
Moorhead employed the Dehancer plugin extensively on the next node. “We used a very home brew setup of the Dehancer plugin to add grain, subtractive color, a print stock look, gate weave, halation, almost everything that Dehancer offers for film emulation,” he continued. “But besides the grain, it was all dialled very low, for just the most subtle possible version of it. It was a powerful effect and had to be put late in the node structure, but it was always applied before we would even start balancing.”
Even though the film is about the supernatural, Moorhead’s favorite scene is actually something considerably more simple, a rooftop conversation. “I loved just having a heart to heart chat as a performer, loved shooting it in a beautiful sunset as a director and cinematographer, and loved leaning heavily into a strong, luscious sunset grade as a colorist,” said Moorhead. “Plus, the score during that scene is some of the best music in the film.”
‘Something in the Dirt’ was produced by Rustic Films, distributed by XYZ Films, and is available in theatres now.