If being a good colourist boils down to taste, then
Jet Omoshebi is taste maker supreme. Omoshebi is a superstar colourist, one of
a handful of artists worldwide whose talent attracts directors, DPs and
agencies to work with her.
“Grading is so subjective, there is very little right or
wrong to it,” she says. “A client is really employing someone to be an
interface between their taste and the machine or computer which will deliver
it. Two colourists with different tastes will attract different clientele.”
You will have seen her work on some of the highest
profile TV drama of the last decade including Life on Mars (2006); Law & Order:UK; Emma (2009); Da Vinci’s Demons (2013) Line of Duty (2012-17);
Fortitude (2015); The Night
Manager (2016); Rellik (2017); Collateral (2018) and most recently Sky Atlantic
and FX series Trust.
She had wanted to be a sound engineer, having become
fascinated with the idea of playing with audio when travelling with her father,
a session musician, around various recording studios in the 1970s.
“I always thought I’d do something around music or
radio, but I found the industry a very male dominated profession in the late
eighties and quite difficult to crack,” she says.
A media course after leaving school gave her
essential if unpaid work experience in Soho and led to employment as
receptionist at Video London Sound Studios, her break into the industry. Or so
“I worked my way up to be a sound assistant
transferring sound effects from bits of 16mm onto tape. It was all very low
But her progress was checked by the attitude of male
colleagues. “I met a lot of resistance,” she says. “They had
never had a woman on the technical side of things.
”They told me they didn’t think I was ever going to
make it in sound and that my best bet was to get my typing speed up and maybe
work in reception or bookings. I was kind of incensed by this. I’d worked hard
to claw up from reception, but anger is such a wonderful motivating thing and I
was determined to prove them wrong.”
Quitting the position, Omoshebi applied for “any job
I was interested in and qualified for” and landed an interview at Rushes.
In 1990, still run by visionary founder Godfrey Pye,
the facility was starting to establish a worldwide reputation for post
producing commercials and pop promos using the latest technology like Quantel
Paintbox and pin-register telecines. But they didn’t do sound.
“I was just excited by the whole prospect of working
with pictures and I guess that enthusiasm came through because they took me
on,” she recalls.
“Although I was just printing labels for the first
few months my knowledge of film handling gained from working in film sound
amazed them. Most of the others there couldn’t [work with film] since they were
video kids. That was my introduction to telecine.”
While the technique of working with negative paid off,
Omoshebi also found similarities in the art of film and sound mixing.
“Both are a kind of emotional storytelling,” she
elaborates. “When you’re mixing sound what you are doing is guiding your
listener through a narrative in a subliminal way to generate an emotional
response to the picture. Grading is much the same. You can influence the way
people feel about something without using language, on a subconscious level.
The energy behind grading is very similar to mixing. I also feel that it is
during both processes that the client first starts to feel the project
In the late 1980s and early 1990s telecine machines
cost a million pounds and facilities attracted clients by marketing a Cintel
Ursa or Spirit DataCine rather than pushing any talent.
“You could do less with those machines but less was
expected of you, and that made it easier to shine if you could do something no
one else had found,” says Omoshebi who had progressed to colourist by 1993.
“The technology evolved from just about being able to
change the density and overall colour balance to being able to perform
secondary grading – to key into one colour and make it light or dark or dense.
“Now, picture manipulation has become anything you want it
to be,” she adds.
“What hasn’t kept up with the pace of change is the
timescales. Whereas grading has become vastly more complicated timescales have
This is becoming more acute as production gains
higher and higher resolution. "What people don’t realise is that grading at 4K is
very different from HD. With higher resolution there is nothing hidden. Unlike
film, which has a wonderful tolerance from shot to shot, video at 4K will show
up every small detail. This means you need a lot more tools and a lot more time
than you used to, to keep the bits of detail you want and also to preserve the
magic of narrative storytelling.”
High Dynamic Range (HDR), fast becoming a routine
deliverable, is welcomed by Omoshebi for its aesthetic opportunities despite
surprising resistance from some DoPs and directors.
