Our colorist extraordinaire talks about his influences and inspirations, his art and craft.
Three words that describe Nutmeg Colorist Gary Scarpulla? Quiet, calm, confident. One more? Cool. In addition to exuding a reserved authority born of being an in-demand colorist for A-list directors, Gary projects the sublime essence of an undocumented sixth member of the Rat Pack. He’s Kerouac cool. Coltrane cool. Steve McQueen cool. Either of them. You get the picture. Gary has worked extensively in sports programming and his background includes documentaries and promos for the Olympics, HBO, NBC Sports, WWE, History and ESPN, in addition to numerous series and features such as “Strangers with Candy,” “Nature,” HBO’s “America Undercover,” “Tupac: Resurrection” and “Lemmy.” But his proudest accomplishment? “My kids.” Definitely cool.
Can you describe what you do?
I’ve always felt a good colorist was an interpreter between the footage and the creators of the footage. It’s important to understand how a scene was meant to look, how to get it there, what the possibilities are beyond the expected and to maintain and enhance it across the project.
What led or inspired you to become a colorist?
I was fortunate enough to apprentice under two of the best colorists in the city when I was an assistant at VCA/ Teletronics under Dino Regas and Joe Bond. They inspired me, nurtured me and instilled a love for the craft in me.
What’s the most challenging aspect of color grading?
Wrangling the possibilities and trusting your instincts about the grade you’re working on—that’s always the best way to get your ideas across, especially with a room full of clients. I love when everything clicks and people are digging the looks we have going.
Can you watch movies, TV shows, commercials, etc., without noticing the color grading and thinking how you might have approached it differently?
Alway and never. I appreciate what I see but I turn it off in so far as critiquing. I sit back and enjoy. At home I tend to get more into playing around with stills, like restoring vintage album art.
Do you ever look at people in real life and say to yourself, “He could use a little more magenta,” or, “She needs less cyan”?
Haha, no, I’m sorry… It’s usually he or she can use a little more empathy or civility.
Are there any movies you love for how the color palette evoked the perfect mood?
Certainly, there’s been so many but lately though it seems to be more prevalent on TV, “Gotham,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Preacher” and now “Taboo”—just incredible work being done. And…much less teal and orange than in the cinema.
Your favorite outfit seems to be a black T-shirt, jeans and boots. Not what one might expect of a colorist. What are we to make of that?
Make of it what you will. Just keeping it simple.
You work with the lights dimmed. Does that assist with your work in any way or is it just a personal preference?
Not a personal preference at all. I love sunshine and rainbows as much as the next guy, but—think of it as sitting in the theater. Telecine rooms have always been set-up to maximize the image on the screen’s contrast, along with being surrounding by neutral light and neutral color. I can’t stress how important it is for grading to be done in the proper environment along with a properly calibrated studio monitor.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, were there any that you were personally so passionate about that you were thrilled to be involved?
Oh, yes, I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been involved in so many great projects. Recently I worked on an Arthur Ashe Courage Award piece for the ESPY’s about a young man named Zaevion Dobson who sacrificed his life to save two young ladies from stray bullets during a drive by shooting.
Any stories about working with or on celebrities that you can share—anonymously, of course?
Wow, stories should stay anonymous but I’ve had the pleasure to work with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Wu-Tang Clan, Cyndy Lauper, David Lee Roth, Diddy, David Byrne, Harry Connick, Jr. and each experience was unique and totally enjoyable. Personally, I’ve always been thrilled to work with photographers on directorial projects, people like Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Robert Frank and my personal favorite Matt Mahurin—just an absolute genius and the music videos I worked on with him over the years are just amazing.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, do you listen to certain types of music for certain types of projects?
Thanks to my mom and dad while I was growing up, I listen to everything from The Who, Allman Brothers Band, Miles Davis, Sinatra, Ella, Brother Jack McDuff, the Stones. I travel with a 2TB hard drive of my music so there’s something there for every and any project.
Do your skills ever come in handy in real-life? Interior design, gardening, car interiors, etc.?
No one ever asks me outside of the studio! Ever.