Blackmagic Design announced today that the feature film “Last Call”, which was shot in two simultaneous 80 minute takes, was colored in DaVinci Resolve Studio by colorist and cinematographer Seth Wessel-Estes, who also used the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel in his workflow.
“Last Call” follows a suicidal alcoholic on the anniversary of his son’s death. When he attempts to call a crisis hotline, a misdial connects him with a single mother working as the night janitor at a local community college. The split screen feature showcases both characters in realtime as they navigate a life changing conversation.
Director Gavin Booth was no stranger to single take projects, having experience directing a number of one act plays and single shot music videos. He was also director on the Blumhouse project “Fifteen,” which was the world’s very first movie broadcast live, also in a single take. “Last Call” would be a unique approach to filmmaking, in the vein of films such as “Timecode” and “Russian Ark”, both early inspirations for Booth.
Both Booth and cinematographer Wessel-Estes, who was also the colorist on the film, knew there would be significant challenges in coloring a movie without edits, and with two constantly moving shots around a cityscape. “Figuring out the approach of how to color the film was a pretty daunting task,” said Wessel-Estes. “We hadn’t ever had to color anything longer than a three or four minute shots in the past.”
In preparation, both Booth and Wessel-Estes shot a single take music video for the band Bleu before starting on “Last Call,” working up not only a workflow for production but also a process for handling a constantly changing image.
“Last Call” would present a myriad of challenges to the team, all of which would be reflected in the final image that would need to be colored. Each of the characters would be filmed simultaneously, connected only by the cell phone call that was the link in the movie. Booth would follow one character, and Wessel-Estes the other.
“We needed to reduce the amount of crew for both camera and sound,” reflected Booth. “There couldn’t be a camera assistant or a boom operator. There was nowhere to hide everyone or avoid boom shadows throughout the full single take on either side of the movie. We had to work with our sound mixers to double lav the actors and rely solely on that.”
Booth and Wessel-Estes were also the camera operators, and would need to pull their own focus, while the gaffer would have to figure out how to use a mixture of practical lighting as well as hide every single cable and film light since the single take on either side would move 360 degrees through the space. Moving from inside to outside or even room to room meant that the camera’s exposure needed to seamlessly adjust at the same time. Every element would either help or hinder the final look, and the team knew they had limited time and budget to get it right.
For the look of the project, Booth wanted to maintain a realistic style, and avoid an exaggerated or otherwise over colored look that might have distracted from the character driven drama. “With the use of the long take to show ‘reality’ we wanted to keep it feeling as truthful as possible. For us, having too much of a look on a piece like this can take away from the rawness. We wanted the audience to feel like they were there with the two characters, hanging on every tense word they exchange.”
Once in post, Wessel-Estes knew that having a single long take, and hundreds of node corrections on the single shot would be unmanageable. Instead, he imported the project into Resolve and used the Edit panel to place cuts throughout the film to give him transition points. “I was able to go in and make cuts along the timeline which acted as scene markers. That way I could individually color each ‘scene’ or area by itself. Luckily with the Resolve editing panel I was able to go in and create edits and use cross dissolves to smoothly and dynamically transition between graded sections.”
Wessel-Estes also used the Davinci Resolve Micro Panel for color grading. “It enabled me to not only grade more efficiently but also to have more fine tuned tactile control of individual parameters. Since our look was so naturalistic, I ended up doing tons of very small, subtle corrections which would have been a hassle without having a control surface.”
With a split screen showing each character’s part of the story, Booth and Wessel-Estes had a host of challenges to manage. As the camera moved from location to location, both interior and exterior, they knew they would be faced with completely different lighting and exposures throughout the film, requiring careful grading to both marry segments while respecting each new look. “Since we were working with some uncontrolled lighting situations we had to go in and do dynamic exposure and color adjustments as the camera and character move from one space to another.”
Matching the two sides of the film so they felt cohesive throughout was also very important. Each half of the screen had its own ‘look’ but also needed to blend effectively so that the audience wasn’t distracted by the visual contrast of the split screen. “Using the built in comparison tools to bring up images side by side as well as the various scopes enabled us to ensure the look would remain cohesive throughout.”
Wessel-Estes also used a fair amount of vingetting that needed to be keyframed in order to track with the moving camera. “The built in smart tracking inside of Resolve was hugely helpful for a lot of this work, and I love how simple yet effective it is.” Other Resolve tools, such as HSL keys, sharpening masks and advanced keyframing controls came in handy when coloring a single take film. “Having all of these tools at my fingertips enabled me to add a degree of finesse to the look of the finished movie which just wouldn’t have been possible on set.”
With “Last Call” taking awards at 25 international film festivals and release slated in theaters on September 18th, Booth is proud of what they have accomplished, achieving a style he has long admired in other projects. “As a filmmaker I have forever been obsessed with long take storytelling; and with audience and critics response, I am thrilled our film’s story rises above the ‘gimmick’ of a long take. For me, ‘Last Call’ felt like the next evolution of a filmmaking challenge.”