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Colorist Ted Brady Discusses His Work On “Better Call Saul”

By Marjorie Galas

Look up at the sky. What color do you see? While the sky is often blue while out in the New Mexico desert, the “Better Call Saul” crew saw the color shift to gray during production. Cue Ted Brady, a final colorist at FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted (KMP) TV post facility. Through the magic of his craft, Brady was able to make that gray sky blue.

Brady began his career as a producer and film editor before zeroing in on color timing in the early 2000’s. Throughout his career he shifted between films including “By the Sea”: and “Finding Neverland” to television, including “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” and “Arrested Development.” Brady had encountered Peter Gould, co creator of “Better Call Saul”, at his company’s gym, but didn’t have a professional exchange until “Better Call Saul” producer Diane Mercer suggested Brady for the job.

“The KMP colorist on “Breaking Bad” retired, so they were looking for someone new. Diane had worked with me on ‘Arrested Development’ and she brought us altogether,” said Brady.

Gilligan, with co-creator Peter Gould, wanted to establish a new look for the “Breaking Bad” prequel. The show follows Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) a defense attorney struggling to land cases and stay on the right side of the law. Unlike “Breaking Bad’s” handheld documentary style shooting, “Better Call Saul” utilizes longer static shots that allow the action to fully play out. Still shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the show moved away from the darker Earth tones and monochromatic color palette seen in “Breaking Bad.” “Better Call Saul” utilizes specific color themes for different locations including McGill’s brother Chuck’s house (to emphasize his fear of electricity), the brashness of the Hamlin-McGill office building and brighter and clearer colors for scenes in the desert.

“Vince likes big contrast. We looked at the paintings of Edward Hooper, including Nighthawks. He liked how Hopper kept the colors bright, despite the darkness,” said Brady. “Take Jimmy’s office. The nail salon is extremely bright, almost cartoonish. Then you walk through to Jimmy’s office which is has a dark orange tone regardless of whether it’s day or night.”

Before any work commenced, Brady met with “Better Call Saul” DP Arthur Albert to discuss the shooting style. Working with the Red Dragon at 6K, Albert had specific looks he was aiming to capture in the season’s numerous sets. As he began working, Brady would review work with Gilligan, Gould and Mercer to address specific points the producers had regarding the final look. The work is done at 4K at KMP.

“With Vince, the detail is narrowed down to specific frames,” said Brady. “He has very strong opinions and views; he knows exactly what he is looking for. That attention really makes it a great pleasure to work in this group.”

On set, Albert and the show’s dailies colorist collaborate through the use of FotoKem’s FRAMES iPad app, a proprietary tool that enables immediate and accurate viewing of dailies color. The DP can refresh the file, review new images and make adjustments that go back to the dailies. With this tool, the dailies colorist doesn’t have to manage a LUT or CDL on set – the FRAMES file goes to Brady who then makes adjustments based on that recorded information. From time to time, he may ignore this information and start over if he sees a stronger choice for the story.

Working on “Better Call Saul”, Brady has found Gilligan, Gould and Mercer open to any suggestions offered that improve the scene – a level of creative expression extended to members of the production’s crew.

“This show offers quite a bit of room creatively. There was a flashback scene with Mike (Jonathan Banks) in Philly. I wanted to create a specific look and Diane said ‘Don’t be afraid to be bold,’” said Brady. “I gave my ideas and went heavy on the blues, and it helped tell the story.”

Brady also works with VFX – about 95% are done at KMP to ensure colors remain true throughout a scene. On the day the crew dealt with gray rain clouds, the story required a bright blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds. VFX removed the rain clouds, and added a consistent cloud type through the scene. Brady had to maintain a seamless color between different angles and close-ups, ensuring continuity amongst every detail.

Complex VFX shots add to an already strict time crunch to an hour-long show. Brady will receive an assembled edit that may lack completed VFX. He has two days to complete his work. The first day he works independently. The second day he works with Albert, who may have some minor adjustment notes. Mid-day, Gilligan, Gould and Mercer will review the edit and provide final comments. The work is finalized when any pending VFX shots are completed.

Brady has enjoyed discovering Gilligan’s finesse for utilizing every portion of the screen. He often will misdirect action within the 16 x 9 frame to purposely create juxtaposition. He admires Gilligan’s commitment to providing a high quality weekly “movie”, and the talented crew who pull together to make the sixty minute “movie” on a television budget.

“We could be spending up to 60 hours but we only have the budget for television,” said Brady. “We all work together collaboratively and do in 16 hours what looks like 40. Every part of every frame looks great. It’s been an absolute joy to work on this show. The producers and crew are like no other.”

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