Posted 08 April 2021
Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention by Megan Lee

Megan Lee on her winding path to VFX, as a senior colour assistant at The Mill

When she first graduated from a BA in film and television production, Megan Lee didn’t have a clear idea of her next steps. Taking a chance on a PR internship in fashion, things began to fall into place when a recruiter from London-based creative production studio, The Mill reached out. Megan started out as a runner at the studio, but her fate was sealed after walking into the colour department: “I knew this was what I wanted to do.” Today, Megan works as a senior colour assistant, supporting colourists and VFX artists to create moods using colour and ensure consistency onscreen. Here, she talks about taking calculated financial risks, working on a recent McFly music video, and her mission to become The Mill’s first female colourist.

Megan Lee


Job Title

Senior Colour Assistant, The Mill (2019–present)

Based

London

Selected Clients

Maltesers, Natwest, McFly, Beabadoobee, Empara Mi, Ashnikko, ShyGirl

Previous Employment

Runner, Shine Group (2013–2014)
In-House Runner and Researcher, Annex Films, (2012–2013)
Camera Assistant, Olympics Broadcasting Services (July 2012–August 2012)

Place of Study

BA Film and Television Production, University of Westminster (2009–2012)

Website

colourbymegwan.onfabrik.com

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what a colour assist does? And specifically, what you do at The Mill?
The Mill is a creative visual effects post-house, who work on an array of short form projects, mainly television commercials, but also music videos and short films. An essential stage of post-production is colour grading. It is the process of enhancing the colours and adding that final touch to a moving image. In a creative aspect, colour grading has developed into an integral part of storytelling by using colour to influence the audiences’ emotions, and so the role of a colour assistant has evolved as well.

My day-to-day job is to prepare camera footage for the colourists and VFX artists to work on, export graded files and match grade new shots. I help to make the colourist’s day easier as they bounce across different projects, whilst also acting as colour technical support for the company.

With The Mill being one of the largest VFX post houses in the world, it is important that all the artists are interpreting the footage in a uniformed way, and it is my job to maintain that in the London office.

Outside of this, I moonlight as a junior colourist, working on my own projects to build my showreel and skills. I spend a lot of time in a dark room making pretty colours!

Megan working on the grading of a horror feature film called ‘The Creeping’, directed by Jamie Hooper. The final session is currently on hold due to COVID-19.

If you could sum up your job in an image what would it be and why?
This (below) because of the famous saying in production: “We'll fix it in post”. I wish I could be Batman and say it'll be a lot less stressful, expensive and time consuming if you do it correctly on set.

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
My headphones. When I have a busy day on, I love to put them on, drown out the world and focus on the mountain of emails I have to get through.

What recent project The Mill are you most proud of?
I thought the pandemic would set me back in terms of career progression, but it turned out to be a great year of grading for me, and due to remote working, I have been lucky to work with clients all over the world.

A favourite one of mine would have to be for McFly’s You’re Not Special. We can't ignore the fact that my 14-year-old self would be fan-girling – but I also love collaborating with DOPs and directors who push me in other directions, especially as I am still developing my own grading style.

My default style is to go quite colourful and popping, but for this we went for a muted, cooler colour palette to really complement the Lake District scenery and landscapes.

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Graded stills of McFly’s ‘You’re Not Special’, directed by David Spearing. Director of Photography: Rhys Warren

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Graded stills of McFly’s ‘You’re Not Special’, directed by David Spearing. Director of Photography: Rhys Warren

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Graded stills of McFly’s ‘You’re Not Special’, directed by David Spearing. Director of Photography: Rhys Warren

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Graded stills of McFly’s ‘You’re Not Special’, directed by David Spearing. Director of Photography: Rhys Warren

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Graded stills of McFly’s ‘You’re Not Special’, directed by David Spearing. Director of Photography: Rhys Warren

How I got here

How did you land the job?
While I was at university I had no idea colourists existed, let alone colour assistants. I knew I loved the visual side of production, so I tried to specialise in camera work and set design, however it never felt right, and I didn’t enjoy working on set.

