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Authentic Perspectives

Writer-director Shaun Seneviratne syncs with Light Iron colorist Keith Jenson on the feature film Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts.

The first feature film from writer-director Shaun Seneviratne, Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts depicts the struggle between love and duty as Ben (Sathya Sridharan) steps out on a limb to rekindle his relationship with Suzanne (Anastasia Olowin), who can’t escape the calls of her work. Seeking to make a film that felt grittier than the manicured qualities typically associated with romantic comedies, Seneviratne decided to employ non-actors in every role except the leads.

Complementing the decisions Seneviratne made in prep and on set with cinematographer Molly Scotti, Light Iron colorist Keith Jenson helped fine-tune the visual language in the final color grade, which took place at Light Iron New York ahead of the movie’s world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival. Here, Seneviratne and Jenson share their perspectives on their memorable collaboration.

Frame grab from Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts

Light Iron: Shaun, what brought you to Light Iron for Ben and Suzanne?

Shaun Seneviratne: Our producer Doron JéPaul Mitchell has a mutual friend with Freddy Hernandez, VP of business development at Light Iron. We felt Freddy's passion and support for independent filmmaking, and the vibes were right! It just felt like Light Iron was the place to go.

Frame grab from Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts

How did the two of you discuss the desired look for the project to ensure you were seeing it the same way?

Seneviratne: I wanted the movie to have the look of a verité documentary — particularly one shot in the ’60s or ’70s such as Tokyo Olympiad — Jean Rouch films, and Éric Rohmer’s films. We were interested in keeping things natural and filmic; we weren’t interested in applying more modern trends and looks. We also weren’t afraid of contrast and were quite interested in playing with darkness and letting parts of the frame go fully black.

Keith Jenson: When we were first beginning the project, Shaun sent over stills from existing films that reminded him of scenes from his own film. Shaun had a really good idea of the sorts of tones and moods he was going for.

We got on a call so that we could both look at the references and talk them through, and during that call, Shaun and I discovered we had some pretty strong similarities in some pretty obscure and niche music. As creatives, we quickly realized that if we'd both gravitated to those interests independently, then we would probably be able to communicate a lot of the more abstract and esoteric ideas of color quickly - basically, we could have a creative shorthand in the studio during our sessions. I think I can speak for both of us in that we walked away from that call excited to begin collaborating!

Seneviratne: Keith had shared his work on Eyimofe, which was very much in the vein of what we were trying to achieve. Also, Keith's background with film and telecine gave him an authentic perspective on how we could achieve a naturalistic film look. 

Frame grab from Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts

What were some of your main areas of focus in the color grade?

Seneviratne: Shadow and highlight levels, saturation, authentic film texture principles, and how to approach the night scenes, which were an area where we allowed ourselves to be open to stylization.

Jenson: We really tried for an authentic filmic look with strong colors and strong contrast. The film itself has title cards against strong color backgrounds, and we didn’t want those to feel out of place when they cut on screen, so the rest of the film had to have very prominent primaries and healthy saturation. To achieve this, we utilized the toolset inside of DaVinci Resolve. We built our own LUT utilizing some softening in the shadows, some halation effects, and some film grain. I like to apply different levels of film grain over top of each other to achieve a more photographic grain appearance that feels a bit less like an overlay filter.

Seneviratne: Keith spoke about what people sometimes get wrong with film grain, which is applying one uniform grain over the entire image. To truly emulate film grain, one needs to take into account how that grain looks over the highlights, mid tones and shadows.

Frame grab from Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts

Any final thoughts from your collaboration that you’d like to share?

Seneviratne: Keith is a great guy who was easy to collaborate with and had great taste and insight. Our DI producer at Light Iron, Bonnie Gross, was also instrumental in the process, always making sure everything was taken care of and that the process was super-smooth.

Jenson: It was an absolute pleasure to work with Shaun, [editor] Joe Violette, and Doron. We had a great time in the studio in what were extremely memorable sessions for me. It was some of the most fun I’ve had grading — everything about our sessions went so smoothly. A lot of that is thanks to Bonnie Gross, who helped manage the entire project on our end. She was even able to wrangle large Toblerone chocolates to surprise everyone on our final session — a comedically large Toblerone bar features in one aspect of the film. Bonnie and I would both love to work with Shaun and his team again!

Frame grab from Ben and Suzanne: A Reunion in 4 Parts

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