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Keyhan Bayegan on the Power of Color

Short films are becoming more popular than ever, largely due to the public’s interest in originality rather than marketability. Now is a time when being a filmmaker with unique and creative ideas is more accepted than perhaps ever in modern filmmaking. That being said, the artists who create these brief productions need to maximize the impact of every aspect in the creation of these stories. Though of misunderstood outside the professional community, a colorist is one of the most valuable individuals in this type of filmmaking. Colorist Keyhan Bayegan has credits from well-known productions (Golden Globe nominated HBO’s Insecure and Amazon Prime’s Homecoming, multiple Oscar nominated Star Wars: Episode IX-The Rise of Skywalker) but is adamant about the importance of working in short films and its rewards. His work as a colorist in a variety of different films within this category confirms how essential the work of a master such as himself is to achieving the tone of the story as well as how lauded it is by critics and the public.


Keyhan’s work on award-winning director Mojtaba Mirshekari’s Birthday is a case study in how the acting performances and the emotional reception of an audience is heightened by an exceptional colorist. This tale of Frank (played by Joseph Lopez) the widower whose oncoming birthday places him in the ranks of sexagenarians is an emotional pendulum with drastic transitions. On bad terms with his adult daughter, Frank seeks warmth in throwing his own birthday party and inviting the entire neighborhood. Unfamiliar attendees offer comradery but are secretly duplicitous. Keyhan displayed his ability to communicate Frank’s perspective along with that of the party goers. He describes, “Color can be important when it comes to acting. You can give an impression that the performance is comedic or aggressive based on color grading. I wanted the audience to feel the main character was older and lonely, but at the same time I didn't want the entire environment to be stale so that the other characters won’t feel comfortable in it. This becomes very important when the character meets the stranger couples for the very first time. We had a muted color palette, but we made it work with the subtle shine we put on the characters’ faces and skin tones, similar to Hollywood films in the fifties. That gives an impression of a welcoming situation even though colors are very limited. So if the audience sees that scene specifically, they won't focus on the muted colors for the sake of becoming distracted from the story but it affects them subconsciously.” Birthday’s six nominations and fifteen wins from entities such as the New York Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Awards, Global Film Festival Awards, and many others, testifies to the film’s overwhelming reception by both peers and public. 


Mastery of talent in the film world is using one’s talent to achieve an exceptional outcome regardless of genre. Bayegan displayed this in the Director John Purcell’s Brunch!. This comedy film was a Vimeo Staff Pick and was featured in Vulture (New York magazine’s culture and entertainment site). Thought the original idea of the film’s creator was to simply steer the digitally shot footage into a more chromatic aesthetic, Keyhan offered a number of approaches to magnify the comedy. He first introduced fine grains, aberrations, and Kodak film colors, communicating a sense that the footage was shot an actual film. Adjusting the colors, he mimicked the appearance of an animated film for this live action production. Balanced with the actors’ performances, these subtle adjustments manifest an exaggerated tone without being over-the-top. In doing so, Bayegan has led the audience most of the way to the jokes while allowing them to make the final steps for themselves. 

Brunch! from John Purcell on Vimeo.

Director/writer Michael Hyon Johnson’s This Will Destroy You is an intense drama about the ethical dilemmas cultivated during times of war. The story of a returning soldier named Amanda who has committed war crimes unbeknownst to anyone save her fellow soldiers delves into the bonds that accountability among military peers. The film revolves around perception of the events and crimes by those directly involved and those who know Amanda as a completely different type of person. This Will Destroy You takes place within 24 hours as Amanda arrives back home in the US. The visual language is paramount in communicating the different views of the characters. Johnson turned to Keyhan to realize this as both a colorist and DP (Bayegan has previously won Best Cinematography awards from the Global Film Awards and others). Keyhan explains how his dual roles achieved the proper mood for the film stating, “I think there are benefits if one person can do two different roles that are tightly interconnected. A colorist and a cinematographer have to always be on the same page when it comes to the vision of the film, that means running numerous tests, and exploring all the visual possibilities that they would like to try and how their choices can affect one another. When the Cinematographer is also the final colorist the need for constant communication and expressing ideas goes away and one person can improvise and control the look of the film exactly how they want it tailored. They know what lighting decisions end up changing the skin tone contrast and vice versa. When this barrier is lifted, as a creative you can get into the flow of generating ideas.” 

This will destroy you
This will destroy you

Keyhan describes himself as having a self-conscious and restrained approach most of the time but adds that he’s not against throwing caution to the wind and taking a “big swing” when the work and his director calls for it. Wide release feature film or Indie Short, the positive results of Bayegan’s work may be subtle to filmgoers but remarkably prominent to the creative community with whom he collaborates.

Written by Patrick Wilson 
Keyhan Bayegan on the Power of Color Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:50:00 AM Rating: 5
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