Artist in the Spotlight: Tom Chr. Lilletvedt.
18th March 2021
Tom Chr. Lilletvedt is the senior colourist at Hinterland, a production facility in Stavanger and Oslo, Norway. Tom has graded a number of high-end documentaries including The Painter and the Thief which recently won Sundance Festival World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling and the BFI Film Festival’s award for Best Documentary.
Tom’s impressive list of credits includes Cold Case Hammarskjöld and President, both of which have also won awards at Sundance Film Festival. He has also graded The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence, Mogadishu Soldier, Forever Pure, Lucky One, Exit and ‘Til Kingdom Come among others.
Tom didn’t take the traditional route for his career in post-production, “I kind of just slipped into it. I grew up with a Super-8 camera, so it evolved from there”. Tom’s educational background is actually in graphic design and visual communication which he says has helped shape his colour grading process. “I tried a little bit of everything, but quite early on I loved to be able to paint in film”.
Tom worked in a number of post-production roles in Bergen, Norway before working at Hinterland. “I’ve always worked with the people who started Hinterland so when they moved to Stavanger, I followed. We started Hinterland as a post-production house in 2009 and we got Nucoda the year after, so 2010.”
Tom has been working on Nucoda for over ten years. As a tool, it feels like an extension of himself, “It just feels intuitive – that’s the main part. I don’t have to be a computer engineer to use it, I can focus on the aesthetics.”
The Painter and the Thief is a story of friendship between a Czech artist and a thief who stole from her. It’s been hailed as a top film of 2020 by the BBC, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. For Tom, working on The Painter and the Thief was all about creating warmth and feeling to parallel the emotions of the subjects in the film. “I tried to follow the character story arcs and do the same with the colour – sometimes matching it and sometimes counter matching it”, he says, “It was a fun project where I could help out with the storytelling using colours”.
The documentary was shot on a compressed camera in a dark studio space with harsh shadows. “With documentaries you don’t have the big lighting that you have on a fiction film, so you have to deal with what you get. It’s more important to stay with what’s happening in real life than to start moving lights around on location”, Tom says. Tom worked hard to bring the work out of the shadows and into a warm glow using Clarity and other DVOs, in addition to careful grading.
Tom has worked across a variety of high-end feature documentaries. One of which, The Mole: Undercover in North Korea, is a real-life undercover thriller about two men on a 10-year mission spying on North Korea. A film mostly comprised of hidden bodycams, the footage was incredibly compressed, over-exposed, or crushed. Tom worked hard to counter these issues in the grade. “We used more of a muted palette to make it look better. More of a softer look to make it flow”.
“It was a very intriguing project, it’s kind of larger than life in some ways, but the crazy thing is that you know it’s the real thing that’s happening at the same time. You wouldn’t feel out of place like watching it in a James Bond movie or something, you know?”
Another such larger-than-life film Tom has worked on is The Blue Code of Silence, a documentary about corruption in the NYPD in the 1970’s. The film centres around a cop who wore a wire to expose the illegal inner workings of the police force. The challenge this time was the extensive use of archive footage and working the grade to make it all flow together.
“There was a lot of archive from the seventies, both on film and TV so there was a lot of DVO tools used. I love it that you could take away all that noise and distraction so people can enjoy the story”, says Tom, “That’s my main goal with archive – you want to follow the story, not look at interlacing. You want to remove the ‘noise curtain’, so that you can keep the audience engaged in the story. It is also a treat making other shots match the film look of old. It is a nice aesthetic.”
The larger-than-life aspect of documentary is what makes this genre Tom’s passion. “I love this interaction between documentary and fiction and how they inspire each other”, Tom says, “Regardless of film being documentary or fiction, it’s just about filmmakers staying true to what’s happening in front of the camera. I think that’s the essence.”