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Elizabeth Colomba


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Elizabeth Colomba

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 illustrators.

    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 paper."

    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. SheFrom Slums of Beverly Hills 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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