Lawrence Sher

Lawrence Sher on the power of colour

Lawrence Sher, ASC, is an American cinematographer and film director best known for his work on Joker (2019), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), War Dogs (2016), The Hangover (2009) and Garden State (2004).

Sher has just completed filming Joker: Folie a deux – the follow up to the 2019 film which comes out in 2024 – and has been appointed as the president of the 2023 FilmLight Colour Awards jury.

Can you say a few words about your role as president of the 2023 FilmLight Colour Awards?

I’m very proud to be the president of this year’s awards. I know it will be an immense challenge to help filter all the other jurors’ opinions into consensus winners. Colour is complex and subjective so my main goal is to allow an open forum in which we can express unfiltered thoughts on the work of the artists.

What will you be looking for in entries this year?

First and foremost, I will be looking for entries that show point of view and skillful execution of an idea. As with all film-making endeavors, the art needs to work seamlessly with the piece. If we notice the colour above the film then it’s probably not going to make the cut.

Can you tell us about your relationship with colour and if/how this has changed over the years?

As a film maker and cinematographer, I’ve always loved using colour as an equal tool in the palette alongside lighting, composition and movement. The films of Storaro and Menges and many others served as templates for me to see colour as an expression of emotion in the film. Early in my career, I started to assign emotions to what uncorrected fluorescents or bold red light made me feel when watching films, and translating those into my later work. I still start with lights, filters and gels, but the transformative power of the digital intermediate and LED lighting has expanded the ability to use colour even more precisely and creatively and in a more efficient and cost-effective way.

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Describe the working relationship between colourist and cinematographer and how this has evolved across your work?

Although the colourist has always been a critical part of the film-making process, their role has expanded in the last 20 years. For me, what started with notes about three printer lights to a Hazeltine dailies colourist, and early morning trips to the lab to watch workprints, has evolved into building bespoke LUTs during testing at the start of a project to help shape the look of the images on digital sensors, and hours precisely enhancing the image in digital intermediate suites. My colourist is part of the earliest prep and is there until the final deliverable frame gets shipped off to the screen.

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How do you think colour shapes the way an audience perceives TV/film?

I think colour shapes the way an audience perceives TV/film in the same way all aspects of the visual language of film-making do – both subconsciously and consciously. The conscious ways are in the ways it allows the movie magic to be executed, like turning day into night. And while the skillful hand of the cinematographer and colourist can transform a scene and deliver the mood of the scene, it’s the subconscious aspects that I find so critical.

Starting with simple colour matching to make the cuts between shots seamless is an aspect that most viewers never even notice, but their experience would suffer immensely without it. Shaping colour to further draw the eye of the viewer towards important places in the frame is also key, as well as adding warmth to convey emotions like heat or comfort. As a cinematographer and film-maker, we are constantly using visual languages to express emotion for the audience and colour is a critical component of this expression.

The awards, which are open to colourists on any grading platform, close on 7 August 2023. A shortlist will be announced in the autumn, with the winners unveiled in November at EnergaCAMERIMAGE.

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