Q&A with Senior Colorist Fergus McCall
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Fergus McCall has been an integral member of
The Mill since the company opened its doors in London in 1990. In
April 2004, McCall moved from London to the newly opened New York
office to lead the Telecine department. Over the past 20 years he
has worked with some of the most talented directors,
cinematographers and agency creatives on some of the world's most
With his recent Cannes 2010 Golden Lion and AICP wins for Puma's
'After Hours Athlete', directed by Ringan Ledwidge and Jim Beam's
'Parallels', directed by Dante Ariola, Fergus has been more in
demand than ever.
Q: What has been your favorite project this year?
A: Probably the Gillette 'Homage' spot that we
recently finished. As a project, it has all of the ingredients that
make a job rewarding; Input from the director and DoP, a creative
who wants to produce something distinctive and memorable in a spot
that contains a variety of interesting looks and styles and is not
compromised by creative insecurities. The end result smacks of
quality and of great collaborative film-making.
Q: What was your favorite project of all time?
A: I can't give one in particular, so I'll give
you a few. From before some of my co-workers were born
(almost), Tarsem's 'Swimmer' for Levis. While they were
attending preschool, it was Michel Gondry's 'Drugstore', also for
Levis. Moving into this millenium, Jon Glaser's 'Swim Black' for
Guinness and more recently, Ringan Ledwidge's 'After Hours Athlete'
for Puma. The last of these might just be my most favorite, not
because of my part in it but because everything about it is
brilliant and it has a v/o that sends a tingle down my spine every
time I hear it. It's writing and execution in perfect
Q: You have been here since the Mill opened its doors
over 20 years ago. How has Telecine changed over the
A: Not quite from the beginning, but almost. In
another few years somebody will be handing me the engraved gold
watch and golf clubs and leading me out to pasture. Has it changed
much in that time? Yes and no. Almost everybody reading this will
be aware of the significant changes in technology both in
production and post- production. The endgame remains the same,
however. Make the images look great and make them look right for
the imagery they are portraying. When I first started, editors
stuck film together with sellotape (Scotch tape), we used to
drink beer at lunchtime and CG didn't exist apart from in the heads
of some clever blokes at a company called Pixar.
Q: How is TK different in New York compared to
A: Every market has their own particular
aesthetic and way of working. But when comparing New York and
London specifically the question should be, "Are they in any way
the same?" There are many dissimilarities between the two -
different sensibilities, priorities and chains of command.
The advertising aesthetic is just different in New York, and it
takes time to learn those differences.
Q: Do you prefer to grade Film or Digital
footage? Is it much different?
A: Film, by a mile, though the people over at
Arri are beginning to close the gap. However, the other camera
company that purports to be offering the future of image capture I
am not a fan of yet. It seems they've spent the last few years
telling us how fantastic they are without ever delivering on their
well-managed hype. On a more conciliatory note, all of the newer
digital capture cameras have their strengths and I'm sure other
colorists will have noticed that since the largely noise free
pictures of Alexa and Red have become the norm clients have become
much more sensitized to grain and don't always like
Q: What advice would you offer to aspiring young TK
A: As somebody that happened upon color
correction by mistake I might not be the right person to offer
advise to the young aspirant, but I'll give it a go.
At it's most fundamental level it requires an appreciation of
imagery and an aesthetic of what works and what doesn't work.
Remember that just about any clown can get a digitally captured
image to about 85% of its potential. The magic is in the last 10%
Always be able to step back and see the wood from the trees...
so much of what is done in post-production is done at an almost
pixel level while staring at single frames. The role of the
colorist is to make the whole piece work rather than obsess on
Don't slavishly copy the style of your mentor, use your own
aesthetic. Color, texture and contrast are all subjective so there
isn't ultimately a right or a wrong way to make something look.
There is an appropriate way, however.
Make sure you're not color blind.