Grading a Harsh Look for a Violent Yarn and Making Landscapes more Menacing in the Baselight

Brimstone — a brutal drama in four parts set in the American West — is the first English-language film from Dutch director Martin Koolhoven, best-known in the U.S. for his acclaimed 2011 film, Winter in Wartime. Starring Dakota Fanning as a young frontierswoman who is stunned by the appearance in her church of a stern new reverend played by Guy Pearce with an epic mean streak, Brimstone features a nonlinear narrative that tracks backward in time before fast-forwarding to a fiery climax. We talked to colorist Martin Klein, who graded the picture at Amsterdam-based Filmmore, about dialing in the look of the film.

Martin Klein

Martin Klein

Tell us a little about Filmmore, and the hardware and software in your color suite.

Filmmore Amsterdam has various facilities for editing, film and video grading, visual effects and finishing, plus DCP mastering for feature films, television and documentaries. Filmmore Brussels supports both grading and visual effects for feature films and drama series. We run 12 Avid suites for offline editing, five [Filmlight] Baselight grading suites, two Baselight conform seats and six mastering/finishing seats, all divided between our different offices. On top of this, our VFX-department is scalable from five to 40 workstations.

Our Baselight grading suite for cinema is set up as a fully calibrated screening room so we can review the master DCPs with our clients in the room where grading has taken place. We pride ourselves on having our 4K Sony projector calibrated to the very tight SMPTE standards for screening rooms, just as the 7.1 audio system is calibrated to Dolby’s standards.

On our clients’ request, we’ve also set up a specific workflow for drama series working on a budget. Using Sony’s XAVC codec and the Avid AAF protocol, we’ve managed to set-up a seamless transfer from Avid to Baselight, without having to compromise on overall quality.

How long have you been working with Baselight?

Ten years ago, I started working with Baselight for both feature films and drama series at Filmmore Amsterdam and never looked back. Before that I worked on various other colour grading systems such as Lustre, Pogle and DaVinci.

Stills from Brimstone
Courtesy Momentum Pictures

How did you get the job of colorist on Brimstone?

I knew Rogier Stoffers, the DoP, from before he left for the U.S. 15 years ago. Back then we worked on his Oscar-winning film, Character. Last year when he came back to the Netherlands for the film The Surprise, we continued our collaboration and we worked on Brimstone over the year.

How was Brimstone shot and how did you maintain maximum quality in your workflow?

Brimstone was shot on ARRI Alexa XT full-frame raw with ARRI Master Anamorphic primes. We used a full ACES EXR workflow for the VFX, and I graded in ARRI Log C wide gamut, resulting in a 4K P3 DSM master.

Emilia Jones

This film is a western but it sometimes feels a lot like a horror movie. What kind of discussions did you have with Koolhoven and Stoffers about their visual strategy for the film?

It is a thriller that takes place at the end of the 19th century in America. The main idea was that the film should not have a smooth look but a rough and harsh look.

Paul Anderson as Frank in the thriller/western “BRIMSTONE” a Momentum Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Given that the film was shot in Europe, did you make any tweaks to help imagery evoke the feeling of an American western?

We used no special tricks whatsoever. Mainly primary corrections and some keying, shapes and trackers. There was not enough time to give every actor his own shape.

Some of the film’s imagery is extremely violent. Did you ever manipulate the picture to tone down some of the bloodletting — or make it even more vivid?

At the end, where the little girl’s back is whipped — which, of course, was a model — we made the scene a lot darker and a less explicit. Apart from that, there was no need to accentuate the violence since it already had the right mood.

Can you describe any other work you did in a specific shot or sequence to enhance the impact of the images on screen, or to complete the work that Stoffers began in camera?

All scenes were shot really well to begin with and also the VFX shots were such that we hardly encountered problems during grading. What we did however was to enhance effects, such as lightning strikes, and we made wide landscapes more menacing.


I understand you recently QC’d an HDR version of Brimstone. How does making an HDR version affect your workflow process?

In Paris we remastered the 4K digital source master (DSM) in EclairColor. This kind of mastering shows great potential. Working from the normal 4K “low dynamic range” DSM, however, has its limitations. In an ideal world we would have adapted our workflow to be able to grade in EclairColor directly, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible a year ago.

What are you working on now?

I just finished a feature called Alberta, a humorous reflection on the phenomenon of midlife crises.