Playing with colour and light

Alana Cotton in dark

Every Little Thing continues its magical journey towards completion. The film is now in the hands of colourist Alana Cotton, who is adding her own brand of magic to Fred Renata’s pictures.

Step inside her darkened room at Images and Sound in Grafton, and you’ll find Alana surrounded by screens. There’s a wave form monitor, a vectorscope and a histogram – but that’s just the technical stuff: the means to an end. Alana’s real mission is to focus on the emotional impact of a scene: “What is the point of the story? What are we trying to say?”

It’s fair to say Alana’s job is a bit of a mystery to people outside the film world. When she specifies her occupation as ‘Colourist’ on official forms, people usually assume she’s a hairdresser. “But if they took one look at me they’d realize I’m not,” she jokes.

Alana Cotton at work

Colour grading is a time-consuming process that would drive some people crazy. But Alana loves it. “It’s hard to believe it’s a real job,” she grins. And life in a dark room? Well, she listens to a lot of music (see ‘Favourites’ below) and steps outside every couple of hours to ‘reset’ her eyes.

Alana uses Baselight grading software to match the colours in various shots, to highlight or subdue parts of a picture, remove distractions, draw attention to the important details, and change the hues.

“My job is helping the director and DoP to visually tell the story. To find the mood and tone.  To make sure the audience is looking at the right thing.  If the audience isn’t feeling what they’re meant to be feeling – I can help.”


On Every Little Thing, Alana is having fun on some of the more unusual scenes, like those involving a celestial being. “We are introducing some subtle haloing and promist – bringing that otherworldly presence.

Every Little Thing is the kind of film we can really play with. It’s not immediately clear if what Harry is seeing is real or not, and we are playing with that idea in the grade – gently. Everything through Harry’s eyes feels a little different. It’s not necessarily obvious what or why that is … but on a second watch it would become more obvious.

“There’s also this lovely golden yellow tail light that pulses like a heart beat through the film, faster at the beginning with the adrenalin of what is happening and then slowing down and fading some. It seems to follow the pace of the film – and I look forward to accentuating and playing with this idea too.”

Unsurprisingly, she loves movies – across many genres (see Favourites). “When there is a strong grade specifically created to drive the story – like in Inside Llewellyn Davis or the latest Mad Max – I think it enhances the experience overall, and reinvigorates my passion for what I do.”

She admits she is ‘hyper aware’ of the colour grade of a movie she’s watching, but says it doesn’t distract her as long as the film is engrossing.


Over the last eight years Alana has worked on a wide range of commercials, TV series (including Power Rangers), documentaries (including The ground we won), movies (including Deathgasm) and short films.

She could easily have followed another career path – “at high school I was a bit of a maths nerd”. But instead she went to film school (South Seas). She enrolled in writing/directing – “but very quickly realised I belonged on the post production side.” At Images she found her true calling as a colourist.

The best part of her job – besides the satisfaction of fixing problems – is working on exciting new ideas with directors and DoPs. “Perhaps bringing something to the project that hadn’t been thought of.”

She says that “as always” DoP Fred Renata has shot beautiful pictures for Every Little Thing, “and it’s an absolute pleasure to collaborate on this.” Alana is also working in with composer Karl Steven to create the right mood for the film.



  • FAVOURITE BAND: Currently Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (soul/funk) and Freddy Fudpucker (folk with punk roots) – a Dunedin local, now based in Berlin.
  • FAVOURITE FILMS: In Bruges, Boy, Bad Education, Pan’s Labyrinth, Whiplash, anything by the Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson, Amelie. She also watches a lot of feature documentaries.



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3 responses to “Playing with colour and light

  1. pamela zane keys

    Thank you for the update on ‘Every Little Thing’ (the title of which always triggers Bob Marley’s singing – in my head – wonderfully – that it will turn out all right – fingers crossed for the movie story line then). This time, I enjoyed reading about Alana and her intriguing work. Go Alana! It’s been amazing to follow all the processes involved in film making and given me a huge respect for all those involved in this creative production.


  2. Thanks for your comments and support, Pamela. I have been amazed, too, at the amount of detail that’s involved in making even a ‘short’. But I continue to be grateful for the energy and enthusiasm I meet among people like Alana along the way. John


  3. Russell Lloyd

    I hope we managed to get the tail light heart beat right. 5 days of pushing the button to get the ‘flash’, a couple of hours in the upturned car for the drone shots , lying in glass, but such a great idea by the master of light Fred R.


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