A look through the prism of colorist Loren White’s journey

Freelance colorist Loren White has forged his own path, as he jumped into the colorist game and digital cinematography early. A path that has taken him all around the world, working in places like Shanghai, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Toronto. Now based in Los Angeles, Loren colored Halsey’s virtual concert for her much-anticipated album If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power - Live at Moment House, along with music videos for world-renowned musicians like Post Malone, Migos, Julia Michaels, and MGK ("Downfall High," pictured above). Loren has also done commercial work with brands like Disney, Pepsi, KFC, Frito-Lay, Mattel, Visa, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Lexus, Honda, and Neutrogena. 

His LA studio, ​​lookwell.tv, features a 4K DI theater as well as a broadcast grading suite.

Loren White

What led you on the path to being a colorist? Was it a love of photography? Was there a particular piece of art that made you want to not just consume but also create?

I’ve always been a creative type, and I ended up going to film school at CalArts. That was around 2006 to 2008. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to edit or be a cinematographer, so I was bouncing between the two, and then I went to a telecine session for a project we shot on 16mm. During that session, I saw a DaVinci and didn’t even realize this was even part of the process. Being my age at the time, everyone was shooting MiniDV and we didn’t even really get the opportunity to work in a film workflow. So I quickly realized how much I enjoyed that process and from then on I became the go-to colorist because I was learning and fully enveloping myself in wanting to do color.

The cinematography background makes perfect sense. I remember in college the most heartbreaking thing was when I took a 35mm photography class and realized the latitude of what you can do with the film versus the basic telecine we got for our films. I was like, 'This is so sad.” 

Yeah, exactly. Especially back then, film was so superior, and having the mix of the technical with the creative and then the fact that you’re sort of editing cinematography is like the perfect place for me.

Was that first DaVinci session a moment where you saw power windows and knew there was no looking back?

Yeah, it all just clicked for me, and then the Red camera was coming out right around then and that changed how digital workflow worked. I became an early expert in that and then things snowballed from there, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

What were some of those big breaks that helped get you to where you are? Sounds like leaning into the future of digital cinematography helped get you a leg up as you were leaving college.

Definitely, and there were very few people that knew color at the time. There were no classes on it–you sort of had to go through a facility program. There were some books just coming out about color. So the fact that I was a freelance colorist was super rare and basically, within like 2 years I was traveling around coloring stuff. I did half a year in Istanbul at a facility there, then a year in India to work with two different companies that were working on Bollywood projects, then I was in China for a while, and ended up going out to LA to establish myself here a little more. Then I went to Toronto to work with a small company there and after that, in like 2015, I decided I wanted to stay in LA. It’s where my family and friends are and is ultimately where I wanted to be and that’s where I’ve been since.

That’s exciting. How’d you end up with so much international work? Was it just positive word of mouth?

Pretty much. There were so few colorists, number one, and then I had also been honing my skills on student films, and a couple of projects I’d worked on ended up getting into Sundance that year. Then it was sort of like a perfect storm of good opportunities and being open and willing to do commercials over there for a while. The big thing too is that I learned a lot of different systems that were around and was paying my own money to learn those tools with other colorists, so I had those skills in my back pocket. I was just really proactive about it.

Sounds like it. When you say you were “freelance,” do you mean as opposed to someone who might have come up as a colorist at a post house like Company3? And if so, was that a conscious decision of wanting to be on your own?

I just didn’t want to start from the bottom, you know? I felt like I knew what I was doing and there were a lot of films happening that were willing and looking for people who work outside of the big facilities. So yeah, it was sort of like, “Well, I don’t need to take that path.” After a while, I realized I could just bounce around at different companies and do short-term contracts and stay freelance.

It’s tough, [be]cause I had friends that did go to some of the bigger facilities and they were still assisting 10 years later. Some of them got sick of working and just left. Some stuck it out but it’s super competitive in those environments and yeah, there was an opportunity for work happening outside of that so I figured I might as well run with it.

I like having my own autonomy–being able to manage my own schedule. I’ve always been super big on that. 

As someone who’s forged their own path, do you have any advice for people on navigating the industry, especially as a freelancer? What have you learned along the way?

