Virtuosity: The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition makes Music a grueling competition sport

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July 27, 2015
The film follows the lives of a group of thirty remarkable musicians, classically trained pianists from around the world, who came together for the quadrennial event that took place in the late Spring of 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Virtuosity: The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Virtuosity,a wonderful new feature length documentary about the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competition, premiered on PBS last week, and Technicolor caught up with cinematographer Steven Poster, ASC who served the production in various capacities: as the consulting director of photography and associate producer, over the past three years.  The film was finished at Technicolor Hollywood with senior colorist Jason Fabbro taking the lead along with producer Christine Dougherty.

The film follows the lives of a group of thirty remarkable musicians, classically trained pianists from around the world, who came together for the quadrennial event that took place in the late Spring of 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  The last “Cliburn” brought together competitors from around the world, ranging in age from 19 to 30 years of age, with the film following the weeks of intense competition while delving into their personal lives of the competitors, aggregating into a remarkably emotional experience for viewers. Virtuosity was photographed by cinematographer Larry McConkey, and, in Poster’s words, Larry “did a beautiful job!” 

Stated Poster, “This was a very complicated production combining a feature length documentary and a 14-day live broadcast of the actual competition.  We worked with director Chris Wilkinson, in pre-production, to design the photographic concept of the project, selecting Canon C300 cameras and lenses, not only because of the photographic quality of the chip, but also because of its low light capability.  The project’s complicated workflow involved a broadcast truck for the competition, which streamed the entire contest for 14 days.  That footage was also recorded internally on the cameras for later use on the documentary.  Technicolor was extremely helpful in designing our workflow from beginning to end.”

After the competition, Wilkinson and McConkey took-off on an around-the-world tour to work with key contestants that were featured in the movie.  Elaborates Poster, “One of our considerations for the look of this movie had to do with the fact that there were several different kinds of materials that had to be combined for the final product. This gave all of the footage, documentary or concert, a consistent look during digital intermediate work at Technicolor,”

Jason Fabbro noted, “We worked together with Chris and Steven to pre-grade the competition footage before the filmmakers hit the road.”  During the finishing digital intermediate process the filmmakers, working with Fabbro and the Technicolor team, elected to give dedicated segments of the final cut a black and white treatment, adding some film grain where needed, producing a look reminiscent of high-contrast b/w negative stock.  “Because the production photography was “documentary” in style, with little time and less money, we also modeled the lighting during the finishing grading process, knocking-down unwanted highlights, with selective windows.”