Jennifer Mendes is a colourist at Loudness Films, an audio and image post-production studio in Lisbon, though she started working at the motion design and VFX compositing end of video and post. “I was looking for a job as a motion designer when the founders of Loudness Films opened their doors in 2011,” she said. “They wanted someone to manage the colour correction suite and offered me the job. I went along as an experiment, to see if it was a good fit for me.
“My first project was a documentary series. I remember walking into a room of five or more people who were focused on me and what I was doing. I didn’t have any experience, but I passed – and after that took some courses.” Having now been a colourist for 11 years, she is now recognised for her work on Portuguese productions such as Os filhos do Rock (2013), Capitão Falcão (2015), O Patio das Cantigas (2015) and most recently, the first Netflix original series produced in Portugual, Glória (2021).
Post in Portugal
As projects continued to emerge for Jennifer over those years, she had the opportunity to work on a variety of content from commercials and music videos to documentaries, feature films and TV. She is passionate about creating rich, vibrant, dynamic colour palettes that bring life to her projects, and loves working in different colour spaces.
She talked about the studio at Loudness Films. “We have image and audio editing rooms, a Foley recording studio, a Dolby Atmos studio and a colour correction room,” she said. “We work on all kinds of projects, but mostly our focus is feature films and TV series. I started to do a little bit of everything, but right now I’m dedicated to colour correction work.”
Jennifer also described the post-production industry in Portugal, which is not very big and comprised of only have a few studios. In comparison to neighbouring countries, the industry does not benefit from incentives and subsidies, and national productions do not have large budgets.
However, she believes the post-production houses in Portugal have a high level of technical expertise and can offer a huge range of services in film and video editing, visual effects, colour grading, sound design and animation. Moreover, they are constantly developing according to the needs of the market. “I think that more producers are now starting to take advantage of the country’s competitive cost structure and its talented pool of professionals,” Jennifer said.
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
Jennifer has been using FilmLight's Baselight grading system for about five years. “At one stage, when I had a year with a lot of work, we would have had a much more challenging time if it wasn’t for this system,” she remarked. “The Baselight ASSIST helps us work more efficiently because someone can do the conforming and rendering work in the background while I focus on the colour work with the clients.
“The internal cache is also very important as it allows us to read the footage in real time while we are working. The option to have several projects open at the same time, or to have the thumbnails on a second monitor and quickly copy grades, helps a lot – especially when we are trying to maintain a consistent look across the episodes of a TV show or reels of a film.”
Colour plays a crucial role in shaping the way audiences perceive and experience a film, which makes it a powerful filmmaking tool. For Jennifer, the choice of colours and contrast set the tone for a scene, convey the mood and emotions of characters and even help to advance the plot. “Warm colours like red and orange can create a sense of excitement and energy, while cool colours like blue can evoke a sense of calmness and tranquillity,” she said.
“Colourists can also create visual symbolism by using a particular colour to represent a specific theme or idea. For example, the colour green might be used to symbolise growth and renewal, while the colour black might symbolise death or mourning. The use of colours can enhance the visual impact of a film, but like the painter Ivan Albright once said, ‘a colour is as strong as the impression it creates’.”
As a colourist, Jennifer communicates with audiences by using colour and contrast to create a visual style for a film and support the storytelling – enhancing the overall impact. “In my opinion, the work of a colourist is an effective way to communicate with an audience and help bring the director's vision to life. For instance, in the film Bem Bom, which takes place in the 1980s, we use a warm tone and vintage look to recall its setting.
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
“Colour can be used to support the story and help the audience understand the mood and tone. If a scene is meant to be tense or suspenseful, the colourist might use a desaturated, high-contrast look. In Gloria we have a scene in which the two characters, a woman and a man, go to the beach together. Though outwardly romantic, we adopted a desaturated tone here, using colour to instead create an uneasy feeling in the characters' relationship.”
Director and Cinematographer
Because of that power colour has, Jennifer likes to work closely with the director and cinematographer to ensure that the visual look and feel of the film aligns with their vision. Working with them from the very beginning of the grading process is essential for her in order to understand the idea and concept. For me, the look starts with the type of project. For example, between a comedy and a drama, the look can be quite different, and it starts with the production. It starts with decor, clothes, skin tones and hair colours of the actors and actresses.
She said, “When possible, I like to start by reviewing the film or episodes and discussing the goals with the director and cinematographer. It enables you to follow the shooting concept and to ensure that the final product meets the director's and cinematographer's expectations – and helps to enhance the overall storytelling of the film. We might also create some initial grades together, to find the best mood, tone and the overall visual style.
“After that, it is important for me to spend some time working alone, to match the footage. Doing this gives the director and cinematographer time to look at the images more objectively as they review the work in progress, provide feedback and make adjustments as needed.”
As all productions are different, Jennifer adapts to the needs and preferences of customers. One of the highlights of her career was working on the colour correction in HDR for the first Netflix original series in Portugal, Gloria (2021). In fact, as it was the first time she worked in Dolby Vision HDR, one of Netflix's delivery requirements, it also became quite a challenge involving gear, training and how she collaborated with the production.
“My journey with the series started before the colour correction phase when I had to upgrade my reference monitor to an HDR monitor. I participated in two training sessions on HDR, including one specifically on Dolby Vision’s technical requirements. I also received a lot of help from the FilmLight support team, who helped to set up the project and provide technical tips for HDR.
“I was only able to get involved with the production itself when the shooting of the series ended. But I had a working day with the director of photography when we discussed the ideas behind the series and did image tests for the look, so when I started working on the first episode I already had some references to guide the grade.”
Episodic Content and Feature Films
Her approaches to colour grading for episodic content and feature films can be quite different. The difference starts at a technical level – the colour spaces are different as well as the workflow.
She commented, “As I see it, it’s important to remember that a film is made for the big screen in a cinema, while a TV series is made to be viewed at home on a television. The visual style of a television series should be clear, bright and visually appealing. It’s also important to maintain a consistent look across episodes to keep the audience engaged and ensure we’re not compromising the viewers' experience throughout the episodes.
“We should also take into account the time we have to work on each episode, which is usually less than on a feature film. Time constraints are a recurring factor when working on episodic content – deadlines can be tight and multiple episodes may need to be completed in a short period of time. With feature films, in contrast, the colourist tends to have more time and opportunity for creative freedom and experimentation and can create a more complex grade.
“But of course, episodic or feature film, it all depends on the type of project and production. The approach to colour depends on the specific requirements and goals of the project. Every project is different and that is why I always collaborate with the director and cinematographer to ensure the final image meets their visions and expectations.”
Jennifer Mendes, Colourist, Loudness Films
Into the Studio
On some projects, however, that level of integration with the production is easier to achieve than on others. For instance, the look of the TV series Cuba Libre was achieved mostly with the director, while the cinematographer, who was already working on another project, was approving the episodes remotely. Cuba Libre is a six-part drama of the biography of Annie Silva Pais, a Portuguese woman who became a Cuban revolutionary.
“Before starting the first episode, the director and I reviewed the edited episodes together,” Jennifer said. “We talked about the colour ideas for the scenes, and did some tests on the footage to gain an understanding of the desired look and feel of the series.
In her grading suite she uses Baselight with the Blackboard classic control panel, and has a Flanders Scientific HDR monitor for TV work and a Barco 2K DCI projector for feature film work. “My room is connected to the Baselight ASSIST room I mentioned earlier, where we share the storage to perform the conforming and rendering,” she said. “Working this way helps me to focus more on the creative part of my job.” www.filmlight.ltd.uk
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis