- Michael Pettyt
What Was She Wearing? — Designing colour to tell a story
Discover how we helped Shunk Films and Integrate UK fuel important discussions around sexual harassment among young people with their film, What Was She Wearing? Using colour, we made sure the film’s mood and messaging were emphasised according to the client’s goals and vision. Keep reading to learn more.
Integrate UK is a charity that works towards equality and integration by supporting young people with their learning. It funded the short film What Was She Wearing? to highlight issues of sexual harassment in schools.
What Was She Wearing? was created by Shunk Films, a production company based in Bristol. Other notable works by the company include the multi-award-winning horror short, Hungry Joe, and the British drama, A Girl and Her Gun. The Project Fearless cohort of 2020 - 2021, which included young activists and 160 students from four Bristol schools, also helped to develop the film.
The Brief Encounter
Through the short charity film, Integrate UK and Shunk Films wanted to ignite meaningful conversations and debates among teenagers at schools around the topic of sexual harassment and peer pressure. We were asked to colour grade the film, which needed strong key tonal sections to help accent the mood of each scene, emphasising the nature of the film’s subject matter and themes.
A discussion opener
What Was She Wearing? relied purely on music for its soundtrack. The director wanted to take away the layer of information additional sounds would create to highlight the visuals.
With fewer distractions, it would be easier for young people to focus on what was happening in each scene, encouraging them to discuss and debate what they were seeing. Having no sound meant it was even more important to get the grade right.
Each scene in the film had to feel like it had a significant main colour: some scenes had to feel cool (blue tones), some warm (red tones), and some more natural-looking (neutral tones). We needed to convey a serious tone throughout the film, as well as make it reflective of the real world.
Educating, not criminalising
We also needed to make sure that the scenes featuring the harassers weren’t coloured in a way that helped to demonise them. A challenge, but an important one. One of the film’s main purposes was to help young boys — who may harass out of peer pressure – witness the fallout of such actions without feeling targeted. So, they would feel more open to reflecting on and discussing what they were seeing.
Tom Majerski, co-director and head of operations at Tracks and Layers, was the colourist for this project.
He worked alongside the multi-award-winning writer and director, Paul Holbrook. A champion of inclusivity, Paul helps to remove barriers for people getting into the film industry. Tom had previously worked with Paul on some great colour-grading projects, including Hungry Joe and Shiney. They have an open, straightforward relationship which is a huge help when getting projects over the line.
James Oldham, a freelance director of photography (DOP), was also on the team. He’s a multi-award-winning cinematographer and long-time collaborator of Tracks and Layers. Having also worked on several projects together, such as Blank (a feature film), CTRL Z, and Another Happy Ever After, James and Tom have a strong working relationship, which had a big impact on this project, as you’re about to discover.
Thanks to this strong working relationship and previous collaborations along with Paul and James's close involvement during the grade, the whole process for this project went very smoothly and only took a day to complete. Keep reading to learn how this impacted the project.
Step 1 - Getting on the same page
Before Tom colour graded the film, he sat down with Paul and James to discuss the content and its subject matter. They talked about:
how the film came together
how it had been directed
the decisions made behind each shot
the way certain scenes had been lit
This was to make sure that everybody was on the same page technically and creatively. Tom paid close attention, making sure he understood how Paul and James felt about certain things so he could truly get into their mindset and adopt their vision.
Step 2 - Finding the ‘best look’
Next, the trio looked at key shots within key scenes to explore different ideas. Experimenting at this point helped them consider the different looks they could apply to the film to get across the director and DOP’s intentions.
Sometimes a film has one look all the way through, but What Was She Wearing? lent itself well to multiple looks due to the shifting mood throughout the film. Although these different looks didn’t produce a jarring effect. They’d simply drawn out the right tone for each scene in subtle ways.
Step 3 - Colour grading
Tom got his head down and applied the grade using DaVinci Resolve. Paul and James gave him some breathing room at this stage to let him flesh out the grade for the remainder of the film.
Tom’s main goal was to use colour to evoke specific emotions in each scene. For example, towards the latter half of the film, there’s a scene at a school disco where one of the main characters becomes lost in the moment. It’s a glimpse of her own self discovery and willingness to allow herself to be relaxed and comfortable in a safe space.
The audience needed to feel what she was feeling, understanding that girls (and women in general) shouldn’t have to be on the defensive all the time; that it’s okay to live and be vulnerable. Tom experimented with rich reds and pinks to create a warm and dreamy effect reminiscent of teenage innocence and freedom. All the while, he was treading the line between what’s real and what’s dramatic to find that perfect balance.
Layers of Feedback
Due to the nature of the colour grading process, the film was fine-tuned throughout the grade as Tom listened to and actioned Paul and James' feedback. If they hadn't been there from the start to provide their input, the process would have taken much longer and the results might have been less reflective of the film’s overall goal.
Ultimately, it was the team effort that brought all the moving parts together in wonderful ways. Tom’s work meant that the film’s purpose was emphasised in line with the client’s vision. He gave Paul and James his full attention, cared about the results and was focused on helping the client achieve their goal and make a real impact through the poignant film.
Watch the film
The thought-provoking What Was She Wearing? is available to watch on YouTube. It’s currently being used as an educational resource nationally to train teachers and educate students about sexual harassment and assault, and encourage discussion around toxic masculinity, victim-blaming and rape culture.
Thoughts from the client
“We knew that our use of colour in the film was going to have a big impact on its emotional pull, so for that we approached Tom at Tracks & Layers. His expertise brought a real freshness and vibrancy to the final product."
James Oldham, Director of Photography
“As a director, working alongside my creative collaborators to honour the young people's ideas and themes, while at the same time ensuring we delivered something to professional technical and narrative standards, was a challenge I very much enjoyed.”
Paul Holbrook, Director
Got a short film or advertisement that needs expert colour grading? We give every project the attention it deserves – get in touch today by calling 0161 2981214 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.