Kody Westcott has been only been practicing as a colourist since 2017 and already he boasts a notably dynamic, varied reel. His work on Nicki Minaj's 'Barbie Tingz' has amassed nearly 70 million views on YouTube, but he's just as comfortable turning his eye to comedy (the Emmy-nominated 'aka Wyatt Cenac'), ads for Estrella and even documentaries about Myanmar for Thompson Reuters.
Prior to becoming a colourist, Kody practised as an editor, which, according to him schooled him in the attention to detail required to make it in colour.
Nowadays he plies his trade at Chimney's New York office. LBB's Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more.
LBB> Being a colourist is such a specialised thing – how did you get drawn to it?
Kody> Colour was briefly mentioned in one of my post production classes in college. Photography was a big hobby of mine, so I was instantly drawn to the idea of altering how an image feels through its colour. I went out that same day and got a textbook on colour and started teaching myself.
LBB> You were an editor before turning to colour - what inspired that switch?
Kody> It was a struggle for me to decide which career path I wanted to take. I'd always loved how much control both an editor and a colourist have over the final outcome of a project. An editor has the ability to completely change the story by altering how the shots fit together. A colourist has the power to change the way a person feels about the story by altering the images themselves. Editing always felt like putting together a puzzle. There were specific frames that were meant to be put together, you just had to find them and arrange them in the right order. I loved that about editing. But the more I did colour, the more I realised how there is no right way. There is no one look for any given video. You can create any number of looks that all feel right for the piece, but that all convey slightly different feelings. It was just too much freedom to pass up.
LBB> What lessons did you learn as an editor that you can apply to your current role?
Kody> Editing requires a lot of attention to detail when it comes to making the cuts as smooth and unnoticeable as possible. A single frame can be the difference between a cut that's invisible and a cut that's jarring and pulls the viewer out of what they're watching. Colour is the same way. It's not hard for the audience to get pulled out of a movie, and a subtle shift in colour could be all it takes. I learned that lesson as an editor, and it holds just as true as a colourist.
LBB> On a ‘typical’ spot, what’s your starting point for finding the right ‘look’?
Kody> I like starting with a wider shot when setting looks. Much like how the wide shot sets the scene, it's a good place for me to get a feel for the location I'm colouring. I'll make adjustments until I think it's in a good starting spot, then I save that grade, erase everything, and start over. You'd be surprised how different the outcome can be the second time you grade a shot. I'll do this two or three times then compare the different looks. I'll decide what I like or don't like about what looks and choose the one that I like the most. Then I move on to a key shot or a close up and match the look of the wide. Different things will come out in the second shot that'll steer the direction of the grade, and I'll go back to the wide and make adjustments. I move on to the next shot, and the next, until the scene has a rough grade that's in the direction I want the look to go. Then it's a matter of watching how the shots play together, making adjustments, and pushing the grade a little further or pulling it back until it's the perfect feel for the piece.
LBB> What’s the key to a successful director-colourist collaboration?
Kody> Colour is a very subjective art, so it can be difficult to get on the same page as someone who has a different creative vision. The key is to have an open mind about the possibilities of the project. Many different looks can work for the same video. It's best to focus more on the feel of the piece and less on the look itself. It's a bit easier to get on the same page with how the piece should feel. Once you find the right feel, the look comes through on its own.
LBB> At LBB we always talk about the relationship between colour grading and photography – a lot of colourists are really into it. You mentioned that you’re interested in photography – is that something that inspires your work?
Kody> I fell in love with photography in college. My aunt got me a camera for my birthday, and it never left my side. I started taking it everywhere. I'd be snapping photos of my friends between classes and taking trips to scenic locations to get photos. I follow a lot of photography pages on Instagram, and it's always cool to see the interesting looks people have on their photos. I'm always wondering how that look would translate to video.
LBB> Which recent projects have you been particularly proud of and why?
Kody> I've worked on several really cool projects recently. The first one that comes to mind is an Estrella spot I worked on a few months back. It had a fantastic story about a woman who wanted her deceased husband (who was buried across the Mexican border) to be able to find his way to her during the Day of the Dead. She collected a bunch of marigold petals and had them poured from a plane as it crosses the border, creating a path for his spirit to find her. It was a very moving piece, and a lot of fun to work on. The director, Ken Arlidge, was great to work with and had a really interesting look in mind for the spot. I also got to do coloured dailies for an upcoming Jim Jarmusch film called The Dead Don't Die. It was shot by DP Fred Elms. It was a really good experience getting to work with footage shot by two incredible filmmakers.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were you quite creative as a child?
Kody> I'm from a small town in South Jersey, so it would get kind of boring from time to time. Luckily, my cousins, all roughly my age, lived next door to me. We split our weekends and summers between playing outside, whether it was sports in the backyard or walking through the woods behind our houses, and inside playing various types of video games. Weather permitting, we were outside playing some kind of sport almost every night. I wouldn't say I was a creative child, at least not in an artsy way. I would draw occasionally (never well) usually by printing out pictures of cartoon characters and doing my best to replicate them. Most of my creativity came out when I was reading. I loved to read fantasy books. It was never hard for me to imagine the world the author was describing on the page. It was that love of stories, both written and visual, that drove me to pursue a degree in film and television.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to do? Any obsessions that keep you occupied?
Kody> I'm still very much into reading, and as I've gotten older, that obsession has strayed into writing as well. When I find myself falling in love with the characters in a book, really feeling their struggle in a world that has never existed but that feels as real as this one, I get an overwhelming urge to create something like that myself. Easier said than done, but the feeling comes back every time I read a good book. I sign up for the occasional writing contest and have recently been looking into online writing programs I can do in my free time to advance my writing. Beyond reading, I still love photography, I'm a huge fan of rock climbing, and I never turn down a game of pool.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
Kody> I don't know if I have any creative heroes, at least none that relate to colour. One author comes to mind. Brandon Sanderson. He's written several of my all-time favourite series. He's a huge source of my inspiration to become a writer.
I'm also a big fan of Christopher Nolan. His movies always have really intricate stories that pair perfectly with the stylized looks he goes with. I did a paper in college about his use of colour in Inception to subtly help the audience keep track of what dream level they're in while giving each level its own look.