What I learnt about freelancing full time (and other things)

Two years ago as part of my recovery from post-natal depression, my husband resigned and become a stay-at-home dad and I went back to work, this time dedicating 5 days a week to freelancing.  Work-wise, I could do whatever I liked, whenever I liked, for the first time in what felt like forever. 

I did now however, have the sole responsibility of bringing home the bacon as they say, to support our new family of four.  There’s nothing like survival mode to get you out of bed in the morning.  After having two stints of maternity leave in the previous 4 years (plus an unplanned 65 day stay in hospital in another country while pregnant), I felt frustrated that as a woman my career had to be so interrupted.  I had worked really hard to become a busy freelance colourist in Sydney prior to to all of this, and so now, I was going to go back to work with gusto.  It was my time.

To help me along the way I became a bit of a podcast fiend.  Inspirational and motivational podcasts were my new soundtrack.  If Brene Brown, Tony Robbins or Lewis Howes mean anything to you, then you know what I’m talking about.  They became my mentors.  Lots of people think it’s all a bit woo-woo, talking about the universe and manifestation but I love that shit and if you ever want to sit in my suite and nerd out about any of this stuff I’m your woman!!  One thing I learnt (thanks Tony) was that the secret to happiness and abundance is giving away. 

It was during a particularly slow couple of weeks of work where I put this idea of ‘giving away to become abundant’ to the test.  For my mental health I also needed to be busy.   I decided to offer free colour grading to female filmmakers who needed support.  For a myriad of reasons I wanted to support women in particular and I received over 100 applications from all over the country.  Filmmakers who were trying to get their films made with limited time and resources… this was the definition of inspiring.  Without hesitation, Rob Saroff at ZIGZAG Post said yes when I asked if he would provide the facility for me, he said he would even contribute all of the online editing.  I learnt about the power of generosity and friendship.  I met filmmakers like Imogen Thomas who were crowdfunding to make a debut feature film.  With such a deep sense of duty to the people of the Brewarrina community, Imogen taught me about perseverance and stoicism in the face of unrelenting challenges.  The colour grading initiative gave me a renewed love for our screen industry, for it’s filmmakers and cemented the idea that I wanted and needed to be involved in something greater than myself.

If you have seen me at an event it may surprise you to read that I too hate networking.  I learnt to reframe it as “making friends”.  I decided that most people have an interesting story to tell and the best bit is that we all have something in common already which is our love of creating for the screen.  So I decided to actively try and make new friends (nerd!) but when you’re open to that it becomes a lot more enjoyable.  I decided to invite some of these new friends for coffee or lunch, because now I had 5 days a week to do with them what I pleased.  I’d email people and let them know that I really enjoyed meeting them, which was true.

The universe brought filmmaker Monica Davidson into my life.  I colour graded her film and then, oh, Monica also runs an amazing business advisory service?  Would I like to go?  Umm.. YASS!  Monica taught me the practical things like getting a business bank account and some accounting software but she also planted a seed in my head.  That I could get an employee.  With a zest for life and confidence to boot, Monica served it up to me straight.  I loved the way she rocked her own business, embraced her femininity and infused her gregarious personality into work.  

Don’t get me wrong, the universe also served up some douchebags.  Ones who made me feel the size of a pea and even angry.  I learnt that these moments can be valuable fuel to add to the fire in your belly.  To be underestimated can be the most motivating factor of all. 

My biggest professional fear has always been that I was not technical enough to be a colourist.  I didn’t want my own studio and all the technical maintenance that came with it, but Heather Galvin (freelance online-editor and friend) had her own Flame and I found inspiration in her.  I bought my own high-end colour grading studio.  I learnt that we all have our strengths and weaknesses and just because I didn’t particularly want to talk about LUT’s and Codec’s and RAM and GPU’s didn’t mean that I was not good enough.  I could talk all day about story, emotion, colour, art, life and I realised that this was my strength.  So I embraced it.  I named it and now I’m not afraid of it anymore.  I have some awesome friends on speed-dial (the ones whose eyes light up at the mention of a tech gadget) and I’ll just be over here catching zzz’s while they do their thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what I need to know and can troubleshoot my kit, but just because I can’t explain the internal workings of my Sony Oled does not mean I don’t know exactly how an image will or will not break up when I play with it.  Everyone has their strength and their own uniqueness.  No one can do what you can do, and no one can do what I can do.

I’d become really deflated if I heard someone else got chosen for a job.  My mentors taught me that you can’t be all things to all people.  That other people’s success does not diminish your achievements.  Also, that there is plenty of work to go around! In order to generate more work I decided to learn about business, so I became a business book fiend.  Step in mentors Michael Gerber, Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson.  A whole new rake of podcasts became my teachers including Lady Start Ups and Being Boss.

So two years after throwing myself into this full time freelancing lark, and after all the things I have learnt, I have decided to start my own, big grown-up business.

On 1 July I am launching her.  Like all the best things in life, the thought of it gives me a visceral feeling.. it makes me equally ecstatic and like I want to throw up.  If it all goes pear-shaped, that’s ok too because my mentors have some really good quotes about failure (ha!). I’m going to take what I’ve learnt and go at it with gusto.  If other people can do it why can’t I?  Let’s do this people!!

I’M HIRING! Assistant Colourist wanted.

