Mad Men Emmys Commercial: My RAW Epiphany

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This is a technical post is for a narrow band of director/operator dudes and ladies like me who toil every day with prosumer cameras, trying to elevate the look of their work so there is no “sumer” left in the viewer’s mind, only “pro.”

I got to shoot this spot with a Red camera on the Mad Men set, and this was the first time that I really understood the power of working with the RAW format. When setting a look on the morning of this shoot, I balanced the camera to 5600K. This homogenized everything, giving it distinctly yellow/gold patina. It was a strong choice which added to the vintage feel. We shot the spot and everyone watching on the monitor was fine with it. When I got back to New York our editor Chris Tartaro and I looked at the footage in Red Cine X. We had the option to completely undo my color temperature choice from the shoot, and look at the same footage as if I had shot it at a more neutral 3200K.
Soon as we did that, I realized 2 things: 1) When a production designer and scenic artists have put a lot of work into something, the palette they choose should be allowed to speak for itself 2) The reason I have developed this tendency towards giving the entire scene an (occasionally over the top) unifying color bias in camera is because 70% of the time I am shooting in ad hoc locations that we don’t have the time or budget to repaint entirely. This technique has been valuable for me, but as I work on better and better sets I need to back off on this.

The RAW thing. Mad Men taught me to appreciate it.

Photo by Michael Yarish