Interviews with Industry

Chaitawat Thrisansri, Colourist of Call Me By Your Name

A well established colourist, Chaitawat Thrisansri has worked on a variety of projects, most recongnisably, Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Call Me By Your Name.’

Lift-Off got the chance to speak to Chaitawat about how he became involved with Call Me By Your Name, the role of a colourist, and how he achieved the unforgettable dream-like and hazy look of the film. 

Interview by Lauren Macaree

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in the industry and how did you go about making it a reality?

I never thought of it before. At first, I studied multimedia, writing computer code, and web design. One day, my friend who took an internship at White Light asked me to work here. That’s the start. I was the first employee in this company. All the partners in White Light always have passion. “It’s gonna be fun”, I thought. “Let’s give it a chance.”

So, I started from digital conform and subtitling. After that, I had the chance to be an assistant colorist. I started working on small projects and White Light founder’s project. From those independent film projects and films from White Light’s founders, I gained more and more experience in color grading.

I prefer creative work rather than being a technician since I’ve been working in graphic design before. If I had to choose one position in the company, colorist would be my choice. It took one year to improve my skills to be a colorist. After that, I’ve been working until now and I never stop learning.

Is there a specific film that sparked your interest in the industry?

 I wasn’t a film buff so there was no particular movie that inspiredme to be a part of this industry. It was the film industry itself that tempted me. I’m so excited and inspired by the industry. It made me fall in love with films and forget that Java and computer code.

For an outsider, what does your day to day as a colourist consist of?

At White Light, I’m the lead colorist. I work eight hours a day. On a normal prep day, the DOP or director and myself watch the film together then talk and discuss the mood and tone. What can I design or adjust to fit with DOP/director’s need? What do I want the DOP/director to see in his/her film?

At first, I input my ideas and gauge their feedback. Sometimes I do a one-light, basic grade to show them some different looks, so they can see which direction the color will go. After the initial brief,  I work on the color grading by myself before doing the final review with the director and DOP.

Do you have a process for choosing what projects you involve yourself in? Do you look for anything specific in the project? Themes? Script? etc.

I choose projects based on the script, the production, and the director and DOP. If the film is scripted well, produced well, and shot well, it gives me more room to experiment with the image and push it to its fullest potential. If the project is shot on film like “Call Me By Your Name,” it’s even better.

I really like the look of film: the grain, the color and the tone, especially the way film reflects the world. I love to work with a director who cares about the details and a DOP who is dedicated to their work.

You worked on the absolutely astonishing film ‘Call Me By Your Name.’ How did you become involved with this project? What attracted you to the film?

 ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a wonderful movie. Thanks to Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, the DOP, I had the opportunity to color this film. We had worked together before on many projects so he suggested to do the color grading at White Light.

It was filmed on 35mm film. That’s very rare to find nowadays in Thailand. I had graded some 8mm and 16mm film but never 35mm. I really like the film look.

Sayombhu ask me to work with him on this project. It was very lucky for me. I totally put my whole input for this film. He gave me the space to work. I studied the time and light in Italy. When is it dawn and when is it dark? What does the light feel like? Then I searched for some real pictures before I started to do the color grading.

My first direction was a more blue tone. We slowly adjusted the color in each pass until we arrived at the final version.

I read this quote from the director, Luca Guadagnino: ‘​The look of movie is decided in-camera. It’s about control. It’s about making something live and real, not artificial. When you see the original material after the one light transfer, you will see end result of the movie. Any other post manipulation of the image is just a balance​.” What did this mean for your role?

I agree with this. The best color is that captured naturally in camera. Sayombhu is the perfect DOP for this. No matter what kind of digital work we apply, we must maintain the natural feeling of the color and light in the image. There are always some adjustments to make it feel more organic, more lively, not artificial and as natural as it can be. In post, we can control the lighting and detail. We can key different layers. But we must be subtle so when it’s finished, it will look real and natural.

The overall tone of the film (apart from the end sequence) is very light and made up of pastel colours. Very dreamlike. How did you achieve this look?

I tried to show natural tone of the image. I try to follow the art direction and costume design. I design it like in the whole world there are just the two of them (the main characters). Actually, most of the style comes from the production design. I just lift it up. Adjust some lighting and color in the highlights, shadows, contrast, or exposure of each scene. I try to maintain the emotion and atmosphere when they love and hate each other. I tried many ways until we got what you see in the screen.

Following on from the last question, the ending sequence is noticeably darker and made up of blander colours, how did you go about achieving this look? Were there many versions before the final product was decided?

In my opinion, the story is about two people. Summer-time is full of brightness, coming of age, and puppy love. But in the end, what the character feels is sorrow. He is deeply sad. Of course, there are many ways to show this. When they shot the ending scene, it is the first winter we see in this movie. Growing up in Thailand, I didn’t know what the real winter is like. So I let my emotion guide me. What I feel for this scene is the key. Seasons change. The color has to have some mood shift that shows that change. So I went for the darker and more desaturated look.

Is there a difference at all when working on film rather than digital footage?

It’s a big difference. Film is amazing. The feeling of film; its grain, element, color tone and range is unique. Even when the highlights are blown out, it still feels natural. The edges are still soft and clear white. It’s different from digital. Digital will be artificial. When its highlights are blown out, there’s no detail in it. I think film feels more complete.

When coming aboard a project such as this one, what is your working relationship with the director?

At first, I did color grading in Thailand with Sayombhu (DOP). He shared his thoughts when he filmed with me. Then he let me do my job. Let me set the look. He asked me to focus on my feelings, “How do you feel?”

When it’s dark, it needed to be real dark. Don’t worry if the face of the character is in the shadows. When sun shines, it needs to be dazzling for the audience. We use only emotion, mood and tone. After we watched the film together, we talked. Then we went to Italy and tuned the color once more with Luca. We didn’t change much there.

From your personal experience, does it take you any time to adjust to projects that are quite different from each other, or do you simply complete one project, figure out your next approach, and go on from there?

I work on both feature films and TV commercials. Films are more natural and give me more room to experiment. TV commercials are much more tied to visual references. When I switch between two kinds of projects, I need some time to reset my mind. I prefer to focus on one project at a time if I can. Like ‘Call Me By Your Name’, we spent 10-15 days on the color grading. When we watched it over and over, we will feel something. After I finish color grading one pass, I will go outside or somewhere else, and then come back and watch it again. If I feel the same, it’s the right one. If not, I try another pass.

What do you think the biggest surprise about the role of a colourist would be to an outsider?

I sit on the chair too long. So, when I have lunch, I will stand instead.

If someone wants to pursue a career as a colourist, how would you recommend they go about it?

Everyone can call easily call himself/herself a colorist. You really need to have passion and not be easily satisfied. You have to love both the technical and creative aspects, not just applying a look-up table (LUT). A colorist also needs experience to synchronize your eyes with the color grading interface.

You need to know how people think, some kind of psychology. You can learn that through your experience. When you work enough, you will start to have more creative input on the image. And the most important thing is to be happy with being a colorist.

Call Me By Your Name is available on Digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray. 

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