Colourist John Crowley and DP Richard Rutkowski developed specialBaselight-The-Americans-4
looks for ‘The Americans’, by exporting ARRI Look files from Baselight
to use on set and align all looks from cameras to post.

Baselight Shows The Americans’ True Colours at Technicolor PostWorks

In the TV drama series ‘The Americans’, set in the 1980s and shot on location in New York, colourist John Crowley created distinctive, identifying looks to help tell the story of characters who live double lives. He used one of Technicolor PostWorks New York’s Baselight systems to grade series two and three of the show, working with director of photographyRichard Rutkowski.
Baselight-The-Americans-1 Baselight-The-Americans-1a
Image before (left) and after the grade.

The series aims to evoke the cold war era of 30 years ago. The Jennings appear to be a typical American family – but both husband and wife are in fact Russian KGB agents, living and working under cover. A critical element of the drama is the tension between the comfortable family life in the suburbs of New York and the dangers of working under cover.

“This show has a plethora of intriguing story lines that ultimately result in a number of special looks,” John said. “While the Jennings’ house is warm and pleasant, the KGB headquarters Rezidentura and missions are generally mysterious and somewhat foreboding. The one constant goal was to make the images seem more filmic to convey a nostalgic look, as you might expect from that time period.”


As well as creating tension between the two sides of the central characters’ lives, John also needed to authentically recreate the look and feel of the 1980s. “DP Richard Rutkowski and I spent time looking through still photography books from the late 1970s and early ‘80s,” said John. “We discussed how shadow detail fell off in parts of the frame, and the amount of saturation there was in skin tones. The main aim was to create a rich image without overly saturating the colours.”


Because the production was shot onARRI ALEXAcameras, John started by developing afilm grainto add to the images in the Baselight to enhance this period feeling in the show. Then the base grades for regularly recurring scenes – like the family’s home and the KGB headquarters – were established in Baselight and exported asARRI Look filesto give the DP a sense of what the final result would be as he worked on set with the cameras. John even made sure that the monitor on set was calibrated to match the monitor in the grading suite.

“When a Look file is activated in the camera, it automatically travels as metadata in the QuickTime file,” John said. “I was presented with a locked cut that had aCDLfrom theARRI Look metadata, so all our looks lined up from production through to post.

“Thesepre-gradeswere a great starting point. From there, I could spend most of my time shaping frames with vignettes to darken walls, using various gradients to suggest lighting effects, tracking faces for skin tones, de-saturating vibrant colours and generally trying to replicate that 80s vibe. In this way, the Baselight matches my very detail-orientated style of grading.”