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Film Fear


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#1 Jornenzal

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 10:54 AM

Hi everybody.

First, a story...

Some time ago when I was in college I took a very basic filmmaking course. During that semester I made two silent Super 8 films - both in black and white (Kodak Tri-X if I remember correctly).

When it came time for me to make my first film, I wrote my screenplay, found my actors, bought my film, and "rented" a camera from the school's audio/visual department.

The actual filming was a breeze. Weather was unbelieveably perfect that morning. My actors seemed to know what I wanted almost telepathically - they needed surprisingly little instruction despite being total non-professionals. I thought we'd need about five hours to get all the footage - but things went so well that we only needed three. A truly singular experience. Delightful.

But -

When I got my footage back from the lab, all I could see on the roll was frame after frame of PURE BLACK...

As it turned out, the camera I borrowed from the AV department was faulty. A light leak had ruined all my precious film. The really irritating part about the whole thing was that the AV people had known the camera was a problem (this wasn't the first time it had malfunctioned) but they'd never done anything about it.

Needless to say, my film teacher got them to dispose of that camera.

Anyway, I started over with a different camera and completed my film on time. Everything worked out, etc. etc...

So here I am ten years later and I'm in the very early stages of planning a low-budget feature. And, of course, I'm contemplating the big choice - film or video?

My reason for telling the faulty camera story is that I think it crystalizes a big fear I have with film. The fear of the unknown. That is - you won't actually know what you're putting on the film until you get it developed... In that sense, video does offer a slight advantage. All you have to do it rewind the tape and see how things turned out. Film is much more mysterious and I suppose that's why I find it so intimidating.

I'm wondering if anyone else here can identify with these feelings. I was also wondering if some of the professionals on this board knew of any "big-budget" horror stories that would compare to mine. I mean, at any given moment, there are tons of films in production. I can't imagine that something like this doesn't happen every once in a while.

I suppose if you're working on a studio film and a glitch like that takes place you just grit your teeth and start over again - but it's kind of a scary thought for me in the low-budget world. To think of all that money going down the drain...

Anyway, I'm done rambling for the moment. I'd love to hear what anyone has to say about this.

Sincerely,
Kieran
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 01:51 PM

Hi,

Well if you're shooting an entire feature on film you'll test the equipment before you take it out. This can be difficult or impossible on very small short films where the cost of testing can approach the entire cost of the production, but you'd be insane not to on a feature.

That said, if you're spending a lot of days on a location and you look at dailies every morning, you will at worst lose one day on that location. Again, on a small feature where you're only on any one location for half a day this can still be a showstopper.

At the end of the day it's a realistic fear - yes, it can go wrong and you won't know about it. If you don't need a 35mm print (which may be an important goal if it's a truly commercial feature production enterprise), and even, increasingly, if you do, formats other than 35mm (16, HD) can save a little or a lot of money. Need more info.

Phil
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 05:00 PM

Well, you test the camera, and after that, you're playing a game of averages -- odds are high that most of your footage will come out fine. So the more you shoot and the more footage comes back fine from the lab, you stop worrying so much even though of course something can go wrong eventually. But things can go wrong with a video camera, even something as simple as forgetting to hit the record button. And you don't rewatch every minute of footage you shoot on a video camera immediately after each take.

As far as a light leak destroying your footage, that makes no sense -- you couldn't possibly get back black (i.e. unexposed) footage, you'd get fogged footage, light-flashed.

There's nothing wrong with fear if it makes you more prepared, more organized, but irrational fear that causes you to avoid some action that could benefit your movie (like shooting on the ideal format for the piece) is a bad thing.
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#4 Daniel Stigler

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 06:26 PM

Having to shoot on video always gives me the creeps. All that videostuff is so unreliable. A few weeks ago i had a commercial shooting in South Africa that included shooting on the beach (seawater, sand, heat) and a lot of shots with the camera rigged to a car driving along a dusty dirtroad. The Arri 435 worked flawlessly, i had no trouble controlling it on the car, on the crane and the shots came out perfect.
Just the Sony Watchman and the Making Off Camera died along the way. :rolleyes:
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#5 Hal Smith

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 10:24 PM

I know of a film-maker who shot a ton of film in Southeast Asia only to discover almost all of it was around 5 stops underexposed. Their lightmeter went bad and they didn't realize it. They were nowhere near a lab and in a country where shipping film out was an incredible hassle, one basically had to take one's own film out, no couriers, forwarders, FedEx, etc. :(

Two lessons:
1. Have multiple meters - maybe bring a film SLR along for a second opinion on exposure.
2. Learn to judge lighting by eye - at least you won't be 5 stops off.
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#6 niknaz

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Posted 29 March 2006 - 11:50 PM

I'd say for the one time a shoot goes awry, there are more than a handfull that turn out perfect. I've been on film sets where the camera out and out poops... I've also been on video shoots where the camera poops. Camera rental houses have an emergency number you can call after hours if your camera dies and you don't have a back-up.

