Even prior to the pandemic, Technicolor was developing a new mobile post suite app called TechStream, because remote color timing and sound mixing — particularly for episodic TV — had become too expensive and inconvenient. Fortunately, for HBO’s “Perry Mason,” TechStream was launched just in time to finish the Depression-era origin story, starring Matthew Rhys as Erle Stanley Gardner’s legendary defense attorney.
“The idea was to have a [real-time] product that was simple and flawless to operate,” said Pankaj Bajpai, Technicolor VP, finishing artist and business development. “If you can use an iPhone, then that was the requirement that would allow people to collaborate, especially when working on episodics, where DPs can’t physically be with you in the color suites. Now, of course, with the pandemic, all of a sudden we can’t live without Zoom and Teams. But a year ago, the way I was doing remote grading sessions was facility to facility in London or Vancouver, with some serious hardware costing thousands of dollars. And it wasn’t convenient. You had to book session time in the rooms.”
Realizing the need to develop an app under its control to ensure the safety and security of content moving over broadband, Technicolor tailored TechStream especially for the iPad and iPad Pro. And, when it was ready for testing, Bajpai gathered cinematographers, executive producers, and directors on projects they were working on to help with fine tuning. “We now have got it to a place where you click on the app and it launches you in with either a pass code or a face ID,” he said. “And there’s no calibration needed, just a simple adjustment.”
Merrick Morton / HBO
And “Perry Mason” (which has been renewed for Season 2) became the perfect vehicle for TechStream during the lockdown. Shot by David Franco and Darran Tiernan with the Sony Venice 6K digital camera, it’s a visual, noir feast for the eyes, with Mason as a down-and-out private investigator trying to solve a sensational child kidnapping/murder in L.A. (circa 1931-32) and uncovering political corruption of “Chinatown”-like proportions.
“[Director] Tim [Van Patten] and I were together in the Technicolor suite for the first three episodes, and David was at his home in Brooklyn when New York went into its major lockdown,” Bajpai said. “That set a comfort level for [all of us] working remotely.” The routine is typically finessing with the cinematographer and then bringing in the director for reviews.
“Doing post in isolation, for the most part, really took a bit of mental discipline,” added Van Patten, who nevertheless found TechStream easy to use on the iPad. “It’s a deeply rich, presentational show,” he said. “And I wanted to deconstruct that for ‘Perry Mason.’ And acknowledge the light in Southern California — how major it was on the architecture, the people’s faces. And make it a little warmer, depending on character and storyline. Sometimes we got a little cooler.”
Merrick Morton / HBO
Interestingly, Van Patten referenced John Huston’s boxing drama, “Fat City” (1972, shot by Conrad Hall), purely for its gritty authenticity. “And the harsh glare of all, and the very experiential nature of it as well,” Van Patten continued. “The landscape of people and place was very alive. I wanted to create that aura of 1931/32 L.A. We hit the streets [of L.A.] and I went back to the Ashcan artists of the early 20th century: Edward Hopper, Robert Henri, George Bellows.
“Compositionally, Hopper had people alone in rooms and a lack of detail on the characters, where the light was coming from,” Van Patten said. “We really embraced that. Bellows was known for [painting] boxy compositions, and there was this evangelist, Billy Sunday, that he did with top light coming down and faces falling away into darkness. I got obsessed with that and that became the Sister Alice [Tatiana Maslany] world.”
Merrick Morton / HBO
In doing the color grading, it was important for Bajpai to find the balance between naturalism and stylization, utilizing Technicolor’s science for emulating the look of period movies shot on film, whenever possible. “For me, the challenge was taking a camera that is capable of producing very modern-looking images and then translating through LUTs [Lookup Tables] and the grading process to where it doesn’t appear that way,” he said. “We do have very soft, bright highlight roll offs. Generally, they are not clean white but have a certain warmth to them. That is one of the key things to me that separates a sharp visible image versus something that we attribute to a period.”
Inside the courtroom, however, where Mason struggles as a newbie attorney, there’s a definite foreshadowing of what’s to come in Season 2. “This is an origin story when Perry becomes Perry,” Van Patten added. “We wanted to play the shift toward the future so that when you got into that room, it’s a pre-Deco world with great reflective stuff in there, a neo-classical mural, incredibly high ceilings, forward-leaning lighting, and forward looking set. Mason was starting to evolve, wearing beautiful suits, and, by the end, it’s the beginning.”