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Case study: Finding a dramatic look for comedy series Mandy

Colourist Lee Clappison and DP Pete Rowe discuss their work on the BBC Two comedy series

Produced by Sam Ward, Mandy is the directorial debut from comedian and writer, Diane Morgan, who also stars in the titular role. Diane’s character started life on BBC iPlayer last year as part of Comedy Shorts and was soon commissioned a full six-part series recently aired on BBC Two.  

Production began in February, just before lockdown. Director of photography, Pete Rowe (Warren, Miranda, Friday Night Dinner) shot on the Alexa Mini, acquiring in 2K 4444 masked to 2.2-1, and relying on a set of Zeiss Ultra Primes. “I almost exclusively used either the 16 or 24mm,” explains Rowe. “The ‘in and wide’ feel was very much something Diane liked and just helped add to the slightly surreal world that Mandy inhabits.” 

There was minimal artificial lighting used, says Rowe. “A lot of the scenes relied only on natural or practical lighting, and in fact, the scene in the coffin in the final episode is lit entirely by the phone Mandy is using.” 

Covid-19 restrictions began just as grading was about to start at Suite Post in Soho. Rowe continues: “[Colourist] Lee [Clappison] and I only managed a couple of sessions together before the lockdown came into effect, but he very quickly got the show and knew exactly what we were going for style-wise.”

When discussing the look Clappison explains that Morgan, Ward and Rowe wanted Mandy to feel like a drama, not necessarily gritty, but neither should it be a typical bright, poppy comedy. The grade started in Baselight, but with the need to work remotely, the project was moved to DaVinci Resolve. 

Clappison’s home setup was run off a MacBook Pro and external SSDs, and also featured the DaVinci Resolve Advanced Panel as well as a calibrated Sony OLED PVM monitor.

You might think switching systems and setups would be a challenge, but continuing the series from home was almost seamless, Clappison reveals. “I was able to match episodes quite quickly; the most significant challenge we faced was not being able to run face-to-face feedback sessions with the client, as I would typically do. 

“Still, they were on hand either by phone or Facetime if I needed to discuss any of the scenes. We also set certain specifications of what display methods and conditions they should be using, to ensure they were as close as possible to what I was looking at on my grading monitor. Any grade notes were addressed as and when they came up.”

The offline edit was also completed at Suite, by Jerry Ramsbottom using Media Composer.  Only three of the six episodes were picture-locked when lockdown happened, so he had to do a lot of the offline from home too. 

Clappison adds: “The online media was conformed and prepared for me before each grading session. Once I had finished, I would then render out an MXF ready for the online back at Suite.”

He continues: “As some of the grading decisions ended up being integral to the online, we carried out some compositing work in Fusion during the grade. It made more sense to be done at the same time and have complete control of the final look.

 “One of these was a section that had to feel early 2000s,” Clappison explains. “With a VHS look including dropout and jitter, and on-screen graphics and logos of the era. I made use of some of the excellent plugins available to me, to give it that feel. Using Fusion inside of Resolve meant that I still had access to the material to tweak the grade underneath, which saved a lot of back and forth between departments.”