Interview With Colorist Dave Hussey

After spending two years in film school, Dave Hussey, self-taught colorist, started his career as an assistant telecine operator at Magnetic, a post production facility in Toronto, eventually making his way to Company 3, a cutting edge facility in Los Angeles. Hussey sat down with mvwire’s Will Brown and shared some of his experiences on the path to becoming a sought-after colorist.

MVWire: How did you get started in your pursuit of becoming a colorist?

Dave Hussey: Initially, I got into telecine and film by working with a guy who bought a factory, there were films that he wanted transferred. He had been a butcher and was uncomfortable with paying an hourly rate to have the films transferred; he was more comfortable with paying for the transfers by the pound. So we weighed the film and that’s how we got paid, it’s true. I was actually transferring film by the pound!

I did film transfers at Magnetic North Corp from 1983 to 1989 and eventually became senior colorist in 1987. Disney MGM Studios offered me a job in Orlando, which gave me access to the American market so I moved to Florida in 1989. For a year, my job was part of the studio tour so there were about 3,000 people an hour watching us as we did the telecine. It was weird to have that many people watching us work.

Orlando is mostly a regional market. My goal was to continue working on national commercials and music videos, so I decided a move to Los Angeles would be better for me. The Post Group was running the post facility at Disney/MGM and they offered me an opportunity to work at their company in Hollywood. I worked at the Post Group from 1990 to 1997. In 1995 I became senior colorist.

One of the colorists that I had worked with during my time at The Post Group, Stefan Sonnenfeld was planning on starting his own company. I considered Stefan one of the best colorist’s in the world, so it was impossible to say no. In September of 1997 I joined Stefan and his partner Mike Pethel. That was the beginning of Company 3.

MVW: What suggestions do you have for someone that aspires to become a colorist?

DH: Back in 1983, the colorist didn’t have machine control so they had an assistant in the tape room to record everything. I did that for a year and a half and taught myself how to be a colorist, starting on little jobs. The equipment was really simple back then. For example, the Amigo color corrector had just three joysticks and I did film transfers on a Rank Cintel. Things have really changed.

You either have to love it and really want to do it or not get into it at all because it’s a life style as are a lot of jobs in this business. We work an incredible number of hours. A lot of people say they want to do it until they see the time commitment and then they back off because we really work a lot. The most important thing is you have to work at a good facility where you are going to be taught how to do things the right way.

It’s hard to become a colorist because lots of people want to do it, but there are only so many slots available. I started really small and over a period of years built up my client following. There is no quick way, you’re not going to become an overnight success. For everyone in the business, every job they do is incredibly important. You have to make sure you do your best every single time. The tendency is that after you work with someone over and over again you get comfortable and become friends then you have a tendency to ease back a little bit because you know the people. One thing I’m good at is that I never take my clients for granted. I put as much effort as I can into every job and try to make it as good as possible, career wise you are only as good as your last job. I want to keep my clients working because they are going to keep me working. For a younger person that’s really important to know, you have to do your best every single job.

MVW: What are your thoughts about Film school?

DH: Yeah, education is a great thing but the reality is that being a telecine colorist is a specialized job. If I knew for sure that being a telecine colorist was my goal, I would get a job at a post production facility as quickly as possible. I’d do anything there: be it working in the vault, being a runner, doing whatever because what it’s all about is getting your foot in the door. Then you make friends with an assistant and they can teach you some things and you can build on that. I don’t know of any schools that are going to teach you how to use all of this equipment. It involves a big commitment, if you work at the vault, you’re going to be working long hours 5 days a week so it’s up to you to come in on the weekends on your own time to learn. You’re getting paid for an education. Get a job at a post house, make some friends and start learning.

MVW: You had a couple of music videos nominated for best colorist at this years MVPA awards, the first being Outkast “Hey Ya!” directed Bryan Barber.

DH: We knew the song was great and the idea was really cool. It was a retro looking set but we wanted to give it a modern day appeal. We made the studio look really saturated in color which worked great with the sixties feel of the set. Most of the shots were motion control. When everything was composited together it looked great. Bryan loves the whole telecine process and he like to watch all of the film as we telecine so that he is familiar with the footage before he moves into the edit. When he walks into telecine he always has a big smile on his face. You can tell he loves the whole telecine process. We have a great time coming up with new color ideas.

Bryan realizes that film making is a collaborative process and he loves to hear ideas. I always look forward to working with him. I feel so lucky to have the kind of job where I meet talented people who are creative and fun, it’s just such a blast.

MVW: The second video that was nominted and won for Best Colorist / Telecine was the Beyonce feat/ Jay-Z “Crazy in Love” directed by Jake Nava.

DH: That was my first job with Jake and we have worked a lot together since then. Jake wanted the film to have a street vibe. He wanted it to looked beautiful but not over the top glossy. Jake’s film has it’s own special look. It has a lot of edge and very much a street feel. He likes to let the shadows go very dark. I think his stuff has a lot of style. He used Mark Plummer as his DP who has shot some amazing videos over the years.

MVW: How do you work with a new DP?

DH: When I am working with newer DP’s we generally don’t meet until the first day of telecine and then we develop a relationship. When I first start working with someone, I need to get a feel for what they like or what they might want to do. If I don’t know them or their style, I’ve got to feel my way through that so the session is going to be a little bit slower. After we get to know each other, they’ll start calling me up and asking me stuff like, “I’m shooting this job, what would you think would be the best stock?” As we get to know each other, we start hitting each other with ideas and the relationship develops that way. If I already know the person, I can set the film up the way they are going to want it to look.

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