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thoughts on achieving 'communist propaganda' look


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#1 Craig Howie

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 09:27 AM

i'm about to shoot my first 35mm short and was hoping for some tips.

conceptually, the story is told in the form of a communist era chinese propaganda film.

anyone have any recommendations on which films stocks, filters, etc might help achieve this look?

any advice appreciated. thx!
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 10:23 AM

I shot a NO budget local commercial spot (for Mao's Kitchen in Venice) as favor for a friend, just him and me, two lights, and the restaurant employees as actors. The owner had grown up in China and the director proposed making the commercial a parody of propaganda films. Since I couldn't find any for reference, I sort of based the look of what I've seen of Soviet propaganda films of the 1950's & 60's, particularly based on seeing the musicals in the documentary "East Side Story" (a must see.)

Plus I looked at Chinese Communist proganda posters, like here:
http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/
Take a look -- I think you'll learn a lot about the "attitude" in the images, the heroic framing, etc. Also look at Eisenstein's films.

I shot the piece on an Arri-S with an old 12-120 Ang. zoom using VNK Ektachrome reversal. The whole thing came out rather soft; the lens really was crap and the telecine transfer was very cheap.

I pumped up the colors in the transfer to resemble a dye transfer print, which would have been used in China in the 1970's. Unfortunately, VNF Ektachrome stocks have been discontinued, which is too bad in this case because they look instantly retro. I suppose another choice would be 16mm Kodachrome 40T.

Since you are shooting in 35mm, I'm tempted to suggest that you shoot on color neg, make a Vision Premier print, which will be in some ways, too harsh for a video transfer but saturated, and use that print in the telecine as if you only had an old print to transfer -- maybe even beat-up the print, scratch it, etc. Obviously the old hard lighting style is key, heroic low angles, dutch angles, etc. Now if this project is for print, then perhaps you could get the print duped to an IN and then print that, so it looks a couple of generations old and dupey, contrasty, dirty. In that case, maybe start with a low-con print, not Vision Premier. Or shoot reversal, like Ektachrome 100D 5285, and dupe that to an IN. Anything to avoid the look of modern color neg just printed to modern print stock and projected.

Here's one of the more stylized shots in the commercial (the rest were of the modern restaurant). This was taken against one of the walls of the restaurant with the director waving the red flag behind the store owner:
Posted Image

Edited by David Mullen, 03 December 2005 - 10:33 AM.

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#3 Sam Wells

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 11:32 AM

Unfortunately the only Chinese (PRC) film of the 70's I've seen was visually really beautiful. A doc seemingly about a steam train.. can't say much more as it had no English titles. It was 16mm but looked like Tech IB.

I'm trying to think of "Fitth Generation" Chinese directors (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, etc) who 'reference' films of that era, but I'm coming up short. You could find an example of "Revolutionary Model Operas" as possible inspiration in "Farewell My Concubine" -- there are also some great scenes built around a kind of propaganda troupe in Jia Zhanke's "Platform" - (just out in US on DVD) but they are not film.

It seems possible there is some film-within-a-film in post-Mao Chinese cinema that you could use to study - I'll ask someone who knows this stuff if I can..

Come to think of it, I have seen a film of the ballet "Red Detachment Of Women" IIRC but can't remeber too much about formal qualities; it was pretty much filmed ballet....

-Sam
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#4 Craig Howie

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 04:50 AM

thanks for the detailed advice!

will post some stills once it's finished.

:)
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