If you're making a thriller about a cannibal, you need to pay close attention to the colour of the walls.
When the indie film He Never Died was shooting on the outskirts of Toronto about a year ago, the producers found a classic diner which they figured would be perfect for some scenes. But the walls were all wrong – a cheery teal rather than, say, a muted green – and there was no time or money to repaint. So a couple of weeks ago the film's producer, Zach Hagen, and writer-director Jason Krawczyk hunkered down in an edit suite of the downtown Toronto postproduction house Rolling Picture Company to make sure their film looked appropriately gloomy.
"This would fit maybe a romantic comedy," explained Drake Conrad, Rolling Picture's senior colourist, showing a visitor the original colour of the diner walls. "But it doesn't fit this movie about dead guys and killing. So every time [a scene in] the diner comes up, I have to sort of tear it apart."
Conrad does much more than change the colour of walls, though. "You come in, just like you do with any artist on set, and you're like: 'This is what we're trying to do,'" said Krawczyk. Postproduction changes "add an aesthetic you can't do with just light and filters."
When this country's film and television industry convenes in Toronto on Sunday night for the Canadian Screen Awards gala broadcast – our answer to Hollywood's Oscars and Emmys – Rolling Picture will have a tiny but noteworthy claim on the ceremony: Two of the six films up for best picture were finished at the company's headquarters on Richmond Street. The postproduction work of the sort Rolling Picture does – little-seen but vital tweaks – helps ensure viewers aren't distracted by technical flaws.
That can be especially important for a genre film such as He Never Died, which will premiere at the South by Southwest festival next month. On this day of postproduction, Hagen and Krawczyk were concerned about one scene in which the main character, played by Henry Rollins, bloodily kills another man. There was a prosthetic body part they were concerned might seem fake on screen.
"We know how critical the Internet can be," said Hagen. "Growing up, watching these films and being a part of the [genre] community for so long, it's very easy to be taken out of that if the filmmakers aren't true to the image quality, to what they're trying to get across. Everybody's looking for a moment to sort of say, 'Oh, it was fun, but – that was wrong,' or 'The VFX were wrong.' You just want to sort of build your armour in a way that you don't allow them to sort of chink it."
As he spoke, Conrad began working on the opening sequence, which needed adjusting: The lettering of the credits was too crisp. "You did a bit of a blur last time," Hagen said to Conrad. "You want to make them feel a little bit more in the image, as opposed to on top of it." Someone quipped, "Karaoke credits," and Hagen laughed.
Hagen and Krawczyk, whose company Alternate Ending Studios is already developing a TV series spinoff of He Never Died, shot the film in Toronto for a variety of reasons, including financial incentives. But they were also impressed with the local crew. "There's no air of ego," said Hagen, echoing other foreign producers. "People are in it for the right reason – they like making movies, they like telling stories."
And then there are the postproduction houses, which have adapted as the industry has changed. Conrad used to spend two to three weeks on a film, "but the budgets have come down," he said. "Now it's like one to one-and-a-half weeks."
He turned back to his console to tweak another scene in the diner, darkening the background so the viewer's attention would be drawn more to Rollins in the foreground.
"I'm the cliché. If they say, 'Fix it in post,' it means I have work to do."
The Canadian Screen Awards are broadcast live on CBC TV, Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.