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by Kat Coiro
September 11, 2013 10:12 AM
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Kat Coiro Explains Why She Listened to Her Distributor and Changed 'And While We Were Here' From B&W to Color

B&W vs. Color: 'And While We Were Here'

Anyone who caught writer-director Kat Coiro's delicate romantic drama "And While We Here" on the festival circuit will notice one big difference about the version being released in theaters this Friday (it's also available on VOD): it's in color. In her own words, Coiro opens up about why she listened to her distributor Well Go USA and agreed to convert the film to color.

I shot my second feature film “And While We Were Here” with the intention of screening it in black and white, and when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and played in subsequent festivals it was seen in its original form. However, the film that is currently streaming on multiple platforms and opening theatrically on September 13th is in color. The explanation for this opens up a rather interesting conversation about the differences between B&W and color and why we ultimately chose to release it in color rather than in B&W.

My director of photography, Doug Chamberlain, and I decided on B&W even before the script was complete. The main story between the three lead characters is small, intimate and restrained. When you strip away the color information from an image, your eye no longer darts around the screen looking at yellows or reds or any contrasting colors that might pull your eyes’ focus. Undistracted by color information, your eyes are naturally drawn to the familiarity of the human face. It’s much easier to focus on the emotion in an actor’s eyes when the background is presented in scales of grey, especially when that background is an Italian Island in the summer. The B&W version strips the story down to its emotional core, reducing the glorious surroundings in which Jane, Leonard and Caleb each undergo their emotional journeys to texture.

"Undistracted by color information, your eyes are naturally drawn to the familiarity of the human face."

Paradoxically, while we chose B&W to keep the movie small, we also chose it to open the film up. I wasn’t trying to re-invent the wheel with this plot because the truth is there are only so many directions a love triangle can go, and while miscommunication, personal tragedy and infidelity feel enormous when a person is experiencing them firsthand, all of these life events follow a similar timeworn trajectory.

Wanting to make a story that pushed beyond these boundaries, I introduced a fourth character, Jane’s dead grandmother, who speaks to Jane through a series of cassette tapes that Jane listens to repeatedly under the guise of writing a book, when really she’s trying to find parallels between her life and the life of her ancestors; trying to soothe the discomfort of her own present by hearing that every generation has it’s own struggles and every generation always will.

This theme of timelessness was buoyed up by the use of a classical score by Mateo Messina and the B&W photography, which not only harkens back to classic cinema and infuses the audience with a sense of nostalgia for a time gone by, but also mutes the signs of modernity, blurring out cars, neon bathing suits and signage. And while “And While We Were Here” is indubitably a modern tale, it definitely feels less-so in black and white.

When the idea was first presented to me that the film would be more successful in color, Mr. Chamberlain and I were indignant. We had spent so much time crafting the B&W and had received such glowing reviews that switching to a color version seemed sacrilegious. Then one day, in the midst of these conversations with our distributor, I sat down to choose a film with my husband On Demand. One of the synopses described a movie as B&W. Without even thinking I said, “Nah. I don’t feel like watching a black and white movie.”

In that moment I realized that I would be limiting my audience by releasing “And While We Were Here” in B&W, which, outside of a controlled environment is harder to adjust to and feels more cerebral, especially when lined up against brightly colored ads and trailers. I began to find the positive aspects of the color version (all of which my editor Adam Catino had been extolling since the beginning).

The stunning blue of the ever-present Mediterranean glimmers an ethereal green when Jane and Caleb enter an underground grotto. The lively surroundings, more noticeable in color, actually work to highlight Jane’s disconnect from her environment, making her lapses in judgement more understandable and, therefore, more forgivable: to be in Southern Italy, shown in vibrant splendor, and to be as lethargic as Jane is makes her deep-rooted depression more evident.

The timelessness I described is still a major theme of the film in color, it’s just expressed in a more subtle and less manipulative way. When watching the colorized “And While We Were Here” even I, who wrote, directed and watched it hundreds of times, was more drawn into the romance of the story and while it definitely verges into the genre of location porn it feels pleasantly whimsical. It makes you want to go to Italy, play on the beach, bask in the sun and fall in love.

When the Blu-Ray/DVD of “And While We Were Here” is released (November 19) it will include a B&W director’s version of the film. I would encourage people interested in this subject to see the color version in theaters or on iTunes, Amazon or VOD and then buy the B&W DVD. It’s rare to have the opportunity to watch a movie in two very different formats and I truly look forward to hearing people’s thoughts on this subject.

Watch the film's trailer below:

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10 Comments

  • Andre | December 9, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    the black and white version is superior. the compositions are better as they rely a lot on architecture and lines. it also captures the mood better during the earlier "sad" scenes as they look more static rather than being simply plain like an amateur film. i would imagine that the cinematographer would have taken advantage of a wider palette and would have made different choices had he known that there was a realistic possibility that this would be shown on colour as the main version.

    to be honest, the colour version isn't particularly rich visually, from a colour point of view. it is more yellow than anything else. the only visually interesting aspects of the colour are when they are by the sea and there is a contrast between the yellow and blue. also, the characters have a tendency to melt into the background as they have the same yellow tint to them. in the black and white version, there seems to be more separation and you can recognise them better as distinct elements in the composition.

    also, the boy looks less like a child in the black and white version. i can respect the choice of the director to go for the colour version (it's her film), but why not make the black and white version the default in the DVD and have the colour version as the bonus option?

  • Konrad | September 12, 2013 7:56 AMReply

    This proves how a filmmaker should really examine colour or B/W options in pre-production because in spite of the director's original intent and I personally understanding the concept to reduce the film to its emotional core in B/W her reassessment of colour for lively surroundings to place the protgonist's emotional plight in a different aesthetic plane illustrates the director's thought process and assessment wasn't completely in tune to the screenplay's core.

    Understandable for her and the distributor wanting to appeal to a broader audience as I have found the masses prefer colour for much the shallow reason she did when deciding "Nah. I don’t feel like watching a black and white movie."

  • Mr BW | September 11, 2013 3:27 PMReply

    Why isn't there an option to present both for VOD. If the BluRay/DVD can have both, why didn't the distributor take both versions. Even label the B&W verison the director's edition.

    If the movie had to be in color, why didn't they even bother to desaturate the color so that it could be closer in tone to the original intent.

  • random | September 11, 2013 12:48 PMReply

    the movie is terrible.

  • mo money | September 11, 2013 12:11 PMReply

    distributor won't see no green with a b&w screen

  • Jerk | September 11, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    The Immigrant is a better film

  • Future | September 11, 2013 10:36 AMReply

    The film does appear to lend itself well to a color palette. That said, the director's reasons for initially exhibiting the film in black and white are equally as compelling.

  • Future | September 11, 2013 10:30 AMReply

    This article is fairly interesting for an obvious publicity piece for the film, but it leaves many intriguing questions unanswered. How was the film "colorized"? Was it shot in color and returned to it's original form? Who paid for the new color correct? The distributor? It seems to be the position of most distributors that b&w films make less money, but is this actually true?

  • dan | September 11, 2013 1:15 PM

    ja, tech details would help. This is not something new I remember In The Soup years back at similar issues. Shooting color film for B&W post was common in the 90's but with digital well it's a flick of a switch to see what your film looks like in B&W. Now shooting digital in a B&W mode on say a hacked GH2, well that takes courage and vision, there 'aint no going back.

  • Jack | September 11, 2013 10:24 AMReply

    Epitome of a "sell-out".