“Any change which means you are able to see so much
more on screen will worry a DoP about whether they’re going to have enough time
to light, shoot or grade for it,” she says. “In the right hands HDR does look
very beautiful and enhances the viewing experience but if done without care it
can look garish.”
While building relationships with key creatives lies at
the heart of her profession, the colourist often has the least input into the
look of a show. “We’re not there for the shoot and rarely for pre-production
talks,” Omoshebi reveals. "We’re not there during the weeks and weeks a DoP
and director talk about the look and feel of the show and we literally have
three days at the end when we’re supposed to key into all the conversations
they’ve had until that moment.
”Generally, [colourists] do a very good job at very
quickly interpreting what is expected from the outcome of all those
conversations where we weren’t present.
She adds though that creatives “who understand the
value of grading” will ask for her input as part of pre-production discussions
including on lens choice, costume and production design.
“The closer you are to those conversations the
better you are able to serve at the end,” she says. “We can advise on things like, if you are shooting
an actor in a certain colour room, what is going to be the best contrast? How
can you separate the skin tone and are you going to be able to subtly change a
colour if it’s not right? How will it look on TV? How will it look on a certain
film stock emulation? What can we do to facilitate the look of a period piece?
Can we match the distortion of a wide angle anamorphic lens in post? There is
an incredible array of things where a colourist can be really helpful.”
A key tool of a colourist’s trade is diplomacy in
working with clients who may be very clear or very uncertain of the look they
have in mind.
“Some clients like to be led but quite often it’s
about setting aside personal taste and going with the direction you would not
necessarily have taken. You have to get on board with what their vision and
still come up with something good that serves the dream of the director.”
Taste, like fashion, fades in and out but
intriguingly Omoshebi links grading colour trends with the state of the
“When the economy is good people tend to want a more
rugged, deconstructed, experimental look to their pictures. When money is tight
people want more to see more expensive production values. It plays against the
prevailing mood. The current trend is for an honest and natural look. We’ve
been through a period where images looked very manipulated with lots of CGI and
I think people want less artificial, less obviously manipulated looks.
“We’re in the business of creating magic and increasingly
clients don’t want to do this in VFX. They want to make storytelling as natural
as possible which means more of the finished product is achieved in the grade
and that is something that takes an awful lot of technology.”
While Omoshebi has been at the top of her game for many
years, winner of an RTS award for Life
on Mars and recognised by the Women in Film and Television craft award
in 2007, she has had to earn her spurs perhaps more than her male peers.
“I don’t want to say anyone was unnecessarily mean to me,
but it has been harder to convince people at times that I’ve been able to do
the job,” she says. “A lot of people would walk into a suite and were
sceptical they were going to get the best job. In a way it’s like walking into
a car repair garage and you see a female mechanic. It’s just that people are
used to seeing a man in these roles.
“But the business has changed in a lot of ways,” she
insists. “There are so many more women in all kinds of roles.
I’ve had the chance to train half a dozen lady assistants and the grading
department at Goldcrest has three females and two male colourists.
“There are fewer female Heads of Department and
fewer female directors and cinematographers than there should be. Some
countries are more progressive than others. For example, in New Zealand the
majority of colourists are female. Change still needs to happen but, overall,
I’d say there’s no impediment now for women to get into post production.”
Omoshebi has brought her distinct talents to bear at
facilities including MPC, Complete Video, Pepper Post and SVC (the latter three
now defunct). She joined Digital Film Lab in Copenhagen, where she graded the
feature Underworld before
moving back to London enjoying stints at Deluxe and Company 3.
“It’s really about being able to progress as an
artist,” she explains. “I feel a need to keep challenging myself so as not to
get stale and the way I’ve done that is by moving around.”
She moved to Goldcrest Post last year to help set-up
its TV department. “It’s quite difficult to learn new things when you get to a
certain stage so when new technology is released you have to learn it on the
job. It’s been a wonderful privilege to do that by moving between facilities.”