Single Take Feature Colored In Resolve

New feature “Last Call”, which was shot in two simultaneous 80-minute takes, was colored in DaVinci Resolve Studio by colorist and cinematographer Seth Wessel-Estes.

“Last Call” follows a suicidal alcoholic on the anniversary of his son’s death. When he attempts to call a crisis hotline, a misdial connects him with a single mother working as the night janitor at a local community college. The split screen feature showcases both characters in realtime as they navigate a life changing conversation.

Director Gavin Booth was also director on the Blumhouse project “Fifteen,” which was the world’s very first movie broadcast live, also in a single take. “Last Call” would be a unique approach to filmmaking, in the vein of films such as “Timecode” and “Russian Ark”, both early inspirations for Booth.

Both Booth and cinematographer Wessel-Estes, who was also the colorist on the film, knew there would be significant challenges in coloring a movie without edits, and with two constantly moving shots around a cityscape. “Figuring out the approach of how to color the film was a pretty daunting task,” said Wessel-Estes. “We hadn't ever had to color anything longer than three or four minute shots in the past.”

In preparation, both Booth and Wessel-Estes shot a single take music video for the band Bleu before starting on “Last Call,” working up not only a workflow for production but also a process for handling a constantly changing image.

“Last Call” would present a myriad of challenges to the team, all of which would be reflected in the final image that would need to be colored. Each of the characters would be filmed simultaneously, connected only by the cell phone call that was the link in the movie. Booth would follow one character, and Wessel-Estes the other.

“We needed to reduce the amount of crew for both camera and sound,” reflected Booth. “There couldn't be a camera assistant or a boom operator. There was nowhere to hide everyone or avoid boom shadows throughout the full single take on either side of the movie. We had to work with our sound mixers to double lav the actors and rely solely on that.”

Booth and Wessel-Estes were also the camera operators, and would need to pull their own focus, while the gaffer would have to figure out how to use a mixture of practical lighting as well as hide every single cable and film light since the single take on either side would move 360 degrees through the space. Moving from inside to outside or even room to room meant that the camera's exposure needed to seamlessly adjust at the same time. Every element would either help or hinder the final look, and the team knew they had limited time and budget to get it right.

For the look of the project, Booth wanted to maintain a realistic style, and avoid an exaggerated or otherwise over colored look that might have distracted from the character driven drama. “With the use of the long take to show ‘reality’ we wanted to keep it feeling as truthful as possible. For us, having too much of a look on a piece like this can take away from the rawness. We wanted the audience to feel like they were there with the two characters, hanging on every tense word they exchange.”

Once in post, Wessel-Estes knew that having a single long take, and hundreds of node corrections on the single shot would be unmanageable. Instead, he imported the project into Resolve and used the Edit panel to place cuts throughout the film to give him transition points. “I was able to go in and make cuts along the timeline which acted as scene markers. That way I could individually color each ‘scene’ or area by itself. Luckily with the Resolve editing panel I was able to go in and create edits and use cross dissolves to smoothly and dynamically transition between graded sections.”

Wessel-Estes also used the BMD Davinci Resolve Micro Panel for color grading. “It enabled me to not only grade more efficiently but also to have more fine tuned tactile control of individual parameters. Since our look was so naturalistic, I ended up doing tons of very small, subtle corrections which would have been a hassle without having a control surface.”

With a split screen showing each character’s part of the story, Booth and Wessel-Estes had a host of challenges to manage. As the camera moved from location to location, both interior and exterior, they knew they would be faced with completely different lighting and exposures throughout the film, requiring careful grading to both marry segments while respecting each new look. “Since we were working with some uncontrolled lighting situations we had to go in and do dynamic exposure and color adjustments as the camera and character move from one space to another.”

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