Gosh, a lot haha. Definitely, early on, I would get into a session with someone who was fifteen years into their career, cinematographer or director, and I remember those first couple of years were intimidating. They just got back from a session with someone at Company3 who’s been doing this for thirty years. [In] some of those early sessions I realized, “Oh, I’m nowhere near as fast as the person they just worked with,” and that pushed me to really hone my skills and learn the new workflows. Time, it just takes time. It’s muscle memory, learning what looks good to you, and staying on top of what’s current in terms of looks.

I don’t know if you would agree, but when I look at your system I see an instrument. You may know what note you want to play in theory but you still need to figure out how to hit the right key at the right moment.

Yeah, and you have to get confident with it too because people read that. They can read your energy and how you’re feeling about it. And also, we as colorists, and DP’s, all of us really, get pigeon-holed into doing certain types of work or looks. I’ve gotten a lot of really glossy-type of work. Been doing a lot of watch and car ads and stuff like that where they want that really clean black levels with a lot of pings and contrast. That’s just the kind of work that’s gravitated towards me, and I have friends that are really big and all their work is heavily film-looking with a lot of tinted colors and grain. They are doing a lot of cool work in that realm and they’re always like, “Ahh, I want some glossier stuff to do,” and I’m like, “Ahh, I want to do some film looks!” But once you get rolling in one direction it’s hard to steer the ship a different way. 

I also imagine there’s a level of needing to be an empath so you understand how to read the politics of the room. How much they may want your opinion or who you should really be listening to.

Totally, [be]cause when you’re in a session, the DP wants one thing, the director wants another, and the agency wants something else. I will show a lot of different looks and then we’ll usually find a middle ground that everyone is happy with. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of politics and kind of playing therapist for people.

Then there are sessions where I do feel like I’m just button-pushing. Certain people basically want to color it themselves, so I’ll just shut down and do what they say. Those aren’t the most enjoyable sessions.

Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?

I definitely enjoy commercials because you might have like ten shots and you can really focus on them. You have the most time and liberty to work well on those projects. But then I just did an indie documentary that was really beautifully shot in the desert and that was a fun one to work on. The director was sort of pushing it to go a little bluer, and I wanted something that was a little warmer and we found a middle ground there. It just depends on the project [be]cause I’ll do music videos that are really fun and then there’s music videos that are a pain–just no saving them.

KFC x Jack Harlow. Photo provided by Loren White.

You’ve worked on some really cool, big projects. Have there been any especially fun pinch-me moments where you realized how far you’ve come? 

All the time. In December, I was booked back to back and realized that’s one of the beautiful things about having your own company. Especially when I first started those projects it was like, “Oh wow, they’re coming to work with me, my company, my little operation. This is a giant agency and they’ve been working with giant facilities for years.” The Halsey project was a great one. It was a couple of years of fostering a relationship with those people that ultimately led to getting that project and continuing to get projects with them. 

I’m always proud whenever I work with an artist that my twenty-year-old cousins know of.

As you’ve gotten further into your career has the balance between elevating a project versus saving a project shifted? 

Weirdly enough, the higher you go, the easier the job gets in a lot of respects. You’re now working with DPs that have tons of experience and the art direction is great. There’s just a lot more going for the project so you don’t need too much for a lot of these projects. It’s all pretty subtle work, especially if they have LUTs built early on or LUTs that I’m having them work with. Some of the LUTs I built, a lot of the leg work is in that. So it’s really fine-tuning it from there. The documentary I worked on was just a guy shooting in a desert community. In that one, I had to do a little more saving, as the highlights were blown out. Things like that. It’s great too because early on I’m working on these projects that really need the most experienced colorist they can get but the money’s not there. It’s the weirdest thing how it kind of gets easier as you keep going.

Are you able to say the name of the documentary?

Yeah, it’s called One Road to Quartzsite and it’s playing at the Big Sky Film Festival in a couple of weeks.

Great! Are you ever involved in a project that can afford to bring you in during pre-production where you might be developing a LUT with the cinematographer? Or will they have their look and LUT preference with you still being brought in during post? 

A lot of projects now have a LUT that they’ve been working with or a LUT that the DP likes. Usually, the DP will message me on the side and say, “Hey, let’s use this LUT, don’t show the agency the raw footage.” And I’ll work with that. I’ll also send a LUT to some DPs that I’ve worked with for a long time that has a heavier film look. One with more tint or colors in the shadows.