Then there was that one movie where it snowed the first week then got incredibly warm and everything melted for the last few weeks... let's just say there were delays. :wacko:

Seek out experienced DPs, assistants, etc. They'll be able to let you know if something is funny with the camera. Unlike your av center experience most rental houses are very interested in your business and they are very interested in their reputation and for the most part helpful, responsive and nice.

It just so happens that these days I am a media technician at a college. I deal with their film and video cameras. 9 out of 10 repairs that come to my attention are from user error. Just this last month three students came to me with bad footage. All three were a result of the students not loading the cameras properly--two cameras are damaged because of it.

Sad but true... moral of the story: don't let film school make you afraid of film. ;)

Good Luck.

-niknaz
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 30 March 2006 - 01:25 AM

You sure you didn't acidentally leave the lens cap on? (:D)
:D
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#8 Natalie Saito

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Posted 30 March 2006 - 01:42 AM

Kieran, I've experienced the exact same thing when I took my first filmmaking class. But my problem was improper loading. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it until I took out the film. I was using a rather difficult camera to load, Krasnogorsk-3 (16mm), a camera that I bought recently. Frankly I learned the proper way despite the fact that many film people (including my professor) had the same difficulty. I know that feeling of "what if it doesn't come out?" but it's all part of the learning process. And hopefully losing a lot of money isn't part of it. -Natalie
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#9 Chris Burke

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Posted 30 March 2006 - 07:06 AM

Kieran,

I highly recommend you test. If you don't have the money in the budget for even a 100' test, then ask the place you will be renting from, if you could do the test at their shop for free. I am about to do this very thing, where we can not afford to rent a camera for an extra weekend. My DP is very good friends with the camera shop and they are allowing us to shoot a small test right at the shop, gratis. Loads of rental places are more willing to go the extra mile for the small time filmmaker, just ask. Also keep in mind that when you rent from a reputable company, use no other, you have the assurance that if something goes reallly wrong with any of their equipment, it is replaced immediatley, no questions asked.
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#10 Robert Hughes

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Posted 31 March 2006 - 03:05 PM

Umm, are people here of the belief that film is problem-prone and video shoots are trouble-free?

I recall engineering my first 3 camera shoot, Grass Valley 100 switcher, with 3 BetaSP record decks (mix + 2 iso camera). Everything seemed to work great - until I viewed the videotapes the next week - sync roll bars through all the tapes! I had set "sync" from "int" to "ext" when setting the decks, but had not known to hook up external sync cables from the GVG100 to the decks because I didn't realize what "ext" meant. I was not fired, (I certainly deserved it) but was so embarrassed by my own screw-up I considered resigning.

Edited by Robert Hughes, 31 March 2006 - 03:07 PM.

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#11 GARRETT HARTMAN

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Posted 02 April 2006 - 04:16 PM

I would say there is a belief that video is a little more fail-safe than film. But what is not considered sometimes is what it's like for the professional vs. the novice. For the beginners, film is this quasi-magical thing and you might think there should be an animal sacrifice involved in order to get what you want, because you have no clue what forces are at work here. With video, it's a little more transparent, because of the immediate product you get.

Well, all this said, in my experience, once you learn about film, and light, etc., the professional will realize that it takes a great amount of knowledge and experience to control the final product (i.e., the film tests that zaefod talk about). This leads to an attitude that when you work around film, it's like explosives: you only get one chance. And this attitude means that you don't screw around, that you must be focused, and that you have to put a lot of time and energy into the work. Well, you might say: "well then, I want to work in video, because you get the same product, without the extra work." Well, besides the debate about the final product, I think we have to consider that the barriers to film act as a filter for the uninitiated. If you aren't willing to go through the ring of fire to understand film, then do you really deserve to work? I don't mean to sound all haughty, but who said all it takes to make a good project is to own a camera and have an idea? There is, despite the get-rich-dreams of most young americans (I'm was once a young american), some work involved in making any kind of art.

