×

‘Wonderstruck’ Colorist Joe Gawler on How Film’s Multi-Period Look Was Created

Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” which screened in the main competition at Camerimage, tells the complicated story of two children, both deaf, growing up in New York during different historical periods, whose paths strangely and magically converge.

To tell this multi-layered story, DP Edward Lachman, a Camerimage regular and frequent Haynes collaborator (“Far From Heaven,” “I’m Not There,” “Carol”) shot the film on black and white and color film, as well as on digital. Joe Gawler, partner and senior colorist at New York post-production studio Harbor Picture, who has also worked with the two men, tells how he graded the widely varying footage to give the film a seamless look.

How did you happen to get the “Wonderstruck” assignment?
I’ve had a relationship with Ed Lachman for a number of years. I’ve remastered maybe 100 titles for the Criterion Collection, and they brought on Ed to consult on the color. Ed is a real encyclopedia of filmmaking. I’ve also worked separately with Todd Haynes on Criterion, and I have a relationship with his editor, Affonso Gonçalves. So when “Wonderstruck” came together they were all already familiar with Harbor, and they ended up living there many months doing post on the film.

Had Todd and Ed always intended to shoot on film?
Yes. Unfortunately at the time there was no film processing lab in New York so they came up with a workflow plan to process the film with Fotokem on the West Coast.

The movie has black and white and color scenes in approximately equal measure.
Yes. All the film footage – black and white as well as color – was shot on Kodak 35mm stock. But a good portion of the film was shot digitally – namely all the scenes that take place inside New York’s Museum of Natural History. The museum has limitations on how much you can light the interiors, so for that extra speed and exposure they needed they decided to go digital. Everything inside the museum was shot on ARRI Alexa.

You had to deal with footage that included both film and digital elements. How did you approach each medium?
There’s something special in the film image. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and you don’t necessarily miss it if you’re just working on a digitally acquired show, but when your eyes see it in the film scan, you’re able to apply it to the digital footage. With film, the look finds itself more easily for you. There’s something inherent in the film, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Film takes you to a place that looks great.

And digital?
Digital looks great as well, but there’s something about the photochemical process, a nuance. I’ve had the experience on a couple of shows where you start color grading digital footage and everyone is happy, they think it looks great. And then when we start working on the film footage, it’s like, oh, wow, this is really nice, and once we have those references in the film we’re able to then go further in the digital – it’s just a subtle nudge. There’s something clean and linear about the digital image that you just need to dirty up a little bit, give it some kind of warmth.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content