Spotlight on Armando Salas, ASC

Can you share with the group how HDR came into your life? What was your experience, your first impressions and especially how, and if they have changed at all, with the other projects you’ve done?

A.S.: I was hired on Ozark, on season 2. I was finishing another show and I was alternating with Ben Kutchins and I was a fan of the show, I talked to Ben, I interviewed with Jason Bateman, I got the job. I get to Atlanta, I start prepping. There were a lot of disconnects with the post house that Ben wasn’t happy with, but he was already shooting, and he wasn’t happy with the way dailies were looking, and I was like well, “I’m going to fix this.”

So I went and rebuilt the workflow. And this is an SDR workflow. And once I got that bulletproof and rebuilt the LUTs, and made sure that everything was tracking, and we were really happy with the color information, it was basically like, “That’s so great, but we’re going to have to throw this all out and start over when we get to final color.” And I said, “What do you mean?” “We’re delivering in Dolby Vision.” And I said, “What? No one has mentioned Dolby or HDR to me,” and at that point, I was already shooting my first block. So my first experience with HDR was panic-inducing.

And I’ve actually talked to Netflix about this, that when they do the outreach, showing, you know, people like Jason Bateman, a color-corrected version of the first season remapped into HDR, and the colorist has done everything he could to make the intent look the same, but now in a new color space, and everyone in the room is going, “Ooh, Ahh,” right? You still need to help facilitate a shift of paradigm and mentality in terms of the whole production. Many cinematographers I’ve talked to and admire, I say, “You’re shooting this show for Apple or Amazon or Netflix and you’re delivering it in HDR, in Dolby Vision or you’re delivering in HDR10 or whatever.” And they’re like, “Yeah, my post-producer said to just shoot it the same. It’s not ready for prime time to do an HDR workflow so I’m just going to do that.” 

And, you know, when people don’t know the technology or don’t understand it, they’re either afraid it could cost too much or they’re afraid that it’s going to be a mess and that it’s going to be complicated. You know, when we moved from film to digital, workflows were a mess, right? But I believe it’s the responsibility of cinematographers and post-producers to learn about technology. And I’ve been very clear with all the post-producers I’ve worked with since then: “This is what we’re going to do and I need you to get on board and support me in that process.” It’s not, “Do you think we should do this?”, it’s “This is what we’re going to do and let’s figure out how to do it.”

And it’s been very easy. We haven’t had any major hiccups. Basically, I finished Ozark and was hired to do Raising Dion, also for Netflix. And I said, “This is the end of that. We’re going to be in an HDR workflow from beginning to end. And I’m going to see the color space that we’re working in from our test day all the way through final color.”


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