With the DPs you have more of a working relationship with, are you talking with them about that during pre-production? 

Sometimes, they’re often so busy running around that we don’t have much of an opportunity. Definitely in big studio features, which isn’t really a world I’m into much. Those tend to do a lot of pre-pro with the colorist and they’ll build LUTs for the show. TV is doing that a lot now too. I do it as well with DPs I work with but it’s just not as common to have a pre-pro to post thing.

Are there any misconceptions you would want to clear up about what you do? Something you wish people knew more about being a colorist? 

That’s a good question. There are more tools at our disposal now than ever before. I can do sky replacements if needed. I do a lot of cleanup. If there’s time at the end of a session and they need some logos removed or something, I can do that here now. Sky replacements, beauty work, cleaning up skin is something I’ve become known for. And you could do full-on VFX in here if you wanted. That’s a change, with respect to how far you can push things. You could even composite shots if you really wanted to. We’ve come a long way from when you used to have one power window.

How has the nature of collaborating with your clients changed over the past two years? Especially with something like color, where pre-pandemic all I heard was the importance of calibrated monitors and everyone being in one room seeing the same image.

It can be a problem sometimes but now most people in our industry are using Apple products and 95% of my sessions are remote now. People want to work from home and just log into the session. Ideally, they have an iPad Pro, and I’ll just have them turn off the turn tone so there’s no tinting in the whites. The Apple color science is really consistent from device to device, it’s basically like having the same monitor in everyone’s room. Not everyone has a $30,000 Sony monitor in their house, besides it’ll never look that good in the real world anyway. It’s nice to have one from time to time but the product is ultimately going to be viewed on an iPad or iPhone. So I’ll do an export and watch it on Frame.io on my iPad or iPhone, or watch playback through Evercast. It’s a really good test of how it’s going to be seen in the real world.

Has it been nice to have something like Evercast where clients not only don’t have to come in but can drop in from anywhere in the world?

Totally. I’ll be in a session with a director but the DP will be on set working on something else. If we want them to hop on real quick, the DP can walk to a corner and use the Evercast app to give us their notes quickly. To have that ability has been awesome. Or I’ll have times when the clients are at my studio [in Los Angeles] but then the other clients are in New York. They can just jump on the Evercast stream and we can communicate that way. I’ll have people in person and some people on Evercast, it’s like having a suite everywhere. 

Tell me more about your relationship using Evercast and when you started using it?

Six months into the pandemic I was looking for a new solution. I’d been using Streambox, which is good but was tricky for a lot of clients to get on because it’s hardware-based and some other things. So I wanted something that was a little bit easier to get into, and Evercast was a great fit. I worked with it a few times, it went smoothly, and I’ve been using it for all my remote work ever since.

You mentioned you haven’t done as much in the feature space. Is there an area like that you would like to spend some more time in? 

I would love to do TV, that’s something I’m trying to get into more of and also working in HDR more. Being in the commercial and music video space, HDR isn’t really used yet. Which is something that I think is going to get more and more popular as the years go on. 

Is there a show you love the look of?

Euphoria looks great. Tom Poole colored that.

How do you personally define success? 

 I’d define it as loving what you do, enjoying going to work every day, and having a lifestyle that you’re proud of and enjoy. Growing up, my dad was a hairstylist and my mom was a nurse. Seeing the flexibility my dad had, being able to go in and work with his clients when they needed him and running his own scheduling, and being able to take time off to go camping randomly. Oddly, I don’t have much time, but in theory, I could, you know? I could turn things down. Just having that autonomy is so important to me. I would define success as being happy with your lifestyle, being happy with the projects you’re doing, and being proud of your work.

Sounds like success to me! Lastly, anything you’ve been watching recently, old or new, that you’ve really enjoyed?

I’ve been watching Succession quite a bit lately. That’s a great show. The look is very subdued and subtle, but it brings you into the story. It’s definitely not one that would be a calling card for color, but the work is good in it and a lot of times the best work is the stuff you don’t see. It’s well-crafted all-around–writing, color, cinematography, editing. 

Well, it was a pleasure, have a good one! 

Will do, thank you.

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Header photo courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Walt Disney Pictures.

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