When I graduated from university I had no clue what career I wanted to pursue, so I started interning at any media place I could find. At one point I even did a fashion PR internship. But then one day, a recruiter from The Mill contacted me about a PR role, so the internship wasn’t a waste after all!

“The first time I walked into a colourist suite I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

I wasn’t really qualified for the job, so they asked me to be a runner instead. I had never worked in post-production before, but I decided to go for it, and I haven’t looked back since. The first time I walked into a colourist suite I knew this was what I wanted to do.

I worked my way up through the ranks, learning and building my knowledge on VFX and post-production each step of the way, until I finally made it into the colour department.

Still from ‘Working Bitch’ by Ashnikko, directed by Jocelyn Anquetil

What kind of skills are needed to do your role? Do you need any specific training to do what you do?
Everyone’s journey is different. An understanding of post-production, editing and cameras is essential for the role, but a lot of the knowledge and specific training I’ve learnt have all been on the job.

It really depends on the company and level you apply for. Smaller boutique companies might be looking to train people up, or bigger VFX houses might be looking for someone with more experience.

Think of the role as a ‘colourist in training’. The skills you learn on the job are all valuable for when you finally become a colourist. I almost studied maths at university, so I love that my job is a perfect blend of both creative and analytical.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I was thrown in the deep end during my first two weeks in the colour department! I was promoted in time to cover someone on holiday, which meant I was running the shift on my own from 8:30am until the next guy started at 3pm.

I felt like this was an opportunity for me to really prove myself as hardworking and determined, and it definitely taught me patience and how to focus on the tasks ahead. It paid off, because after those two weeks I felt confident working on my own, and I had set a strong reputation for myself in the company.

Still from ‘I Wish I Was Stephan Malkmus’ by Beabadoobee, directed by Bedroom
Still from ‘Shout’ by Empara Mi, directed-by Ivo and Stip

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Instagram is my biggest inspiration as it acts as an online portfolio for this new generation of colourists. I have my own work profile which I use to follow and stay inspired by fellow colourists, and you start to realise it’s actually a very small world.

I also try to keep up to date with the latest films and television shows, as a lot of my clients will use those as grading references.

Other than that, it’s my colleagues. Working with other aspiring colourists fuels healthy competition and pushes me to improve my skills.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I struggle a lot with self-confidence, even more so when it comes to putting my creative work out there. That has been my biggest learning curve throughout my career journey.

I am very grateful that I am able to learn and grow in the way that I am; grading in my spare time means I can work on any projects I like, without the pressure to make money from it – and as my skills improve, so does my confidence.

The Mill have never had a female colourist before, so the drive to be their first is definitely what keeps me going – and I look forward to the day my hard work pays off.

“The Mill have never had a female colourist before, so the drive to be their first is definitely what keeps me going – and I look forward to the day my hard work pays off.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
When I graduated, I didn’t want to move back home because I felt like that was taking a step back, so I would intern at various media companies in the day, and work as a waitress at night to pay rent.

It was difficult taking the running job at The Mill as I was making more money as a waitress (and getting free meals), but I couldn’t keep interning for free and needed to take that official step into the creative world.

In that moment I had to decide what was more important: money or my career. I worked it out and if I was really careful with my money, I could afford rent. It was a tough decision, but it all paid off in the long run, as I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken that leap.

Still from ‘Tasty’ by ShyGirl, directed by ShyGirl and Yasser Abubeke

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Take your time, go at your own pace and don’t feel like you need to rush. There’s a sticker I see on my way to work every morning that says, “Overnight success takes years” and honestly that is my mantra.

When I catch myself feeling stagnated or comparing my progress to others, I think of that and try not to be so hard on myself. There is no point burning yourself out; you have to love what you do in order to stay motivated.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
My advice has always been to show how passionate you are with an eagerness to learn. Get a job running in a post house.

Once you’re in a company they are most likely to hire from within, so you will have first dibs on job vacancies, and you are also in a better position to get one-on-one training with the colourists.

Be prepared to put in the hours. As long as you show enthusiasm, you will do well. It’s a tough industry to crack, but I believe that’s only because the passionate ones survive.

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention Megan Lee