Bringing life to The Killer
The Killer is David Fincher’s latest action/thriller movie based on the French graphic novel series of the same name, by Alexis Matz Nolent. Starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton, the film follows an assassin who gets embroiled in an international manhunt after a hit goes wrong.
The movie, which made its premiere at the 80th annual Venice Film Festival and will be available on Netflix from 10 November, saw another successful collaboration between cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt ASC, director David Fincher and colourist Eric Weidt. Weidt has been working with David Fincher since 2014 and the trio previously joined forces on Mank (2020) and the Mindhunter series (2017-2019).
A US and French citizen, Weidt is a renowned freelance colourist who spent 15 years in Paris working with fashion photographers and filmmakers (Vogue, Bazaar, Pop).
“I began with Fincher doing beauty work in Nuke in 2014,” explains Weidt. “I showed him a reel of colour work I’d done working in fashion in Paris, and I think he figured that squared perfectly with the kind of precision he wanted to get into by grading his own projects in-house.”
Testing and LUTS
As with all his collaborations with Fincher, Weidt was involved right from pre-production, working closely with Messerschmidt on test footage and creating LUTs.
“We created the show LUTs together for shooting the different locations, which we drove home in the grade,” explained Weidt. “I started working with test footage early on, especially on stage and to process green/blue screen material where I prepared LED wall and LED direct projection material that is used simultaneously.”
The movie is set across multiple locations, including Paris, the Dominican Republic and Chicago, which all required distinct looks.
“There’s Paris at night, with tungsten street lighting; there’s the Dominican Republic, with a misty-humid-warm look going on; and there’s this winter white-point Chicago material,” explained Weidt. “And Erik wanted to try using a halation filter (Scatter) on a lot of the sub-tropical location material, too. It worked wonderfully, as well as on some snow-mist scenes.”
Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker also re-teamed with Fincher on The Killer script, which was adapted from the French graphic novel by author Alexis Matz Nolent.
“I think Fincher is a big comic book fan,” says Weidt. “Especially in the art of framing the drawn cells to impart the beats of a story. Working in film, I think he brings that to movement as well – he’s seeking a kind of effortless visual rhythm that makes you forget that it is highly constructed.”
The look of the movie was inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967), with a similar subject matter to The Killer.
“Le Samourai is similar to The Killer,” explains Weidt. “Especially the mood and ‘grey precision’, which is possibly what Fincher was inspired by. But, nowadays we have many more tools, including HDR and cameras that practically have night-vision. So, dynamically we’re able to have something that is super-rich, and subtle. David likes to push and pull colours, but always strikes an unconscious balance. The audience feels like the story is methodical and deliberate - only going out of control at precise moments.”
Wedit recalled how they started with a “yellow-blue split in Paris, a saturated warm-chocolate shadows look in Dominican Republic, and an ice-cold northern US look”, which evolved according to the needs of each scene.
“There was an extended fight scene where black was the modus-operandi,” recalls Weidt. “We wanted to push for detail, all the while knowing that more darkness would make it scarier. So, a perfect balance needed to be struck.”
Weidt has been grading exclusively on Baselight for seven years. “Honestly, Baselight is so part of my DNA that it’s hard for me to know how I use it,” he commented. “No feature gets out unscathed.”
“On the grading of The Killer, multi-paste got utilised a lot because I took whole scenes and ordered them according to camera angle so that I could balance them with impunity. I also used EXR alpha channels a tonne. I asked for multiple passes of some of the CG work in Paris too, so that I could make sure every element was consistent.”
Weidt says the best thing about Baselight is its “organisational prowess” and he is looking forward to utilising the tools in the forthcoming Baselight 6.0 release.
“You can wrangle shots and scenes in no time, group grade, multi-paste, 2-3-4-6-9 up views,” he comments. “But, although I did not use it on The Killer, my very favourite thing about Baselight is the new version, 6.0. You’ve got Chromogen, X Grade and a myriad of new features – bravo!”
The master grade for The Killer is done in PQ P3 D65 @ 1000 nits, and Weidt derived both the rec.709 SDR and the DCI-P3 theatrical trim passes using Dolby Vision per-shot analysis.
“This was the first time I’d done a theatrical with the Dolby Vision 48-nit transform that came out a year or two ago and is now incorporated in Baselight,” comments Weidt. “It worked great and got me 90% of the way there. The rest is dosing each scene with the Dolby Trim and then fine-tuning per shot, if and when needed.
“I did almost all of the grade on a Sony CLED wall that simulated the 1/1000 contrast ratio I’d be getting on a projector. Once projected on Xenon bulb, I made a slight contrast increase and we were done.”
Challenges and accomplishments
Weidt spent a year tied to a Baselight system on the grade for this project and one of the most challenging parts was creating a realistic feel from composited material.
“We used defocus a lot to drive home the right amount of depth, which can improve with subtle changes - sometimes using the alphas provided by the VFX vendors, sometimes arbitrarily.”
Other than this, Weidt said he is proud and relieved that he managed to “get Fincher to sign-off” on the project at all.“He’s told me post-production is his favorite part of film-making,” comments Weidt. “He may have been joking, but I take it seriously. I think some scenes in The Killer really sing colour-wise, and working with Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt, I have to say, that’s not hard to achieve.”
“David likes to push and pull colours, but always strikes an unconscious balance. The audience feels like the story is methodical and deliberate – only going out of control at precise moments.”