When London bureaucrat Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) discovers his days are numbered, he chooses to make the most of the remainder of his life in the best way he can. The drama Living, written by Kazuo Ishiguro and based on Akira Kurosawa’s beloved 1952 classic Ikiru, has received enormous acclaim and a slew of awards nominations globally. Company 3’s Senior Colorist Joseph Bicknell reteamed for Living with Director Oliver Hermanus and Cinematographer Jamie Ramsey, whose 2019 collaboration Moffie also received international acclaim.
The overarching goal of Bicknell’s approach to color was to help the filmmakers convey Mr. Williams’ feelings about his life and situation through the color palette, which was partially inspired by Kodachrome photography of post-war London. While that once-popular reversal stock might summon images of rich primary colors found in blue skies and grass on sunny days, Bicknell notes that Kodachrome images of post-war London, with its understated interiors, its stone, and concrete exteriors, and its perpetually overcast conditions, may be rich, but are hardly bursting with color.
Instead, the idea for Living, which was shot digitally on ARRI Alexa cameras, was to capture the era as many of those photographs did, with dashes of rich color, in a tie, jacket, or furniture, poking through an otherwise steely world.
References, Bicknell points out, only go so far. They are there to inspire but not to be copied. “There’s so much emotion in the performances, you still want the image to breathe and the color to not be too restrictive,” the colorist adds. The strong contrast and rich tones of the London Kodachrome photos served as a foundation for a look that could then be finetuned as the emotion of each scene suggested.
Bicknell joined the project during pre-production and passed images and thoughts back and forth with Ramsay early on, creating an on-set LUT, which allowed the director, cinematographer, and all other department heads to get a clear sense of how the things they saw during the shoot would end up in the final film.
Ramsey elaborated to British Cinematographer about Bicknell’s collaboration and his role in developing the final look: “What was great about having Joseph involved in pre-production meant that he was creatively invested in this right from the beginning. We all knew going in this was going to be a crunchy film, where we’ll lean into the contrast, and he was all for it. We’ve grown this look together with Joseph.”
For more information about the film, click here.