Electric Theatre Collective colourist explains his route to grading and various passions, from record collecting to skateboarding
Tim Smith grew up with a camera in his hand, thanks to his father’s keen interest in photography. He’s never grown out of this passion, but while he spent his childhood in the great outdoors photographing the English countryside, nowadays he spends most of his time in a dark suite in London working as a colourist at Electric Theatre Collective. In the three years since he joined the Collective from The Mill, he’s progressed from colour assist to colourist, along the way collaborating with some of the best up-and-coming directors such as Dan Emmerson, Bafic, Hugo Jenkins and MOBO award-winning director Oliver Jennings on a variety of promos for artists such as Dizzie Rascal, Rejjie Snow, Wiley, J Hus, Burna Boy and DJ Shadow. In the commercial area, Tim has worked on projects for brands such as Sony, Adidas, Diane Von Furstenberg, Bershka and Ralph Lauren.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him to get a sense of where he’s coming from.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were you quite creative as a child?
TS> I grew up in a small village in Worcestershire (yes where the sauce is from). It was a beautiful place to grow up and spend my childhood, I was surrounded by fields, cows and sheep. The nearest shop was a 20-minute drive so as you can imagine, not a huge amount going on. As a child I definitely swayed towards the creative side of things. I had a huge love for art and music which was very important in my household, there was always a good record playing and lots of interesting books for me to read. Photography was a key part of my childhood as my dad was pretty good with a camera and shot a lot of film, that was definitely inspiring to me.
LBB> Becoming a colourist is such a specialised thing – how did you get drawn to it?
TS> I first saw colour grading fairly early on when I started out in post production. This was at the tail end of the telecine days just before Baselight became king. I already had a good knowledge of Photoshop and editing on Final Cut at the time so it was really intriguing to see this powerful machine processing images this way. And the suites were pretty cool too. It also really connected with me in terms of the way the image could be processed in such a photographic way.
LBB> You joined ETC as a colour assistant – how did you get to hear about the company, and what was that experience like?
TS> I previously worked at The Mill and some of my friends had moved over to ETC at the beginning, so it was always on my radar. I always knew they were doing lots of really great work and I eventually ended up here. Assisting was a great experience and incredibly essential, it’s a tough job and can mean working long hours and late nights, especially if you want to do your own grading work outside of that. But it really is worth it as it makes you a much more rounded individual and you truly appreciate your place in the industry seeing as you have to work so hard for it.
LBB> What are the most important lessons that you learned early in your career?
TS> Work hard and be nice to people.
LBB> You've worked with some really talented directors like Hugo Jenkins and Dan Emmerson. What’s the key to a successful director-colourist collaboration?
TS> It is really important to be able to have a good relationship with the director on a personal level and also to understand what they are trying to do creatively, as everyone has their own direction. My job as a colourist is to help them achieve the look they want to propel their vision as far as it can go, and I think collaborating in the suite is incredibly important and so much fun. You really can bounce ideas around the room, and come up with some amazing work if you are both open to each other's ideas.
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?
TS> Photography has been the single most important part of my development in terms of the way I approach grading creatively and technically, and also how I see the world. I started shooting film at a very early age, around eight or nine my dad gave me John Hedgecoe’s guide to photography (old, but highly recommended if you are into analogue formats). It covered everything regarding film photography, from loading the film to developing and printing. I read it cover-to-cover and then started shooting and I have never stopped. It is a huge influence on my work, from looking at the way colour is used in Alex Webb or William Eggleston’s photography to seeing the way Brassai or Trent Parke used contrast, these things stick with you and will always be a subconscious part of your creative process.
LBB> What advice would you give to young people thinking of getting into the industry?
TS> Be prepared to make mistakes and learn, work really hard and believe in what you are doing and it will eventually pay off. People appreciate hard work and you are rewarded for it in both the workplace and yourself.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to do? Any obsessions that keep you occupied?
TS> Record collecting. I have been buying them since I was pretty young. You will see me floating around most record shops in London with a stack of old records under my arm, particularly jazz as that’s my main collecting passion. I play a lot of these on a radio show I host alongside a good friend on a station called NTS Live (you can check out the show here). I’m a skateboarder, another thing I have been doing since I was a kid. It's a little bit tricky to get out and do it now as I am so busy but a nice Saturday session on the board with friends is great.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
TS> Anyone who is brave enough to put their emotion and experience into their art.