Where are you currently employed?
Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging
Describe Your Job.
As a colorist, I work closely with the director of photography and editorial staff, color-correcting television shows. My goal is to help manipulate images that complement the story. With the advancement of the digital intermediate process, the tools available to colorists are better than ever and improving daily. Color correction has become an important step in post and has added the kind of control over images that was unheard of only 20 years ago.
One of the things I love most about being a colorist is knowing that in my own subtle way, I have impacted the production in a positive way and added to the viewer’s experience, even if they may not be able to articulate how. We can use color to set a mood and then isolate individual areas of the picture and enhance that even further. We are working in entertainment at a time when the tools for filmmaking are changing and advancing rapidly. I, for one, find this very exciting!
How did you become interested in this line of work?
I grew up around television. My father was a broadcast engineer when I was a child. I remember walking into the studio at the local PBS station in Austin, Texas, when I was five years old. We have an old three-quarter-inch tape with my brother and sister and me running around a three-camera setup while my father ran the switcher. I was hooked instantly. A good time at the Brooks house was taking the back off of the TV and aligning the set, then watching an episode of Nova.
Who gave you your first break?
Byrne Bobbitt hired me as a tape operator when I was 18 to work for a small post house in West L.A. with two online bays and cutting rooms for clients. I got my break as a colorist from Darrell Anderson at Anderson Video on the Universal lot.
What was your first union job?
My first job as a member of the union is my current position at Warner Bros.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
I’ve been working on episodic television from the beginning; many credits come to mind. My work on Desperate Housewives is some of my favorite stuff. I was able to have a voice, thanks to Lowell Peterson, the director of photography. His skills as a cinematographer allowed us to create a look that is a signature for the show. So many people connect with TV shows very personally. They let these characters into their living rooms every week and they grow to care about them. Being a part of entertaining so many people is rewarding. And if they think it looks beautiful, even better.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
When I find myself in a challenging situation, I remind myself that this is a collaborative process. Discussing and experimenting will almost always give you a good result. Communication in color correction is essential since we all see things differently. Part of my skill is translating the discussion about the desired look into an image that lives up to the goal. The biggest thing I can think of to overcome challenges is never be afraid to ask questions.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
I worked as a colorist in Rio de Janeiro in 1998 for six months, and it was very fun. The Brazilians are fantastic people who really enjoy life. I met many interesting people, learned a very small amount of Portuguese, and did music videos for bona fide Brazilian rock stars! I also did some commercials and a couple of local feature films. I can only hope to have another job that affects me in such a positive way. It made me better at my craft, introduced me to another culture, and allowed me to look back at Hollywood with a whole new perspective.
Job-wise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I hope to be color-balancing images, applying secondary corrections and manipulating the hue, saturation and contrast on your favorite TV shows.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
I love computers. This has been good for my career. I also love to travel. My wife is an archaeologist and has worked a lot in Greece. My list of places to visit is still quite long, but I have managed to visit many already. My family is my passion. We have two boys, and spending time with them is what it is all about.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
That is a hard question! As a colorist, I have to say one is definitely O Brother, Where Art Thou? Roger Deakins was the cinematographer, and he helped lead the path into finishing films as digital intermediates. The use of digital techniques at a time when there was no defined workflow was impressive. On top of my adoration for the technical aspects of the movie, I also found it to be a great film. I am a huge fan of the Coen brothers and since my wife is a classical archaeologist, the connection with The Odyssey made it a home run.
Favorite TV Program(s)? Why?
I admit I am a crazy Lost fan. In fact it has gotten so bad that I recently watched every episode again, in preparation for the final season. I love the crazy, complicated, confusing story. It makes you rewind to see a scene again only to be left with a new question. It is really brilliant. The writers are awesome, and their knowledge of literature and mythology has created something that will be studied by film students for years to come.
Do you have an industry mentor?
There are so many people, in every role in the filmmaking business, that have helped me to grow as a colorist. It is really hard to choose just one person, but my father stands out the most. I learned so much about post-production by watching him work at TV stations and post houses, and that experience continues to help me today.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
Start looking at light in a way you never have before. It helps to have some skills as a photographer, since you need to understand what the people capturing the images were thinking. Also, buy a copy of Photoshop and start editing your own photos.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
I am new to the union. While I have been working on union productions for many years it has been at non-union post-production facilities. It is a pleasure to be working for a company that has a union contract. I am proud to be in the Guild and hope more colorists find their way into union houses.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
It is wonderful to be a member of the Editors Guild, and I am proud to be in a group with such esteemed people. Thanks for reading!
- Michael Kunkes