The new series Watchmen, from HBO and executive producer Damon Lindelof, is one of the undisputed hits of the fall season. Based on the graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, the series’ premiere drew an impressive 1.5 million viewers across all HBO platforms. Its riveting tale of an alternative-reality America has also elicited effusive critical praise. London’s Guardian newspaper proclaimed it a “bravura” effort that is “both thrilling and…resonant.”
Post-production finishing for the show is being completed at Sim, Los Angeles. Supervising Senior Colorist Todd Bochner has been working with series producers (Damon Lindelof and John Blair) as well as cinematographers Andrij Parekh, Gregory Middleton, Xavier Grobet, and Chris Seager to finalize a look that evokes the dark, brooding artwork of the graphic novel and its atmosphere of malevolent tension.
Bochner began working on Watchmen in the summer of 2018 when Parekh was preparing to shoot the pilot. “Whenever I begin a new project, I like to talk with the DP about cameras, lenses, lighting and style because they all have a different aesthetic,” Bochner observes. “With Andrij, we initially set looks for use on the set and in dailies. Ultimately, three more cinematographers have worked on this show and while the primary looks have remained consistent, each one brings a slightly different vision.”
Todd has previously served as final colorist for all three seasons of the cult-favorite The Leftovers. His other notable credits include Mr. Mercedes, Madam Secretary, Sleepy Hollow and Jane the Virgin.
Although the lion’s share of his work in recent years has been in television drama, Bochner is comfortable in a range of media and genres. “The shows I work on are so different from one another, it’s almost shocking,” he says. “But whatever it is, I dive into its world. With the diversity of cameras and lenses DPs use today and the tools available in the color suite, I have a lot of freedom to explore different looks, different styles and different worlds. That excites me.”
“Todd has the incredible ability to get the most out of whatever material is presented to him,” adds Sim’s Finishing Producer Mike Roark. “He leaves his stamp on everything he does, but it’s really not about him, it’s about fulfilling the vision of the DP and the show creators.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bochner studied film and television production at California State University, Northridge, before beginning his career at a local post house. “I was hired into the vault, but I stayed after hours to edit and learn the equipment,” he recalls. “I liked color and began helping a veteran colorist. I’d put his reels up and try to figure out by reverse engineering what he did. I did everything for him and learned by watching. After he left for the day, I would log back into Davinci and review what he’d done. That’s how it started.”
Bochner’s interest in color developed out of his life-long passion for photography. “I started shooting photos as a kid,” he explains. “I liked the frame and liked dissecting what drew your eye to certain details. Up until a few years ago, I still shot film. I loved the way different film stocks produced different looks. They were all color accurate, but each had a different palette. Which intrigued me.”
An avid learner, Bochner progressed quickly in his career. Within five years, he was coloring shows on his own. Many of his early credits came on unscripted series and sit-coms, the latter including the hits The New Adventures of Old Christine and Desperate Housewives.
As the television industry transitioned from film acquisition to digital capture, Bochner’s toolset also changed. “Color grading has advanced tremendously over the course of my career,” he recalls. “Back in the day, we had one Power Window that we could use to change the color on a certain part of the frame; now, they’re infinite. But the scope of the client’s expectations has also grown. They expect much more today.”
Bochner says his background in film helps him meet those higher expectations. Having been trained in traditional techniques, he’s learned to avoid an over-reliance on technology, and lean instead on experience and aesthetic taste. He believes that one of the most important qualities in a colorist is restraint. “Artists who’ve only worked in digital sometimes spend too much time tweaking the image,” he says. “The best work I see in not over-thought. It’s lit, shot and graded in a way that appropriate for the story, but it’s not overdone. Often, less is more. That is a lesson I learned from my film days.”
Bochner’s advice for young artists is simple: work hard, absorb as much as you can, and follow your passion. “Everything I’ve learned, I learned on the job,” he says. “I’ve spent years working and learning. I’m learning still, and always finding something new. My best advice is to discover what it is you want to do. When I was young, I had an opportunity to jump around. I had a cousin who was a producer for a sit-com. He invited me onto the set, and I was able to see what everyone does. I wound up in post. I chose color. And I love it.”