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Making the Grade: George Neave on the Power of Colour

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Coffee & TV colourist on his collaborative attitude and how he found his true calling

Making the Grade: George Neave on the Power of Colour

In 2020 George Neave was voted Kinsale’s Best New Colourist. He has collated a vast portfolio of work for brands including Reebok, Timberland, Diesel, Sky, Mazda, Mini and the 2021 Super Bowl commercial for Stella Artois, establishing a reputation for his collaborative attitude, creative flare and meticulous detail along the way.

He has also graded promos for artists such as Ashnikko, Headie One, Mahalia, No Rome and Sam Fender and has a passion for long form narrative work.


LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?

George> I always wanted to work in this industry but just didn’t know what exactly. So I did an editing and post production course at Ravensbourne, where I could explore all options. Then in my last six months of uni we were tasked to make a film. Roles were assigned in my team and there was a shortage of colourists so I volunteered and loved it. I was and still am just so excited by the power to control the final outcome and mood of a film with colour. 


LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?

George> I’m really lucky to say that so far I’ve had two jobs that have changed my career for very different reasons. 

The grade I created for Stella Artois ‘Heartbeat Billionaire’ last year gave me a lot of confidence. I was so honoured to be chosen to work on such a big brand Super Bowl ad and it just made me realise how far I’ve come. 


Last year I also worked on Topowa, a feature film about the journey of a group of teacher musicians from the streets of Uganda to London, which won best music documentary at Raindance. This was an incredible opportunity to step outside short form work. Long form projects (often) give you that extra time to craft more dynamic looks for scenes. It also sometimes gives you the freedom and ability to craft cinematic looks which I love. It was great fun to work on and I really enjoyed being part of such a special project. 


LBB> How/where did you hone your craft and did you have any particular mentors?

George> The first colourist I worked under, Dan Moran, gave me a really good foundation into the craft and he really helped me to develop and define my style. Since Simona Cristea joined Coffee & TV she has helped to add to my skill set, especially when it comes to techniques for fashion and beauty. I really admire her as such an established and successful colourist in the industry. 


LBB> Tell us more about your creative process - (e.g.when you get a project, how do you go about developing a look?)

George> One of my favourite parts of the process is the dialogue between myself, the director and DOP. Getting to know them, finding out how the footage was shot, talking to them about their vision, references they have, as well as things they may want to enhance or change. I really love collaborating and using my input to produce the final outcome and effect. 

I most enjoy creating a cinematic feel for grades, I try to get that in where possible when matching the brief. 


LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?

George> I’m a big fan of film photography, the aesthetics are so much nicer than digital images. 

Using film also makes you take the time to carefully consider the shot and composition. You can constantly snap on your phone until you get the perfect shot but with a camera you need to be in the moment. 


LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?

George> I often try to capture the feel and warmth of real film and apply it to digital footage. When it comes to grading film footage, a lot of the hard work is already done by the camera. I’m just there to strengthen the director's vision. Working with film over digital also allows more opportunity to try different looks and vividly capture rawness, textures and depth. 


LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets and what sort of conversations do you have with creatives and clients about that (e.g. is there often a strategic/consistent ‘look’ for a brand? Can these be too heavy handed?) 

George> There is a lot we can do in colour grading to achieve the right look, but collaboration is key to achieve what’s best for the brand, versus creative freedom for the artists working on the project. You get a pretty epic output if both are in harmony. 


LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?

George> Be yourself. Also be nice, even if it’s late and you don’t always agree - compromise! 


LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

George> The biggest piece of advice I would give is don’t take grade tweaks to heart, it's not a reflection on your skill, you need to create their vision, their dream. However I would say, if you think something will look good don’t be afraid to voice it.  

Lastly I’d say enjoy it! It seems obvious now but when I was at uni I had no idea how social this role was (not that this is a problem) but if you think you’ll spend your days sitting in a dark room on your own - you’ll be nicely surprised.


LBB> In your opinion, what's the difference between a good grade and a great grade?

George> Time and shooting on film. 


LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?

George> The mix-media is exploding, from phone footage, film and stills. And thankfully people still respect the skill and need for high end colour grading for both long and short form. 

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Coffee & TV, Tue, 24 May 2022 09:17:00 GMT