The unusual film ‘Something in the Dirt’, graded with DaVinci Resolve

Something in the Dirt - DaVinci Resolve Studio

DaVinci Resolve Studio software Blackmagic Designwas the tool with which the independent feature film was graded Something in the Dirt, Recognized with the NEXT Award for Innovation at Sundance 2022.

Something in the Dirt tells the story of two neighbors, John and Levi. Both, after witnessing supernatural events in their apartment in Los Angeles, realize that document paranormal events could bring fame and fortune to their wasted lives. Thus, a deeper hole opens, a more intertwined labyrinth, and their friendship falters when they discover the dangers that these phenomena bring, the city and themselves. Directed by and starring Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the film is a testament to Moorhead and Benson’s friendship, as well as their passion for unique and unusual storytelling.

Benson and Moorhead are no strangers to Cinematographic directionsince both have served in that role in a wide variety of projects, including episodes of both the moon knight (Disney) like Archive 81 (Netflix). “For years, we’ve been asked to pitch ideas for dozens of potential haunted house sagas. We’ve been asked to come up with our weirdest, wackiest, most divergent ideas, but they often ended up being too wacky. Something in the Dirt it is basically a compendium of our wildest ideas about a “ghost” that we unearthed from the cemetery”, relates moorhead.

Although Moorhead does not identify itself as colorist, received formal training in this area early in his career, which gave him the confidence to color correct this film: “In about a week, I went through the concepts with DaVinci Resolve, watching and doing tutorials, and I felt empowered to work with the program by diving right in. That’s not a compliment to myself, but rather a testament to the incredible ease of use that DaVinci Resolve offers. As an independent filmmaker, I’ve used a huge number of programs and Resolve is by far the smartest I’ve ever used.”

Something in the Dirt - DaVinci Resolve Studio

A complex shoot

The filming of the film was not particularly easy either and required a combination of traditional cinematography with archival and original materialrecorded with a wide variety of professional and digital cameras, including those of mobile phones Y security cameras. “We tried to develop an aesthetic beforehand, something that would be consistent with our other productions, such as The Endless, but we always seek to transgress,” continues Moorhead. “Instinctively, we find that degrading material is a great way to shape the aesthetics of our movies to create a unique experience, especially when working with a diverse range of media like this one,” he stresses.

Although the film is about supernatural events, Moorhead’s favorite scene is a much simpler. In it, the two have a conversation on a rooftop: “As an actor, I really enjoyed having a frank conversation, as a director and filmmaker, I loved shooting with a beautiful sunset in the background, and as a colorist, I delighted in grading the images to achieve a intense and captivating sunset. Also, the soundtrack for that scene is one of the best pieces in the movie.

Something in the Dirt - DaVinci Resolve Studio

Keys to color grading with DaVinci Resolve

Given the immense heterogeneity of the material used, Benson and Moorhead knew that it would be necessary to unify the appearance, but they couldn’t make a decision before finishing shooting. Instead, they committed to developing it during the post production and they leaned towards creating an aged aesthetic, similar to those of their previous films. To achieve the visual style of Something in the DirtMoorhead employed DaVinci Resolve in combination with the plugin OFX dehancer in order to emulate the quality of celluloid.

The editing by nodes began with a slight blurring of the entire image, which dulled the sharper edges, it emulsified the different types of material and later helped the graininess of the film acquire a more natural appearance. The second step was the image balance: “We didn’t want it to look like we had applied any kind of color or density filter to the film. If it had looked like it was doctored, it would have undermined the credibility of the story we’re trying to tell, which is almost like a ‘documentary’ of something that really happened.” We often apply different curves, including hue vs. saturation and saturation vs. saturation, to achieve the aesthetic we are looking for”, adds Moorhead.

The actor, director and colorist made extensive use of the accessory dehancer working on the following node: “We used a solution of our own devising that incorporates the Dehancer plugin to add graininess, fade the image, get the look of analog photography, mimic scanning artifacts and halos, just about every effect available to simulate a reel. But beyond the grain, we did subtle tweaks to get the least-retouched version possible. It was a revealing effect and we had to add it into the nodal structure at a later stage, although in all cases we applied it before playing with the balance.”

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The unusual film ‘Something in the Dirt’, graded with DaVinci Resolve