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Making the Grade: Megan Lee

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ETC colourist on starting as a runner at The Mill and how her job is a mixture of creative and analytical

Making the Grade: Megan Lee

Megan Lee joined the Electric colour team in 2021 after a 7 year stint at The Mill in London. With an impressive portfolio under her belt featuring work from directors Bedroom, Julian Knoxx, Sheena Broobey and Jade Jackman, and artists such as Arlo Parks, Years & Years and beabadoobee - Megan is one to watch. With not only a wealth of experience in music videos but also commercial projects, Megan has brought her dreamy style to branded content for UGG and Puma, and is eager to take on long-form at ETC in the future.


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?

Megan> Back in 2014, with very little knowledge of post production or VFX, I took my first job in the industry as a runner at The Mill. At the time I thought I might get into marketing…and then I stepped into a colour suite. I remember chatting with a colourist for the first time one afternoon whilst delivering a coffee, and that was the moment it clicked for me and I was eager to learn everything I could about colour and VFX. I’ve always known I was a creative person, but I’ve struggled to find the right medium to express myself. I originally intended to study Maths at University, so I love that my job is a mixture of creative and analytical. 


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

Megan> Over the last year my work has started to get more recognition, and I owe a lot of my success so far to showcasing my work on Instagram. A few career highlights so far include working on the Years & Years live performance for James Corden, and most recently collaborating with my favourite directing duo, Bedroom, on Arlo Parks music video for Too Good. 


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

Megan> During my time at The Mill I was colour assisting across a variety of VFX jobs such as Audi, Genesis and Coca Cola. Working in commercials is very fast paced and you have no choice but to learn on the job. In no time, I was picking up tips and tricks whilst match grading and problem solving. I became good friends with colourists Alex Gregory and Daniel Levy, and I owe most of what I know to them. They both continue to support me throughout my developing career, and I love catching up and discussing new grading techniques with them.


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

Megan> At the beginning of a job, I usually jump on a call with the team to discuss their creative intention for the grade, and we swap visual references. Then I can’t wait to get my hands on the footage to experiment. The thing I love most about the process is that I never really know how an image is going to turn out, or at least I don’t really think about it that much. My process is very intuitive, seeing how the image feels when I’m adding contrast and saturation to it, and experimenting with how to bring out the best aspects of the cinematography, lighting and production design so that they all work in harmony together.


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

Megan> Whilst I don’t dabble in photography myself, I am often inspired by Asian art and photography, particularly the works of Ren Hang, Yayoi Kusama and Hokusai. I love how Japanese and Chinese art can be both soft and vibrant, and I love to show a balance of both in my work. 


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?

Megan> I believe film and digital both have their place in the industry, and that certain projects are best suited for a specific format. Whilst I do love a clean and polished image, film indulges my nostalgic desire for a time before technology. I certainly love getting my hands on some 35mm to grade because I feel it brings a sense of comfort to an image, and when working with film I try to keep as much of the integrity of the footage as possible. 


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?) 

Megan> I find that when working with agencies and commercials as opposed to music videos, it’s important not to let your creativity take over so much that it hinders the style of a brand. In these scenarios, it’s your job to use your skills to create something visually eye-catching whilst staying true to the brand’s image. I usually maintain strong communication with the team, using references of their products to ensure they are correct.


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

Megan> At the end of the day, it is your job to translate a director's vision onto the screen, so I always try to develop my skills and ability to adapt and create various looks. A grade can often make or break a project, and therefore a harmonious partnership happens when the director can trust your skills and feels at ease working with you. I love being able to put that final touch to a project, and bring the director’s vision to life. 


LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

Megan> Grade anything you can get your hands on. Say yes to everything, no matter what you think of the project, because you will always learn something from the experience. My advice has always been to show how passionate you are with an eagerness to learn. Be prepared to put in the hours. As long as you show enthusiasm and passion, you will do well.


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

Megan> A great grade can add another depth to the storytelling. You can really influence the viewer's emotions on a subconscious level, whether it’s to express richness through strong vivid colours, or if it’s a depressing scene with muted tones. 


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

Mega> Social media has had a strong influence lately on the trade of colour grading. With its ability to reach a wider audience, it acts as an online portfolio for this new generation of colourists to showcase their work worldwide. Last year, I thought the pandemic would set me back in terms of career progression, but it turned out to be a great year of grading for me, and thanks to remote working I have been lucky to work with clients across the globe. Creatives are no longer limited to where they can go!

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Electric Theatre Collective, Thu, 26 Aug 2021 16:48:00 GMT