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Creating a "gritty" look with Super 16


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#1 David Cavallo

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 05:53 PM

I'm starting pre-production on a Super 16 short set in NYC and the director and I have agreed that a raw, grainy, "realistic" look is appropriate for the story. (Although it's not a period piece, I'm thinking specifically of a number of films from the 70s as points of reference. They were all shot on 35, but are indicative of the style we're going for in a general sense: Panic in Needle Park, Taxi Driver, The Taking of Pelham 123, Mean Streets, The French Connection, etc.) Our budget includes funds for a 2K scan to HDCAM and tape-to-tape color correction.

Our first concern has been carefully choosing locations that suit this look, and working to control the colors in the production design wherever possible. The coverage will be hand-held, done with mostly master shots. For lighting, I'm planning on shooting day interiors with a combination of natural light augmented with a large instrument or two through windows where possible and using minimal fill. Night exteriors will be shot almost entirely with available light (greenish store window flourescents, street lights) and no filtration. To faciliate this (and also because we want shallow DoF--not easy in 16, I suppose) we'll be shooting nearly wide open. (The AC has been warned in advance!)

Taking these elements into consideration, can anyone suggest a film stock that might be a good fit for the project? Given the minimal lighting I'll be using and our desire for a good amount of grain, a 500 speed stock seems to be a necessity. I was initially considering several older stocks (7279, 7263) but they've been discontinued. Now I'm thinking one of the newer color-negative 500 speed Kodak stocks (7218 or the low-color, low-con 7229) could work, but having shot them before I'm concerned they might be too good--i.e. fine grained and have too much latitude--for what we're trying to do. (Unfortunately there is no money in the budget for a camera test--I know how much it would help!)

I'm also curious about the possiblity of pushing the 7218 or 7229 a stop, as I know it can increase grain, and will also help us get a useable stop in the really low-light situations. Has anyone pushed these (or any 500 speed) emulsions, then finished to HDCAM from a 2K scan, and seen the results projected via DLP? Should I expect lots of grain? Tons of grain? (Recently I saw 'Half Nelson' projected--it was shot on S16, 7229, with a bona-fide film out via DI to 35. They didn't do any forced processing on that and it still looked pretty darn raw to me...)

Finally, with Super 16 I'd normally think to overexpose about 1/3 of a stop for the telecine or about 2/3 of a stop for a print. But as I'm looking for a somewhat desaturated image, and assuming for now I won't be doing any pushing, should I instead rate the stock normally? Would underexposing by a 1/3 of stop be a mistake with Super 16, given the reduced negative area compared to 35? Or is it safer to expose normally or over-expose for a richer neg and control saturation in post?

Thanks very much for any and all advice.

Edited by David Cavallo, 17 February 2007 - 05:55 PM.

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#2 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 07:45 PM

You should probably be able to track down plenty of 7279 as so much of that stock exists (I am not even positive it has been discontinued).

The obvious advice to you is to shoot some tests. I have pushed 7218 a stop and rated it at 800. That said, I have not seen those results projected. It looked real good, grainier but not by a lot. We were also able to push in in the telecine and the grain was still perfectly acceptable. Something you just need to test all the way through your pipeline.

Underexposure in S16 was more of an issue with optical blowups to 35, with a tape to tape it is not a huge issue (reasonable underexposure).

If you were to underexpose any of the Vision 2 stocks by a 1/3 of a stop, I doubt highly that you would even see it. I like to overexpose the negative slightly because I like the extra margin of error and the general look.

I think a lot of your desaturated look will happen in your tape to tape, though you most of the Vision 2 stocks tend to not be too saturated to begin with.

Kevin Zanit
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#3 Martin Yernazian

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 01:52 AM

Dear David I will Love to see some of your footage once you are done

Best
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#4 Seth Sherwood

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 10:55 AM

I've heard that most 70's crime films flashed their film and that is responsible for much of the "look" of 70's cinema.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:17 PM

I've heard that most 70's crime films flashed their film and that is responsible for much of the "look" of 70's cinema.


