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With a breakout world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, the documentary drama ‘Reality’ chronicles the true story of the FBI’s interrogation of Reality Winner, a former United States Air Force employee and NSA translator who leaked an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

After the Director Tina Satter first transformed the actual interrogation transcript into the successful play ‘Is This a Room’, she then adapted it into the movie ‘Reality’, once again using dialogue word-for-word from the FBI’s audio recording of the interrogation.

‘Reality’ was graded by Marcy Robinson, senior colourist at Nice Shoes film and episodic post facility in New York City. Since a large part of the film takes place in one room, Marcy needed to maintain consistency while creating subtle nuances for storytelling, a challenge she enjoyed.

According to DP Paul Yee, ‘Reality’ is intentionally narrow in scope. “It takes place in one house, mostly in one bare room, over the course of a few hours,” he said. “We wanted to limit the visual stimulus at the start of the movie so that any camera or character movement or lighting cue would feel deliberate and purposeful. As ‘Reality’s’ story unfolds, the visual language slowly shifts from official and objective to subjective and instinctive.”

Critical Continuity

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During colour grading, working in Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio, Marcy’s focus involved considerable nuanced work, drawing the characters out somewhat from the starkness of the room, and adding highlights through colour, sometimes subtly and sometimes more obviously. As mentioned, she also spent much of the grading process maintaining consistency.

“Even though the film takes place mainly in this one room, a lot of subtle continuity concerns emerged to keep us on our toes,” noted Marcy. “The room was quite bare and lit with fluorescent lights. We wanted that environment to feel authentic in its harshness but also visually appealing, so we walked a fine line with that look throughout the grade. We wanted the room to have a beautiful familiarity and normality, but the space itself wasn’t very pretty, so that was part of the challenge.

“Paul achieved some amazing in-camera effects, and we had to match some of those in the grade. In terms of Resolve, we used some OFX glow and tilt shift tools quite heavily at times.” Using a physical tilt-shift lens on a camera changes the lens position in relation to the image sensor. By tilting the lens so that it is no longer parallel to the sensor, it shifts the plane of focus, altering and manipulating the depth of field. Marcy also often used keying tools to keep the room’s windows and fluorescent lights in control and balanced.

Initially, Paul expected that the limited locations would make the grade simpler and faster than usual, but in the end, it made colour continuity across the project much more critical. He said, “For instance, an overall luminance shift in one shot could affect the work for minutes in both directions on the timeline.

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Projecting Thoughts to the Screen

“I think that the greatest strength of Marcy’s and my working relationship is that we can discuss the grade in the abstract as opposed to the strictly technical. Her understanding of colour theory in tandem with her prowess with Resolve allows her to synthesise the thoughts and feelings in the room and project them onto the screen.”

Marcy said, “’Reality’ is an outstanding film and a project that feels very dear to me. I really loved working with Tina and Paul. They are extremely talented and also fantastic collaborators.”

‘Reality’ is now airing on HBO and streaming on Max.