I am looking for someone based in Brisbane to assist me on a casual basis in my colour grading studio.  Depending on skill set the role may include prepping Da Vinci Resolve projects and doing preliminary base grading.  Ideally I would find someone who I could train up and mentor into the role of a colourist.  Yay! 


The role will also include administrative support and running errands.  Must be just as happy to do grading, rendering or running to the post office to send hard drives! 


Would suit recent Film and TV graduate or someone looking to move into colour grading from editing or cinematography.  Technical prowess is secondary to a warm and positive attitude, hard work ethic and great communication skills.  Must be highly motivated, a fast learner and lovely to be around!     


A sensitivity to colour, an eye for detail and a background in photography, cinematography or a visual medium will be a big advantage.


I encourage applications of ethnic and gender diversity.


If you are interested please write me a covering letter and attach your CV (with 2 work references) to angelacerasi@gmail.com by Friday 1 March 2019.

colourist balls

What are those colourist balls all about?

Ahhh the balls.  Ok. So let me first put in a disclaimer that yes, the fact that I play with balls all day is one of the oldest colourist jokes around! There is no way around this occupational faux pas.


We play with 3 balls on a colourist console, and they each have a spin-able ring around them.  The balls affect the colour.  The rings affect the brightness.

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The left ball is for “lift” (shadows/blacks), the middle ball is for “gamma” (midtones/middle of the road colours that are neither dark or bright) and the right ball is “gain” (highlights/whites/bright colours).  By moving a ball in a certain direction you can push one range of colours toward a different range of colours. For example moving the “lift” ball from left to right will push any yellowy shadows toward more bluey coloured shadows.  Moving the “gamma” ball from left to right will make yellow midtones move toward blue (ie. taking some yellow out of skin tones and cooling it off toward blue). The left/right/up/down movement of the ball mirrors a vector scope. When I was starting out I drew a diagram like this below so that I could remember which way to push the balls! Quickly it becomes second nature.  In the early days during some particularly busy grading weeks I had been known to go to sleep, eyes closed but moving my eyeballs around to make different colours in my dreams.  Now there is a cool and weird colourist confession if I ever heard one!


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This diagram replicates a vectorscope (an electronic tool we use to measure hue and saturation).  You push the balls in the direction you want to get either red, green, blue, yellow, magenta or cyan.

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Now for the rings.  By moving each ring to the left, you wind it down/lessen the brightness of that parameter (either the shadows, mids, or highlights). By moving each right to the right you wind it up/crank it/brighten that parameter (either the shadows, mids, or highlights).

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You can colour grade without a console and it’s balls/rings and just use a mouse. The software usually has little colourful ball diagrams so you can drag your mouse from left to right on the each ball and do it that way. The beautiful thing about a console however, is that it means that you can use your two hands to intuitively move and spin the balls and rings to get your desired effect. When you change one parameter it effects another eg. Lifting the shadows will slightly lift the midtones also. Everything flows and is connected. So by using your hands it really becomes more like an art form in my opinion, very instinctive and reactive and I really love this bit about grading.

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Next time you’re in my suite, ask me for a spin!

How to make your videos look better in 2019

1.  Light. Light. Light. Light. It’s all about light.  Without it we would literally have no image.  Look for interesting light to capture… filtered, speckled, coloured, soft, dappled, twilight, harsh, glittering and glorious light.  Capture the contrast between light and shade and this will make your image more dynamic.  If the natural light is not interesting enough cut some of it out and create dark shadows.  Make sure your character has an eye-light – every character needs a light and a twinkle in their eye no matter how dark the scene is.  If you are filming a dark scene, light it up and put light into those shadow details then bring the exposure back down in the grade.  There is no coming back from an underexposed shot and your image may break up with noise.  Hire a good cinematographer!  She/he is worth their weight in gold.


2.  Create a visual mood board of the look that you want before your start shooting.  Show your collaborators and have this on hand when you’re making decisions on costume, location and set design.  Show your cinematographer and your colourist so that every one knows your intention and can aim for the same visual goal.  This planning and preparation will help make your videos look better – if you are wanting a soft colour palette then make sure your lead character or presenter is not wearing a black shirt or a bright, bold red dress.


3.  Stay away from cream walls as a backdrop.  If you’re shooting a documentary interior try and find a wall nearby with some colour or some pattern.  If it’s an interview set up give the shot depth by having them stand in the foreground of a location with a background with objects at different heights (buildings, trees etc).  If you have a stationary subject create depth and interest by adding something in the background which can be out of focus like a coloured curtain, a vase, a sculpture, or a painting.  Cream walls also make it more difficult to pull out/isolate some subject’s skin tones and it limits the separation between background and foreground.  We want a good separation between background and foreground so avoid cream and go find a wall of a different colour or pattern, or if you have time and budget paint the wall!

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4.  Limit zooming in on full frame shots during the edit unless very necessary for the story.  Zooming in on a shot reduces the quality of that shot no matter what the source resolution.


5.  Leave enough time in the filmmaking process for the final finishing.  Lock your edit (!) and let the VFX, the sound and colour department have time to craft their magic.  This is the best part (in my biased opinion!) so try and avoid crazy finishing deadlines and soak up the wonderful experience of putting the icing on the cake.  Great finishing will elevate your video and make it look infinitely better.