Actually, flashing was not that common. Vilmos Zsigmond was the most famous example; check out "The Long Goodbye" for urban night exteriors that were flashed (and pushed.)

Since film stock was only 100 ASA back then, underexposure plus push-processing was the most common technique that affected the look of movies. That and the look of 5254 (later 5247), the look of lenses back then, etc.

There was also a lab in NYC with a process called ChemTone, which was a form of chemical fogging combined with pushing to increase density without increasing contrast (but of of course, the blacks were foggier.)
"Taxi Driver" is a good example of that process.

Foggy diffusion/contrast filters like Fogs, Double Fogs, Low Cons were also popular in the 1970's, though not so much for crime movies.

Since most of these movies were shot in 35mm, shooting in Super-16 will already get you closer to the grain level you need. I'd test the 500T/400T stocks, pushed and normal, and project the results. You may find that Kodak Expression 500T, or Fuji Eterna 400T, will give you the softer pallette you want.
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#6 David Cavallo

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 12:24 PM

I've heard that most 70's crime films flashed their film and that is responsible for much of the "look" of 70's cinema.


Thanks for your post--that's certainly a possibility. I've been carefully re-reading the great book 'Masters of Light,' which has interviews with so many of the greats of that era--Hall, Fraker, Roizman, Zsigmond, Kovacs, Chapman, etc.--and trying to see what, if any techniques the films with the "naturalistic" aesthetic have in common. But so far I've only come across only a couple of instances where flashing was specifically mentioned--Zsigmond's work on 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' and 'Heaven's Gate,' and Haskell Wexler's work on 'Bound for Glory.'

From what I'm reading pushing was far more common than flashing back then. Michael Chapman was once known to force process most of his work a stop or even two--I'm pretty sure he did it on 'Taxi Driver,' so that's what started me down that road. I guess I think pushing is a grittier look than the flashed films above, which seem softer and more diffused in some ways--they're all somewhat bucolic/western films that center on a 70s interpretation of various types of "Americana" (The Western, Guthrie) and that look suits that subject matter well.

Of course all this refers to working in 35mm, which brings me back to my initial concern--how the S16 neg will handle a push. But recent conversations with the director lead me to believe he wants to err on the side of more grain and dirt, and not less, so I think I'll try it.

--David

Edited by David Cavallo, 19 February 2007 - 12:29 PM.

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#7 David Cavallo

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 01:19 PM

You should probably be able to track down plenty of 7279 as so much of that stock exists (I am not even positive it has been discontinued).

Thanks for your informative post, Kevin. It's hard to tell from Kodak's site whether the stock has been "officially" discontinued--different pages on their site say different things--it's a bit confusing. But the specific link that led me to believe 7279 has been discontinued is:

http://www.kodak.com...s....4.14&lc=en

Nonetheless you are correct that it's still available from other sources, if not from Kodak itself--a quick web search turned up plenty.

Regards,
David
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#8 Martin Yernazian

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Posted 19 February 2007 - 02:46 PM

I think the idea of pushing is not bad at all, also film has such dinamism that you could do that on post to, also cross process is not a bad idea either.

Thanks for your informative post, Kevin. It's hard to tell from Kodak's site whether the stock has been "officially" discontinued--different pages on their site say different things--it's a bit confusing. But the specific link that led me to believe 7279 has been discontinued is:

http://www.kodak.com...s....4.14&lc=en

Nonetheless you are correct that it's still available from other sources, if not from Kodak itself--a quick web search turned up plenty.

Regards,
David


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#9 Seth Sherwood

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 01:04 PM

This forum is great. I'm glad I posted what i did-- even if it was wrong, cause pros end up giving mee great info!
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#10 David Cavallo

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 08:59 AM

Since film stock was only 100 ASA back then, underexposure plus push-processing was the most common technique that affected the look of movies. That and the look of 5254 (later 5247), the look of lenses back then, etc...

