Alex Chernoff: Drive to Survive with Nucoda

Alex Chernoff: Drive To Survive With Nucoda

Alex Chernoff is a lead colorist at Pictureshop, working on some of the most exciting sport docuseries on Netflix, like Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Tour De France: Unchained, and Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story.

Reigning at the top of the Netflix charts, Drive to Survive has had an unprecedented impact on the world of racing, boosting viewer numbers over 50% year on year and introducing a new American audience. Nail-bitingly tense, addictively dramatic, Forbes called the show ‘The Real Housewives Of Monte Carlo’, offering a behind-the-scenes insight to the drivers’ lives as they take on their most daunting races.

Why do we keep going back for more? How did a show get newcomers so invested in the Formula 1 Championship? Alex explains that ‘at the core of it, they’re all human stories and the sport is just a backdrop to the events’ – he also finds he gets invested in these stories beyond the studio!

Drive to Survive
Drive to Survive – Season 4 (2023)

Drive to Survive blurs this line between real and fiction, with celebrities becoming characters in a plot. This drama is real life despite the orchestrated nature of docuseries. As parasocial relationships develop, those inside the screen felt that features were dramatised or misrepresented, the most famous example of all being Max Verstappen. He notably refused interviews in season 2, 3 and 4 on account of villainization and fake rivalries, but returned for season 5 on the agreement to ‘keep it real’.

When it comes to Alex it’s already edited in its narrative; his biggest challenge is to clean up the various formats footage was shot in. For example, onboard cameras in Formula 1 don’t handle low light well, so Alex uses Nucoda’s DVOs for noise reduction.

He works to portray the emotions of a scene through the colouring in the film, like making it darker, vignetting, and focusing on the character when a moment needs to be more emotive. In more exciting locations, like Monte Carlo, he will lean into the imagery of the Mediterranean so that it becomes hyperreal. The best part of the job? He says making the vignettes for the characters and the locations: unlike the race footage, ‘it’s completely new and it’s something the viewer hasn’t seen before – you make it come alive’. 

Tour de France: Unchained (2023)
Tour de France: Unchained (2023)

Tour de France: Unchained opened Alex’s eyes to the gruelling nature of the Tour De France, the pain the cyclists go through, and the impact it can have on these people. He’s currently working on the next season; the only thing he was able to say is that what’s to come is ‘extraordinarily exciting’ and in the hands of amazing editors.

Alex had his own taste of working in editing when starting out in post production, but credits his mentors for nurturing his journey into color grading and the development of his skills and style. ‘It’s really important to have teachers who take the time in order to get there – coloring is something that is taught’. Experimenting and testing out in your free time is the best way to get ahead, as Alex believes you need the confidence in your skill set to be established to be able to deliver for a client. 

His best advice? ‘Bring stills in from shows you like: dissect them in the scope and try to recreate it. Eventually you’ll have to develop your own thing because people want your eye not someone else’s, but you’ll need the fundamentals to know what works and what doesn’t’. 

The Traitors (2024)
The Traitors (2024)

When he’s not grading sports cars and bicycles, Alex also works on other equally popular shows, like The Traitors. Gripping the UK in a cultural chokehold, the BBC said that the first season was the biggest new series for young audiences across all BBC content in 2022, with a 1.3 million average audience across the series and a peak of 1.5 million for the final. This amassed to the show being watched over 34 million times on iPlayer. 

‘You’re never prepared for when a show steals the zeitgeist or how successful something can become’. The color grading for the show was mostly dedicated to the weather as it was really variable and affected the light and continuity – unsurprising for a shoot location in Scotland! Despite this, the landscapes and the settings proved to be fun to play with and heighten the drama.

Alex says he’s really optimistic for the future of TV, as more and more thrilling projects are released. He gets his dose of excitement at Pictureshop.