The Art of Telling Stories: Aurora Gordon

The Art of Telling Stories is a series of posts designed to take a deeper look at what it means to tell a story. Writers tell stories constantly, but many other people in many other vocations tell their stories as well, but in other, often more subtle, ways.

Today's guest is Aurora Gordon, a dailies colorist for television, a video producer, and a brilliant artist. You can check out her newest trailer about the Daily Ocean as well as several of her other projects on her website or on Vimeo. In addition, the image to the right is one in a series of nine that will be available to benefit the Red Cross of Oklahoma with the recent tornado damage.

Aurora, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a dailies colorist for television - and that means I'm the one applying a look to the footage
immediately after it was shot (so I work the graveyard shift, yikes!). We do this so that the footage will look as close to the final intention as possible for the rough cuts before the footage goes to a final color session for polishing, and eventually broadcasting on TV. In ideal situations I talk to the DP beforehand, and we discuss what sort of look he's going for.  Then it's up to me to come up with the right "cocktail" of dial pushes to recreate that everyday.  I go through all the footage and make sure if more than one camera is used that both cameras have the same color balance.  So, if B Camera looks too blue compared to A Camera, I'll either add yellow to B Camera, or add blue to A Camera.

What that means in reality: I stare at monitors overnight and turn knobs and roll track balls!

In my daytime I'm a video producer and lately I've been working on a documentary about a woman who goes to clean up the beach 20 minutes at a time.  I work mostly on personal documentary style projects but I've been known to take a commission or two. Especially if it means working with an awesome small business.

How would you define storytelling?

Wow, storytelling defined!  I'd say good storytelling is forgetting about your ego and relaying events in a generous, affordable, relatable way. Being a liaison to the world - even if it's a small story.

Would you consider yourself a storyteller? Why?

Definitely.  I used to get asked a lot, are you ever going to specialize and focus on just videos, or just color? And I think it's a lot of the same skill set.  To me it's almost the same job.  As a storyteller you have to get this idea in your head out to an audience - and as a colorist I have to get the idea in the DP's head out to the audience. But, there's still a lot of room for my interpretation.  For example if someone says to me "Make this scene warm!" my first image is a slightly yellowed cozy kitchen, probably with something being baked for hungry guests in the oven.  So I'll then grade the scene with my interpretation of warm - gold familiarity.  But another colorist might grade it like a warm body on a beach - almost red. I live in a land of subtlety and perhaps it's hard for a lot of people to understand nonverbal storytelling as the same as Storytelling with a capital S - but that's what I like to think I do best: subtly transfer feelings.

How do you decide what images tell the story and what ones don't?

When I'm cutting a documentary project, I'm just ruthless. I ask myself: what's the most important image here, and what am I really trying to say?  Does this other image inform and support that? No?  On the cutting room floor it goes then. Another good question to ask is: Would an alien get this image?  Hopefully it's powerful enough some creature from Mars would even understand.

What impact does colour have on the story being told?

Ah - this is a good question. Like I said before, it's a nonverbal art form. I think really great color can take a cold, steely scene from a movie like Skyfall, and make a lonely spy trapped in solitary confinement relatable to everybody's life. What's actually on screen might be a creepy dude with a bad attitude and a bionic jaw, but everybody has a time in their life that was blue and steely and lonely. Sometimes it's easier to say with a look than words.

Do you think you could tell a story with just colour? How?

I think there are color arcs like there are story arcs. I don't know if I could just pop colors on screen and say something a viewer could understand though. I do think oftentimes the color really confirms what you're seeing.  For example, oftentimes movies will end warmer than they started.  If it's a happy ending, it probably looks a little rosy too.  A filmmaker can dial in a look that says, "You might not feel this way, but here's how I want you to feel."  I think a stylized look can be a really honest tip of the hat to the fact the story is of course coming from a biased and subjective point of view.  For example, Wes Anderson always uses his yellowed, aged, signature look and I think that's a nice way to subtly say to the audience, "This is my fading memory and it may or may not be what's really occurring in the world."

But I also think there can be stories told with color in homes.  I'm fascinated with the way people choose to decorate and paint walls. I think there's a reason some people have dark walls and some people have light walls.

What is your favourite part of the work you do and why?

My favorite part is probably the moment before I dial it in.  (Do people know what that means?  We say a scene is "dialed in" when we've got the knobs literally dialed in to the right position. It's another way to say "nailed it.")

When I'm working on a challenging scene I might go back and forth with 10 different versions that are all minor, minor changes, but from version 1 all the way to version 10 is cumulatively a big change.  I like the challenging scenes because oftentimes the moment before it's dialed in is the moment I try something new and discover a new way to combine shadow, midtone, and highlight color values.

What is your favourite colour?

Green!  Our eyes are most sensitive to around 550 nm, which is about green. So I like green because it illuminates most things for humans.

Also, when my husband James first met me he insisted I have green eyes, even though my driver's license and everybody else in my life says I have blue eyes.  He sees me green instead and it makes me laugh.

Is there anything else you would like me to share?

Eat your vegetables! Play with animals! Don't buy things that sell you another version of yourself!

Don't forget to visit Rory's website to learn more about what she does and what she can do for you!