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How ‘Empire’ Color Team Brought Its Magic to Warner Bros.

Studio has revamped its post-production unit

Scott Klein Warner Bros Colorist
Dan Doperalski for Variety

With the start of season two last fall, Fox megahit “Empire” got a sharp new look. At about the same time, colorist Scott Klein and his team jumped ship from Technicolor to Warner Bros. Meanwhile, that studio expanded its post-production services and tapped into a new revenue stream.

These may seem like random facts, but insiders who understand how relationships shape the business can easily connect the dots.

Klein — who specializes in perfecting TV pictures — moved from Technicolor’s Sunset Gower facility to the Warner Bros. lot along with fellow colorists Daniel Yang and Jesus Borrego, and assistant colorist Ara Thomassian. In setting up shop at the studio’s newly refurbished post facilities, they brought along significant projects, including “Empire.”

Klein started working on “Empire” at the start of season two via his longstanding collaboration with DP Paul Sommers, who was hired to revamp the hit show’s look after the first cycle. (The duo had previously worked together on Amazon’s “Bosch,” among other projects.)

“The lighting is now more dramatic,” says Klein of “Empire.” “It carves the talent out of the scene more effectively, and you feel more drawn to the story.”

But for Warner Bros., the changes are about much more than “Empire,” which is, after all, owned by rival 20th Century Fox Television: They’re about growth. The studio hired Klein as part of a strategy to expand from mostly audio post under the Warner Bros. Sound moniker to a comprehensive group that includes creative picture work — including DI, mastering and color — under the umbrella name Warner Bros. Post Production Services.

Film studios have long debated whether the ebb and flow of production justifies investment in permanent on-site post capability or whether it’s more cost effective to outsource the work to independent facilities. Warner Bros. decided to spend the money in order to develop good client relationships, per Kim Waugh, senior VP of worldwide post production services.

“It’s better to creatively service our clients in an environment that is convenient,” he says, adding that having both sound and picture post in close proximity is a big advantage. “We’re mixing the sound, so it’s better to be able to color at the same location. Time is of the essence.”

Another reason for the investment: The studio aims to up the ante in its TV department. The hiring of Klein, a veteran TV colorist, is part of an initiative “designed to kick-start a new television series picture-finishing department,” according to a Warner statement.

The fact that Klein and his team have worked on such shows as “Rectify,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Originals,” “Stalker” and “Documentary Now!” — in addition to current projects “Bosch” and season two of “Empire” — signals the value of the relationships they bring to their new roost.

Waugh estimates that half of the projects at Warner Bros. post are the studio’s properties. The rest, like “Empire,” belong to other companies, but Warner still gets the post work “because this is a relationship business, and Scott arrived with those relationships.”

For Klein, the work is as much about creativity as it is about business. “Warner Bros. understands we’re competing with standalone post houses,” he says. “Some are boutiques that have a lot of freedom to respond to individual needs. I was clear with them from the beginning that I wanted to compete with those post houses and create that same feeling.”