black and white scene from Érase Una Vez En El Caribe showing two men in conversation

Graded on Baselight 6.0 – Érase Una Vez En El Caribe (Once Upon a Time in the Caribbean)

Directed by Ray Figueroa, Érase Una Vez En El Caribe (Once Upon a Time in the Caribbean) follows Juan Encarnación, a peasant with a violent past, as he sets out on a path of revenge when his wife disappears.

The movie, which was released at the end of 2023 and shot by DoP Willie Berrios, was one of the first movies to be graded on Baselight 6.0 – by senior colourist, Edgar Lebron at Reaktor Post in Puerto Rico.

“Our relationship with FilmLight goes way beyond business,” comments Lebron. “They have provided so much support and they are truly dedicated to making sure everything is going well for us. It is a relationship that has helped us to grow.”

A 1930s look

“Willie and I have been friends for many years,” explains Lebron. “We worked together in the past and have talked about making movies together ever since.”

Lebron began the dailies for Érase Una Vez En El Caribe by looking at historical references from the 1930s and noting the different shades of colour.

“Willie brought in black and white photography books from Mexican cinema,” he recalls. “I began by reviewing all the films and series made in that period and noted the period references. I liked quite a bit from American-Ukrainian photographer, Jack Delano. Once we had a collection of references, we created a bank of images that we adapted to the scenes.”

The film, which is in colour with black and white flashbacks throughout, opens with a black and white scene of a workers’ strike. “At first the film was going to be fully black and white, but we decided to try something a bit more representative of the time,” explains Lebron.

For the colour sections, Lebron used Gangs of New York and Peaky Blinders as visual references. For the evenings, he worked on highlighting the candlesticks and candles and emphasising the yellow tone, keeping it true to the time. 

“Willie and I spent weeks experimenting to make sure we were happy with the results. Sometimes we would agree and other times we would go back and start from scratch – always looking for a different way to better tell the story.” 

Experimenting on Baselight 6.0

Lebron was halfway through grading the movie when he was invited by FilmLight to try the beta version of Baselight 6.0.

“I started using the new Sharpen Luma tool, which was a big help,” comments Lebron. “There’s a lot in this film that I completed with Baselight 6.0, but X Grade was the star of the show. It helped me balance the whole movie and gave me total freedom to control continuity, fix issues like out of gamut and lens aberrations and truly control the greens – which, since it’s filmed in the countryside, was a big job.”

“I had already started working on Erase Una Vez En El Caribe when I got my hands on Baselight 6.0,” adds Lebron. “When I first started looking at the tools, I was actually tempted to redo it from scratch, so I could utilise the new Chromogen look development tool, despite the risks that come with using a beta version.”

Lebron and the team decided not to restart the movie, but Lebron has since been able to experiment with Chromogen.

“I’ve used Chromogen to create day for night looks in more recent projects and for a couple of advertising jobs. Our next goal is to use it to create looks for dailies that we can better apply to our session when we get to grading. It is a great tool which makes my job as colourist a lot easier.”

Fight in the rain

For Lebron, one of the most challenging scenes to grade was the ‘fight in the rain’ scene.

“This scene was the most difficult part for me – but, also the scene I am most proud of,” explains Lebron. “The director wanted rain in the scene, but there was no team to create it. In the end we got lucky, and the heavens opened for real. So, instead of cancelling the shoot due to the weather, they decided to film and utilise it.

“It turned out well, but one of the problems we had was controlling the clouds. It was also a long scene that had to be done day for night. Thankfully, this was one of the scenes I had completed tests for six months prior, so I knew it quite well and was able to finish it. But it was tough.”

Creative freedom

“This movie was a joy to work on,” says Lebron. “When I first saw the beginning scene of the movie, I thought to myself, I would pay to do the colour grade for this film. It’s not every day that you get a 1930s period film with influences from western and samurai films, mixed with the history of the Caribbean.”

“And I had total creative freedom from director Ray Figueroa and DoP Willie Berrios,” concludes Lebron. “For that, I thank them.”


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