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Starting as a colorist


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Anyone have any experience or advice on how to get steady work as a colorist? Is cold contacting color post houses a viable option?

Also, is the workload and pay significantly different from editing?

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I've been an editor/colorist for around 10 years now here in LA and honestly, work has been on and off. I actually had to take a job outside of the industry because there simply wasn't enough good paying work. I was slammed, but when it all added up, I made like $25/hr because I put so many hours in and couldn't charge for them due to most jobs being contract based. 

Honestly, the trick is to have some "golden gooses" people who are very busy and use you. I would say those people SHOULD probably be editing clients first because that's easier to get into. But generally what I've found from the lower budget community is that most clients today expect editorial to do color and sometimes even a basic sound mix. They may have someone else do final sound or final color, but reality is I've done color on 4 features in the last few years because the clients simply wanted to save money and knew I could do it. The problem is that with editorial AND color, you're doing a lot of re-working, billing for that is very tricky. You can very easily bill yourself out of a job if you aren't careful. 

If you wanna hit me up sometime, I can tell you what I've learned over the years in more detail. I literally just got a full time job outside of the business because I was tired of the bullshit. I just felt I was stagnant career wise and was going from job to job was horribly stressful. Couldn't spend a dime of money because I may not have a job the next month. So having a full time job outside of the industry, allows me to chill and work on my own projects, which is kinda what most people want to do anyway. 

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Build a reel from work you can find.  Music videos, short films, etc. Maybe reach out to JR dp's whose work you think is great and try to color their stuff and then try to get a assisting gig at a color house or a post house that does a good bit of color work. Very many of the successful colorists started assisting at the post house they still work at, so that's the ideal pathway if you can attain one of those positions. I'd email colorists you respect directly for advice and share your reel with them.

 

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To get into the high end, you start off as a runner on basically no money at a post house in a very expensive part of town, and spend several years fetching takeout food for people who make an hour what you make a week. If you are well-dressed and ingratiating they eventually let you move up to become an assistant, and so on. One in fifteen people, max, gets to move up; most give up after a few years of low-wage abuse and absorbing too much pizza grease through their skin.

The actual mechanics of doing it are relatively straightforward; your interpersonal and client-management skills are paramount (I was never going to get anywhere near it, really, was I?)

It's pretty grim.

P

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Thanks for the advice guys. I appreciate it, grimness and all.

Really I want to work mainly as a DP (or even 1st AC)  but coloring interests me as well, and I've just been speculating on its effectiveness as a side job as I work toward my main goal. But obviously it's hard and possibly impractical to supplement one goal with another that may be equally as difficult to achieve. 

Would any of you know if trying to find work as an assistant editor or colorist at a posthouse is more difficult than trying to find work at a camera rental house?

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18 minutes ago, Austin Warren said:

Thanks for the advice guys. I appreciate it, grimness and all.

Really I want to work mainly as a DP (or even 1st AC)  but coloring interests me as well, and I've just been speculating on its effectiveness as a side job as I work toward my main goal. But obviously it's hard and possibly impractical to supplement one goal with another that may be equally as difficult to achieve. 

Would any of you know if trying to find work as an assistant editor or colorist at a posthouse is more difficult than trying to find work at a camera rental house?

it is very different path to advance in Post production and Editing than in Camera + G&E.  Additionally, if you want to make feature films or other high end stuff you need to choose between Editing and Post Production as well because they are done by different people in different companies who are specialised in that type of work and nothing else. You will need internships in any case but you can easily spend/waste 5 or 10 years in a 'wrong' department dreaming you would be a Cinematographer one day.

Sure you can do both color and assistant editing if you choose to do lower end projects like reality etc. But in higher level stuff you have to be so good at what you do that it is mandatory to specialise early on because it takes years and years to get to that level. For example it generally takes at least from 10 to 15 years of extremely hard and concentrated work to get to a level where you can shoot feature films as a Cinematographer. You will never get to that level if wanting to do a little bit of everything. It is totally fine to be a jack of all trades but if you want to pursue your cinematography career then you really need to concentrate mostly on actually shooting stuff and leave the edit and post departments to someone else to handle

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Totally different career paths. I'd say in a small market maybe you could dabble and get color work on a home setup... but in LA, your not going to make good money on that if its a side hustle. if your a talented DP or Director its easy to find Jr colorists who already have those assisting jobs to take on work at super discounted rates as they are all also building reels. The only work left is the less desirable stuff with small budgets that post houses won't take on.

I'd say if you really want to be a DP then you for sure want to get on set and be apart of production. Color skills are great and helpful to you as a DP and for your own work possibly, but as a career path its just so different.

For sure easier to get a camera rental job and then work as an AC, that's a classic path for many DPs

 

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2 hours ago, Albion Hockney said:

For sure easier to get a camera rental job and then work as an AC, that's a classic path for many DPs

I would hope the OP isn't trying to go the editing route to be a DP, that would be kind of backwards I agree.

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I'm aware the road to being a colorist and a DP are two separate career paths.  I've actually shot one narrative feature, (trailer here--https://vimeo.com/456752075), but as all low budget projects go, they're fun to make but don't show up in the bank account. So I was just speculating on the feasibility of coloring as a side gig, because it's been difficult (for me at least) to make money and get experience from purely on set production while starting out. So I kind of viewed it as a color during the week and shoot during the weekend thing, assuming I got work at a post house. But if that's impractical then I can readjust. Thanks again for the advice

 

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1 hour ago, Austin Warren said:

So I was just speculating on the feasibility of coloring as a side gig, because it's been difficult (for me at least) to make money and get experience from purely on set production while starting out.

I'll just say for the record, I've done the same thing and it's not fun. Your creative juices are all gone by the weekend when you have time and it's so annoying. It's much better to have a non-industry job that you can take time off from where you can really be creative. Post production is brutal, especially professional post where you're making good money to survive. I cut 3 narrative features and 2 doc features in the last 10 years and every one of them was brutal. The two doc's took 3 years each to do and I have a non-feature doc that I did between them that was 2 years. No way someone is paying for 2 years of my time, so it was always done in spirts and heavily discounted. But even with narratives, post can take 6 months to a year and you're not getting paid for that time, you're expected to just be there ready to roll ya know? This is why production is such bliss because you can literally show up, shoot and when you're done, walk away and work on the next project. 

Anyway, if you wanna chat more about this offline, just hit me up. I have a lot of stories to tell.

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4 hours ago, Austin Warren said:

I was just speculating on the feasibility of coloring as a side gig, because it's been difficult (for me at least) to make money and get experience from purely on set production while starting out. So I kind of viewed it as a color during the week and shoot during the weekend thing, assuming I got work at a post house. But if that's impractical then I can readjust. Thanks again for the advice

 

 If you want an on-set job, then you have to get your experience and contacts from that sector and build your career around it.  If you want to do post production, then again concentrate on that field and get lots of experience and contacts to make it happen. Switching back and forth does not work like Tyler said. I know that too because I have worked the past 7 years in post prod as well. 

A very important lesson about filmmaking is that you will get more and more the same type of job you are known for. And generally nothing else. So if you start being a catering and you are good at it then they will remember you when they will need someone to do that job again. They never call you if they need a AC or a Runner or a DIT because they only know that you are suitable for one job position and they know you have experience doing it.  So if you want to be a Cinematographer, then you have to do cinematography related stuff. No one will hire you as a cinematographer if you are known for doing post work (then they will only hire you for post work and nothing else and will get their DP from somewhere else). 

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