Dimitri Zola never planned on becoming a colourist. In fact, he didn’t even know that a job like this existed and had planned to join the military after graduating high school. A chance offer to join The Mill as a runner served as the turning point; there he was given an introduction to the colour department and an opportunity to try it. “It didn’t take long for me to see how impactful the colour is on each project, and I was hooked,” says Dimitri.
He’s worked at The Mill as a colour assistant since 2014 before a promotion to colourist in 2019. Today, Dimitri is an award-winning colourist with wins from D&AD Awards, The One Club Awards, Webby Awards, and AICP Awards for his Swipe Night campaign for Tinder with 72andSunny. His work speaks for itself and he has a long-standing relationship with industry giants like UberEats, netting an award nomination from AICP Awards last year for UberEats Showdown.
Dimitri speaks with LBB about his career journey and an issue that’s close to him – diversity in the industry. Though the industry is taking active steps to improve diversity, Dimitri is clear on what’s needed the most, education and outreach, so that more people from diverse backgrounds know that they’re able to access spaces that may seem exclusionary from the outside. He tells LBB what practical steps the industry can take to see real change.
LBB: You started out as a runner before becoming a colourist. Was this always the plan? What about colour grading appealed to you?
Dimitri: I had planned to join the military when I graduated from high school – I never had career plans beyond that. But as graduation approached, a friend of my mom’s offered to get me an interview at a post house as a runner and I got the job. After being a runner for about 2 years, a colourist approached me and asked if I wanted to learn about colour grading. I was immediately drawn to the craft and started coming in two hours before my shift and staying two hours after to learn as much as I possibly could. It didn’t take long for me to see how impactful the colour is on each project, and I was hooked.
LBB: How do you approach colour grading briefs? Do you prefer briefs that are highly detailed or more abstract?
Dimitri: I believe colour grading is a collaborative process, unlike painters who start on a blank canvas, colourists work with what was captured on camera. I always want to honour the vision of the client and director/DP, so I make it a point to ask about the footage – find out what everyone liked and didn’t like about the shoot and what their goals are. The more information I can get, the better because it gives me a sense of what the client was really trying to achieve and creates a good guideline for me to help bring that vision to life.
LBB: The colours in your projects are bold and powerful. When grading, do you have a goal in mind while working towards a final look?
Dimitri: Different projects call for different looks, the goal is to find the look that compliments the footage the best and get the consistency through the piece that makes it seamless.
As much as I want to say I love bold and rich colours, if the footage wants to go a different route, you can get something just as beautiful.
LBB: You have an incredible portfolio. Which project are you particularly proud of and why?
Dimitri: I’ve worked on a lot of great projects with some of the most talented people. The breadth of my work varies now from gorgeous music videos and short films that only a handful of people have seen, to epic Superbowl Commercials. The ones I love most are the ones that catch the eyes of my peers.
Being nominated for the AICP Awards last year for UberEats Showdown will always be a moment in my career that I’m very proud of.
LBB: You’ve been in the industry for a little while now. How have you seen its attitude towards diversity evolve in that time?
Dimitri: I have seen things change a bit over the years, but not as much as I would have hoped. When I first started, I really wasn’t aware of many POC working in post or on the production side, and women rarely went the artist route. I’d say the industry as a whole is still far from being anything close to what we could call diverse, but I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of access for communities of colour. So I hope that now that the industry has generally moved away from film and relies more on digital tools, more people from diverse communities will be able to get involved and learn the craft.
LBB: When it comes to diversity, what are some of the main challenges behind and in front of the screen today?
Dimitri: I can’t speak to anything as it relates to being in front of the camera, but in post I think there are a few obvious hurdles – mainly as it relates to access and information (as I touched on above).
I had no idea what a colourist was when I was in high school – I had no insight into the production industry at all. Luckily for me, a family friend who worked in post reached out to me as my high school graduation approached and offered me an entry-level position at the company. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have pursued my plans to join the military and may never have discovered colour grading. Unfortunately, I think there are many people whose only insight into film or the world of production is through roles like a director or an actor. If they don’t have access, they’ll never learn about all the other pieces of the production puzzle.
If you add to that the fact that companies want years of experience or a college degree in a specific field, it doesn’t make things easy to get your foot in the door.
LBB: The industry still periodically lands in hot water when it comes to accurately representing skin tones, with even huge brands coming under fire for lightening or badly lighting people of colour. How do you make sure you are enhancing skin tones while still maintaining an authentic look?
Dimitri: I believe keeping skin tones true to the person, footage, and scene are the best route to go.
LBB: During the Summer of 2020 MPC established Colour For Change, a program that made colour grading services free to filmmakers who are people of colour. Can you explain the program a little bit more and its goals?
Dimitri: Colour for Change is an incredible program giving filmmakers of colour an opportunity to work with some of the most decorated artists in the world. We have done numerous jobs with filmmakers who have been eagerly waiting to work with us where their budget may have prevented that in the past.
If we can help elevate those projects with our creative offering and our brand recognition, I feel that it’s a great step in supporting the cause and is a great way to use our platform for good.
LBB: Finally, what’s the one thing you wish you could change about the industry and your niche in particular? Why?
Dimitri: I would love to see more diversity in the field. I think there needs to be more programmes and outreach to the youth in underrepresented communities and communities of colour about the opportunities that exist in production and post production. Why? Because it’s long overdue.