The Invisible Artist:
An Interview with Storyboard Artist Elizabeth Colomba
December 10, 1998
by Dan Lybarger
Originally appeared in the December 10-16, 1998 issue of Pitch Weekly.
You might not see Elizabeth Colomba's name in the credits for Beloved, Slums of
Beverly Hills, Polish Wedding or William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet,
but she's made an important contribution to all these films.
Colomba works as a storyboard artist. Storyboards are comic book-like
drawings that filmmakers use to plan how they will visualize a story. Directors such as
Martin Scorsese or Brian De Palma draw their own, but others prefer to hire professional
Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, CA, Colomba doesn't find it
ironic that she's become successful by drawing sketches that few people see. "Usually
the only person who sees my work is the director. I'm not frustrated. It's the job. If the
main person looks at it and likes it, that's the most important thing. If it's good enough
for them, I'm happy. I'm easy," she says, laughing.
Colomba says, "If there are a lot of people, car scenes, stunts or
special effects, storyboards are very important." Even low-budget character-driven
movies like Slums of Beverly Hills benefit from her work. She recalls,
"(Director Tamara Jenkins) wanted scenes where there were many people involved, like
the scene in the airport. Scenes like that are hard to articulate if you don't see them in
pictures. You want people to know how to shoot, and you don't want to waste time. So
basically, those are scenes you want to storyboard. She felt more secure to have this on
Colomba says she's often hired to handle individual scenes like these.
However, with the forthcoming MTV-produced movie The Wood, she had a more demanding
workload. "My partner Kasia Adamik and I had to storyboard the whole movie. They had
the money for a month, so we did everything we could. We didn't finish it, but there was a
lot of work. There were action scenes. Even simple scenes were drawn. You could read the
whole story from the storyboards," she says.
Storyboards can make a narrative more concrete and can also provide
additional benefits. Colomba explains, "Storyboards sometimes show you that there are
too many shots or that a sequence is not too important."
While Colomba has had the chance to work in high profile projects with
some of Hollywood's biggest names, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, she says one of her favorite
projects is one that will remain obscure. She laments, "There was a boxing movie
called Out On My Feet. I don't know what the inside story was, but they stopped
production in the middle of it. I was proud of that work. All of the storyboards and the
communication with the director and the actors were a good atmosphere from my side. I
liked the story very much. I didn't know that boxing could be so interesting, but nobody
will see it." Fortunately for her pocketbook, she says this kind of experience is
rare. "They're supposed to be (completed). Otherwise, you don't get your
paycheck," she says with a chuckle.
Colomba has had her share of
setbacks, but she is glad to put her passion for drawing to use. She says, "I always liked drawing. I
started studying when I was 15, and I went to a special high school for art. I thought
about making a job out of it."
Her first art-related occupation was disappointing. Before she got her
start in Hollywood, Colomba worked at an advertising agency in her native Paris. "I
wanted to be an art director. Unfortunately, it wasn't very creative. You did what people
asked you to do. Working on advertising for detergent or cat food is not interesting. It's
good for money. But at some point, you just feel stuck. I got bored," she recalls.
She still supplements her income with the occasional ad campaign
(British Airways) or music video (LL Cool J and Dr. Dre's "Zoom" from Bulworth),
but she's happy about changing her career and her country. Colomba states, "I wanted
to do the same thing but in another field. I thought about the movie business. It's easier
in advertising because you don't have to think. It's harder in the movie business, but
it's much more interesting. If I have the choice between advertising and movies, I would
always choose movies.
"It feels so much better to be in the middle of people who share
common points of interest," she adds. "In advertising, they're asking you to
execute things. Even if you don't get to exchange ideas in the movie business, it's always
good to meet people who've experienced things and tell their stories. It's much more
interesting because you always meet different people. Every movie is like a family. You
live with the people for a long time. It suits me better."
If she is happy with the results of her career change, Colomba admits
the choice was not deliberate. "My friend and I decided to leave for the United
States just like that. We knew some people there, and they helped us. The first time we
came here we didn't have a job, but we knew some people, which is more important. It was
by chance and luck," she says.
Colomba doesn't have any plans to use her drawing skills in a more
public environment such as set or costume design. She says, "I do not think I have
the ability for this. I would love to be gifted in everything. I would like to be a
genius, but I am not."
As for advice to others who wish to follow in her footsteps, Colomba
offers a warning. "Bug off! I do not need any competition! Just kidding," she
says. "There are many agencies you can go to for interviews. I can't give any tips
because I don't have any. Everything happened for me just like that. I know it's really
cliché to say that, but that's my life."
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