I'm probably screwing this thread all up by typing the word "art" (bruckheimer vs. brakhage), but it's the root of the question which begs asking. Why choose the more difficult path if your desired end product won't show any technical difference?

GH
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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 02 April 2006 - 04:20 PM

Hi,

The secret of this situation is that it's actually way easier to light for film. On film you can set a key at a certain level which you meter and do everything else more or less by eye, and it'll probably look OK. On video every light has to be tweaked and scrimmed and NDd to exactly the right level or it looks like crap. If film was as hard to light as video it would be unusable.

Phil
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 02 April 2006 - 05:38 PM

"That is - you won't actually know what you're putting on the film until you get it developed"

Good grief this is entirely the fun of shooting film!

As Forrest Gump says: "Shooting film is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."

I've done countless transfer sessions for film I've shot, there's always that heart racing moment as the first few frames start to appear on the monitor. Am I hero or goat?

I've been the goat plenty of times and it can be very frustrating, but there was this one time I shot some thing that actually looked good. I hope to do that again one day.

R,
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#14 Hal Smith

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Posted 02 April 2006 - 10:22 PM

As Forrest Gump says: "Shooting film is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."

R,


Sorry Forrest.

My mom used to work at Brach's in Chicago. Brach's used code symbols on the top of their truffles (certain swirls, etc.) that told you exactly what was in that piece. I could pick the chocolate covered cherries out of any box of Brach's chocolates ever made.

Film can be like that - an ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of ruined film. :)
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#15 Jon-Hebert Barto

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Posted 12 April 2006 - 10:26 PM

insurance
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#16 Adam White

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Posted 13 April 2006 - 01:25 PM

The suggestions that you test at a hire company and that you get hold of experienced camera assistants are essentail, whatever your format, and this will limit any dangers to your footage. That said, the so-called dangers (exposure, focus, labwork) are the reason that most of us first pick up a camera in the first place. We dont just want to record the image in bland, flat, wide recordings, we want to create a mood and these variables allow us to do this.

As a newbie myself, I have experimented with only a few styles, but always then made sure that an experienced assistant has the time to ensure the kit was correct. This is an issue on lower budget shoots where unrealistic schedules lead stretched camera teams to make careless mistakes. A lot of friends have graduated from student shorts, dreading filmstock, after they had misloaded/ focussed soft/ exposed wrong in situations where the unorganised nature of the projects practically invited it.

The horror stories from larger shoots are more thin on the groud because, by and by, better producers plan to minimise chaotic environments and your typical industry 1AC is an oasis of zen-like focus.

My worst experience was when a lab ruined the complete stock shot for a commercial. They claimed the damage was due to the camera and had the nerve to suggest "a hair in the gate" for what was plainly a development issue. What proved so painfull for me was that my director blamed me, even after the lab finally admitted responsibility. I had not chosen the lab and had voiced concerns but I was not allowed to forget this on the reshoot and subsequent five (count em) jobs and eventualy I had to move on.

Plan well, keep your production aware of any potential dangers and, if there is a freak incident, keep a cool head. I look forward to seeing a production report on this when its done!!

good luck,

Adam
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#17 Mariano Nante

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Posted 16 April 2006 - 08:46 PM

It is said that Andrei Tarkovksy had to reshoot his 1979 STALKER because something happened in the lab...

I think the whole footage had become blueish.


Mariano Nante
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#18 Logan Schneider

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Posted 16 April 2006 - 09:30 PM

I've been shooting film for a few years now and it still scares me. I think that that's part of the fun of it. I don't know exactly what I'm getting until I see it, but that makes me think twice and double check everything. In the end I think that my work comes from a deeper part of me when I'm shooting film.

Over time I have learned to trust the film. I've learned to light with my eyes and how to decide my exposure and trust the film to reflect what I'm trying to feel. Film has a subconscious aspect to it. Now I am beginning to be able to do the same thing with video, to approach it the same way. I seem to recall Rodrigo Prieto, ASC AMC talking about one of the things that he likes about bleach bypass being that he didn't really always know what he's getting.

I like that I'm scared when I'm waiting for the film. It tells me that I'm pushing myself.

As for reliability, I have a DP friend who had a huge Navy destroyer waiting on him for 3 hours because his DVX-100s shut down from humidity. If film cameras are anything, they're durable. Good luck on your project.

Logan Schneider
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