Since most of these movies were shot in 35mm, shooting in Super-16 will already get you closer to the grain level you need. I'd test the 500T/400T stocks, pushed and normal, and project the results. You may find that Kodak Expression 500T, or Fuji Eterna 400T, will give you the softer pallette you want.


Thank you for the information, David. I am planning on both underexposing and pushing a stop and using an "available light" look (as well as the appropriate locations and art direction to control the palette, contrast and saturation).

But based on what you've said, I'm now wondering if the grain structure of a modern 500 speed film (say, the Vision 7279, which I'm almost sold on) would be close to a 60s-70s stock like 100 speed 5247? Or, because I'm shooting S16 and not 35, should I actually shoot a slower speed film due to the significantly smaller negative area in S16mm? Unfortunately the production cannot afford to do ANY tests. (Except for my own pre-production stills, which are of no help in this regard.)

[I suppose I'm thinking (perhaps incorrectly!) that since 35 has inherently much finer grain/resolution than the S16mm format, even if old 100 speed 35mm emulsions have much coarser grain structures than modern stocks, due to the format difference the new 500 speed 16mm stocks would still be noticeably grainier than older 100 speed 35mm emulsions?]

Also, from your post I gather the lenses in the 70s played a role in the look too--would they be considered more contrasty or less contrasty than modern glass? Based on my stills, I think excess contrast will be a real burden when shooting in low-light. Do NYC rental houses (like Abel) stock old model primes?

Thank you again for your advice.
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#11 Michael Most

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 09:57 AM

Our budget includes funds for a 2K scan to HDCAM and tape-to-tape color correction.


Either you're going to do a 2K scan - to data files - or you're going to do an HD telecine to HDCam. There is no such thing as a 2K HDCam format. 1920x1080 with HDCam compression is not 2K. Now, if you're talking about a 4:4:4 RGB transfer to HDCam SR, that would be closer. Not the same, but much closer.
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#12 David Cavallo

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 11:58 AM

Either you're going to do a 2K scan - to data files - or you're going to do an HD telecine to HDCam. There is no such thing as a 2K HDCam format. 1920x1080 with HDCam compression is not 2K. Now, if you're talking about a 4:4:4 RGB transfer to HDCam SR, that would be closer. Not the same, but much closer.


Thank you for the great information, Michael. I was basing my description of my planned post workflow on a conversation I had with a more experienced DP (who has worked with the same lab and a similar process) and I clearly I got the specs jumbled. (A little information is a dangerous thing!)

If you could answer a few more questions on the process, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Is a 2K scan only done to uncompressed data files for a DI, for an eventual finish on film? (Never to video, due to the limitations of video compression schemes?)

Is an HD telecine done the same way as an SD telecine--Flying Spot Scanner--but at 1920 x 1080 instead of SD--with 4:2:2 HDCAM compression? If this isn't considered "real" 2K, what is the resolution (in mathematical terms, if possible), taking into consideration the compression?

Finally, is HDCAM SR (4:4:4) the highest possible resolution one can finish at on video?

Any and all information would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
David

Edited by David Cavallo, 18 March 2007 - 11:59 AM.

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#13 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 12:01 PM

"Also, from your post I gather the lenses in the 70s played a role in the look too--would they be considered more contrasty or less contrasty than modern glass?"

I would guess that 1970s cine lenses would be less contrasty than modern lenses. Perhaps you could pick up some old Angenieux lenses for a good price.
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 12:02 PM

How much graininess is "just enough" is a completely personal opinion -- you HAVE to shoot some tests and judge for yourself. It's silly to not shoot a test if you have a particular look in mind. Find a way. Is it really impossible to just shoot 100' of film and get it processed as a base? At least if you saw the basic look of the stock, you could make a guess how a one-stop push would look, or maybe push the test and guess that unpushed would look a little less grainy and contrasty.

As for lenses, the Zeiss Super-Speed lenses made for 16mm cameras do date back to the late 1970's, so they'd be fine for night work.
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#15 Steve Wallace

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 01:02 PM

Unfortunately the production cannot afford to do ANY tests. (Except for my own pre-production stills, which are of no help in this regard.)

