Senior Colorist Matt Osborne recalls that director Ric Roman wanted Kandahar to be infused with a sense of realism. Despite the fact that the action-packed thriller starring Gerard Butler as an undercover CIA operative fleeing the enemy combatants is full of firefights and explosions, the director had tasked the cinematographer, known by the moniker MacGregor, with taking a naturalistic approach to the imagery similar to Butler’s very down-to-earth approach to his character.
Osborne, an award-winning colorist in the commercial realm, had previously handled grading for spots MacGregor had shot and was delighted to reteam with him for this large-scale feature.
A key segment of the film is set at night, and the lighting deliberately lets people and objects go dark in a true-to-life way, just as a night scene in the desert with moonlight as the only source. Osborne’s work in these moments had a lot to do with building secondary corrections to isolate and enhance this effect while also “bringing out enough detail so that you can see the people and make out facial expressions.”
It was also quite important to Roman and MacGregor to capture key aspects of the location to enhance a sense in the viewer of being in a real place, not just the setting of an action film. “Afghanistan,” Osborne says, “is in the desert, but it’s not just sand.” Referring to the approach, the filmmakers took to shooting the Afghanistan exteriors (with Saudi Arabia standing in for that country), “They often shot at sunset or sunrise, and we’d go through in the grade playing on the shadows and the highlight to enhance the texture and definition of the mountains. We’d also make sure to bring out a wide range of different colors in the imagery to show the complexity of the environment.”
Osborne is quite pleased with the results of this, his most epic feature work to date. “It has the action that people expect,” he offers, “but there’s more to it. Gerard Butler gives a wonderful performance. It’s a strong story. And I think the look also helps bring more depth to the film than people might expect from this type of movie.”
Kandahar is now playing in theaters.