Freshly promoted MPC colourist on growing up in the Shire, bread baking aspirations and being surrounded by his creative heroes
Philip Hambi has been milling around the post production industry for 10 years, but five years ago made the decision to pursue colour grading as a specialism. Fast forward to today and he's recently been promoted to a bona fide colourist at MPC London after stints as both a colour assistant and junior colourist.
Outside of his new role, he's forever inspired by the bustling streets of Soho and the rolling hills of Malvern, the setting for his childhood and inspiration behind JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. Once upon a time he was also an aspiring baker but it turned he was better handling hues than kneading dough.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more.
LBB> You've just been promoted - congrats! How are you feeling about your new role?
Philip> Honestly, it feels amazing. All those years of hard work and long hours have paid off and I'm absolutely loving my role here at MPC. To come to work each day to do a job I love and work alongside such talented people is truly exciting.
LBB> Becoming a colourist is such a specialised thing – how did you get drawn to it?
Philip> I actually collided with colour grading during my first day as an intern at a super small boutique outfit just off Old Compton street [in London’s Soho]. My first task was to help install their brand new Quantel Pablo IQ grading suite. I was fascinated by the way a colourist can have an emotional impact, with the ability to make people feel elated or nostalgic, unsettled or uncomfortable all using colour. It's such an emotive medium and such an exciting part of the post production process! Basically, from that moment I knew I wanted to be a colourist.
LBB> Tell us a bit about your role as an assistant colourist - how long were you doing it for? What tips would you give someone just setting out as an assistant?
Philip> I learned so much assisting the colourists at MPC, a role I began in 2014 after an initial period in the MPC data lab. The colourists at MPC share such a wealth of knowledge and expertise and it was a fantastic training environment. I was an assistant for three years before being promoted to junior colourist in 2017 and then colourist this August.
In terms of tips - for me, it’s about attention to detail when assisting and seeing every job as an opportunity to observe and learn. I still pick the other MPC colourists’ brains to this day, ask their views, get their feedback… who wouldn’t?
LBB> What are the most important lessons that you learned early in your career?
Philip> If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. This wasn't early on in my career but someone said this to me recently and it’s so true. I've always wanted to keep on learning no matter what I do or where I am in my career! If you think you've reached perfection, you're in the wrong industry. I would say this attitude and mindset is a pretty sure fire way to having a successful career.
LBB> On a ‘typical’ spot, what’s your starting point for finding the right ‘look’?
Philip> I typically start by getting a brief from the director, cinematographer and the creatives on the spot. This lets me know what was discussed on set with regards to why and how the film was shot and what kind of look they were all aiming for from the outset. I'll then work on a shot that gives me the best opportunity to set a look that has those characteristics that we'll want in the spot. This includes its contrast, saturation, palette and, if necessary, grain.
LBB> What’s the key to a successful director-colourist collaboration?
Philip> The key is definitely clear communication and a great relationship between the colourist and the director. There have been jobs where I have graded in London and the director has been in LA. We've only been able to make this happen because of the understanding and trust that we have between us.
LBB> At LBB we always talk about the relationship between colour grading and photography – a lot of colourists are really into it. Is that something that you're into or that inspires your work?
Philip> I love photography and I would love to shoot more, but I simply don't have the time to pursue it to the level that I'd like. Instead, I take my influences from the scenery of everyday life. Walking through Soho on a daily basis gives me plenty of inspiration and when I go to visit my parents I’m absorbed in the surrounding Malvern Hills. Those hills were the inspiration for JRR Tolkien's 'Lord Of the Rings'… what more do you need?
LBB> Which recent projects have you been particularly proud of and why?
Philip> I recently worked on a commercial for the WWF and its message was very powerful - we are running out of time. I feel privileged and proud to have been part of a project with such global impact and importance. Another stand-out piece was a spot that I worked on for GHD. The director, Charlotte Rutherford, shot both the TVC and the stills campaign. My brief was to match the TVC to the stills. Seeing this released was a hugely proud moment as we were really pleased with how the commercial looks in conjunction with the stills.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were you quite creative as a child?
Philip> I grew up in a really small village, just outside Malvern in Worcestershire. It's a very rural and picturesque part of the country. As a child I was quite creative, mainly in the kitchen though. I'd pester my parents to let me cook and bake bread on the weekends. I never really cracked the bread sadly! Always a bit doughy...
LBB> What advice would you give to young people thinking of getting into the industry?
Philip> It's quite simple really, be patient and be prepared to work really hard to achieve your goal. I left university thinking I would get a job straight away, but learned very quickly that I was wrong. I eventually got myself a job as a runner and worked my way up the ladder. I probably wouldn’t be where I am now without that graft. On the plus side, I now know Soho like the back of my hand, however, it has changed quite considerably since then. I also learned a lot about people – how to treat others with respect, build relationships, problem solve. Post production is still a very popular industry and these days more than ever, you need to find the edge that makes you stand out from the crowd. So, work hard, be nice and smile!
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to do? Any obsessions that keep you occupied?
Philip> Any obsessions that I had have definitely gone out of the window recently. I have a two-year-old son and he keeps us super busy at the weekends although I wouldn’t change it for the world. When I have time to myself I do enjoy kicking back and listening to vinyls or cooking. I love a little bit of bouldering early doors on a Sunday morning - helps with body and mind.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
Philip> My younger self would tell you it’s Tom Morello [the guitarist from Rage Against the Machine]. The guys at MPC would definitely be my creative heroes. I'm immensely proud and feel a genuine sense of achievement to be recognised as a colourist alongside these multi-award-winning artists. My ultimate hero is my dad…sorry mum!