Can you afford to re-shoot the entire project? If the answer is no, I would recomend shooting a test. Like David says above, you have to be able to afford 100', just to see if you nail the look your going for.

...70s glass...

Seventies lenses are going to be elss contrasty. The Angenieux 12-120 (in c / eclair / old arri mounts) is a good choice. It is not very contrasty, nor is a super sharp. I may be one of the worst lenses they made (that I'm aware of). But I gues it depends on your camera,
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#16 David Cavallo

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 03:49 PM

Can you afford to re-shoot the entire project? If the answer is no, I would recomend shooting a test. Like David says above, you have to be able to afford 100', just to see if you nail the look your going for.


Obviously a rhetorical question, but still, absolutely not. I understand the tremendous importance and value of shooting tests.

The problem isn't buying 100' of film stock and paying the small sum for processing and a print/transfer, but rather the camera. The director is a student doing his thesis film, and due to various problems (nonsense, really) with the school, he's been shut out of using their Super 16 package at the last minute. So now that the camera has to be rented, his budget is maxed--probably even over. I have asked repeatedly for funds for a test, all to no avail.

I could probably get access to a standard 16 camera for free--an Arri S or a hand crank Bolex--but only with a beat up lens--would that tell me enough to make a realistic judgement? Just not sure.

Nonetheless I will plead my case with the director. Now...anyone know where I can get a 100' load of double perf 7279? Sigh...
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#17 Jon Kukla

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 04:14 PM

If you already have a rental house confirmed, then I would approach them and ask if you can use the equipment on-site (or just outside the offices if you're doing EXT shots) for some basic tests. This usually is not a problem, and it is something that they deal with regularly. I also usually talk to my lab about getting a nominal amount of test footage developed and printed for free - how much tends to be correlative to how much footage we're planning on shooting for the film. (Also keep in mind that in such short quantities, printing is often as cheap if not cheaper than telecine.) So all you need is a short quantity of film.

You owe it to yourself (and the production) to at least make the effort, instead of assuming. :)
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 March 2007 - 08:29 PM

Yes, I usually shoot the test over at the rental house a few days before the prep/check-out. If you're not taking out the camera, you don't have to rent it, just make arrangements to shoot the test in some corner of the rental house, perhaps bring a couple of lights with you.

You just call them up and say "I'm renting a package on Friday, but I'd like to come in for three hours on the Monday before that to shoot a small test. I just need the camera (or something similar) and a zoom lens or a couple of primes, one mag, etc."
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#19 Steve Wallace

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 12:18 AM

It's common for rental houses will allow you to check out the equipment on the premisis, as stated above.

Nonetheless I will plead my case with the director. Now...anyone know where I can get a 100' load of double perf 7279? Sigh...

It may be hard to find 100' daylight spools of 7279 2perf. If you are shooting super16 keep it all single perf on a core. (unless you were suggesting 2perf for the arri or bolex you mentioned above, but even then they should take single perf fine, unless its like a rex3 or earlier bolex)
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#20 David Cavallo

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 10:41 PM

If you already have a rental house confirmed, then I would approach them and ask if you can use the equipment on-site (or just outside the offices if you're doing EXT shots) for some basic tests. So all you need is a short quantity of film...

You owe it to yourself (and the production) to at least make the effort, instead of assuming. :)


OK, I've arranged it so we can use the camera for a few hours and shoot a few interior and exterior test shots. But because of the budget issue, I can only purchase 100' daylight loads of 7218 and 7279 for the test. And the camera is an Aaton XTR Plus, which obviously only takes 400' loads on a core in the magazine. So (and this might be a really dumb question, but I don't want to make any mistakes with only one shot at it)--is there a "safe" or feasible way of getting the stock off the 100' reel and onto a core--in the changing bag, but precisely how? As it's single perf, can it be wound properly from the daylight load onto a core without damaging the stock and keeping the wind the right way? I just can't seem to visualize it.

Thanks again.
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