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Designing the Palette for ‘Paper Towns’

When colorist Sean Coleman of Company 3 Santa Monica landed the Paper Towns assignment, he was delighted that he’d be working with director Jake Schreier, whose vision and eye for detail had made a strong impression on Coleman when the two worked together on the director’s debut feature, Robot & Frank.

On that small 2012 indie drama, the work had to be done in a single week. On this larger feature (based on the enormously popular John Green novel The Fault in Our Stars), the two and cinematographer David Lanzenberg had three weeks to develop and fine-tune a look. And this was important because Schreier wanted the visual feel of the coming-of-age drama about a mysterious girl’s disappearance to walk the very fine line between a light teen romance and a darker thriller.

Margo and Quentin (Nat Wolff) connect.
Photo by: Michael Tackett TM & (C) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

“We talked about David Fincher meets John Hughes,” Coleman says. “There are light, comedic parts and also emotionally darker scenes where we reference Gone Girl a little bit. So it was nice to have time to try an approach, then maybe make it a little bit darker and more ominous, and then pull back a little to get it in the right place.”

Lanzenberg shot Paper Towns in ARRIRAW with ARRI Alexa cameras, lighting and exposing to give the images a more filmic feel. Coleman graded to enhance that look. “Jake loves a traditional look, and so do I,” Coleman notes. “On Robot & Frank“—also shot digitally—”we added ‘grain,’ but we decided that would be going too far for Paper Towns. Jake isn’t interested in imposing a [single] visual style. He’s open to anything that helps tell the story.”