Jump to content


Photo

SD or HD for a history documentary


  • Please log in to reply
16 replies to this topic

#1 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 22 August 2007 - 11:54 AM

I?m really conflicted on shooting SD versus HD, and if anyone could offer some advice, I?d really appreciate it. To begin, I am a student at SIU Carbondale, studying for my MFA. I am beginning my second year, and next summer I will start shooting my thesis film?a biography of James Polk (11th U.S. President). It will be lengthy, likely between 2 and 3 hours. It will be part travelogue/part Ken Burns, if that helps. Primarily, I envision it as a product for the television market, like PBS, something that would be shown in two parts. That said, I would still like to submit to some festivals. I?m trying to keep all doors open at this point.

Obviously, I want to make it look as good as possible. My budget is 15K (not including possible grant money), which (I think) precludes 16mm. Thus, I plan to shoot digital, but I am torn between SD and HD. Several professors I have spoken with have been encouraging me to try HD, but I worry about the baggage that comes with it. Although my school is well equipped for work in SD, but only recently begun to equip for HD. There is only one suite for HD work, but it is necessary to downconvert the footage for editing. We have a number of SD cameras, like XL1S, and a DSR 250. Not the newest stuff, so I?d likely get something newer, something that can do 24P, like a DVX or XL2. In terms of HD, the school just recently purchased a single HD camera (sorry, I don?t know the make, but I will try to find out). I?d love to use it, but I?m always worried about using equipment that is scarce. I worry about starting a project in one format, and being forced to shoot in another because what I was using has suddenly become unavailable, or is being used by someone else. If I were to shoot HD, I?d buy my own camera as a failsafe?possible a Sony V1-U, or Panasonic HVX200.

Even so, I?m scared by all the technological demands of HD. My shoot would involve a lot of location work, on historic sites around the country and in Mexico (battlefields mainly, for the Mexican American War sequence)?not exactly the best conditions to be lugging around a lot of extra equipment to handle the HD workflow. Then there are so many post production issues that I worry might get in the way of finishing my project. There are so many questions of format, how to upload my footage, edit it real time, down converting, etc, etc. I am most definitely a novice in this department. If I stuck with SD, I?d be more comfortable. I can find a lot of reasons why HD would not be best for me at this time, but I keep returning to the fact that HD is the future, and if my piece is in HD, it will have a better chance in the marketplace than an SD project? Or am I mistaken on this point? I also wonder, is it worth it at this point to invest in an SD camera like a DVX or an XL2, or should I get an HD camera like the HVX200, and shoot MiniDV? Is it a better investment to buy HD?

HD is the future. I fully accept that. I would love to shoot HD, because I want my project to look as good as possible. Obviously, quality won?t matter if the film is ?shite.? Obviously, I want to focus on telling a good story, first and foremost. That said, do I risk getting distracted with the new technological baggage that comes with HD? Should I instead try to draw upon my knowledge of lighting and cinematography to produce the best production value that SD can offer, even if that means sacrificing the detail and clarity of HD. As a student, should I focus on saving my money, and trying to get the best I can out of the equipment I currently have (i.e. SD), or should I gamble on HD, knowing that it would be better positioned as a saleable product to potential distributors in an increasingly HD marketplace? Should I play it safe to ensure I get the project done, or take leap of faith and gamble on HD? I?d really love any thoughts you all can offer. Thanks!
Best,
Brian Rose
PS: I wasn?t sure which forum to post this in, SD or HD, so I thought I?d do both, to get a mix of opinions. Thanks!
  • 0

#2 John Holland

John Holland
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2250 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • London England

Posted 22 August 2007 - 12:20 PM

Brian sounds a like a good case for S16 to me . John
  • 0

#3 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 22 August 2007 - 12:35 PM

You think? I mean, I would go that route in a heartbeat, but I don't see how funds would allow it. I own an eclair NPR, but it is reg. 16, so I would need an upgrade. I've investigated this through Bernie O, who quoted me at around 1500 for conversion as well as overall servicing. That would leave around 13K left to cover film stock, processing and telecine. The film I envision would be pretty sizeable, two to three hours, and encompass location shoots, interviews with multiple subjects and historical inserts (photos, diagrams, ala Ken Burns). Could I really do all of that, you think? What would be the possibility of intercutting 16mm and digital? One idea I'd mulled over was shooting the interviews in digital, and the landscape/exteriors in 16mm. I figure, digital doesn't hold up as well in daylight, but in the interview setting, I could control the image more with lighting. Plus, I think the audience could handle the switch from digital to 16mm, if it is consistent, as opposed to intercutting a scene back and forth. What do you think?
Best,
Brian Rose
  • 0

#4 John Holland

John Holland
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2250 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • London England

Posted 22 August 2007 - 12:44 PM

Dont think i would mix film and HD on your budget , have you tried Fuji or Kodak and asked for free or cheap stock from them ? . john .
  • 0

#5 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 22 August 2007 - 12:56 PM

It's definitely worth investigating. I've been doing the math, and it just might be possible. I just wonder about the interviews. Those could eat up film fast. Thanks for the feedback. You've given me hope!
Best,
Brian R.
  • 0

#6 John Sprung

John Sprung
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4635 posts
  • Other

Posted 22 August 2007 - 12:57 PM

I think you'll find that post in SD will be far more difficult than in HD. At least out here, the native SD infrastructure has all been scrapped. We did our one last SD show about 6-7 years ago. There are still lots of D-Beta machines out there, but they're primarily used for outputting down conversions.

The new XDCam with a full 2/3" 1920 x 1080 chipset would be ideal for this, posting directly from the discs in FCP. Beware of pseudo-HD cameras that may only have 960 x 540 pixels on the chips. $15k sounds like a dangerously low budget. By raising some more money, you could go that way and have a much better chance of having a profitable product. Look around for rental and post houses that'll give you a student discount or defer payment.



-- J.S.
  • 0

#7 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 22 August 2007 - 01:29 PM

You're absolutely right, it is a low budget. Just a student filmmaker at this point. This is a thesis project, but one I'd like to be able to shop around, if for nothing else, as a way to get a job somewhere. I really do believe I can complete this film with that amount. I recently completed a 55 minute documentary on the student protest movement at my school, and I spent hardly any money at all. Of course, this project is a bit different, but what I'm saying is that I believe I can do it. I just have to figure out what will the budget allow? What kind of quality can I shoot for, and how can I improve production values.
Best,
Brian Rose
  • 0

#8 John Holland

John Holland
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2250 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • London England

Posted 22 August 2007 - 01:36 PM

Brian , if you can get stock free cheap ,use your NPR and shoot 16 mm , sod the format just make it look good . John .
  • 0

#9 Matthew Buick

Matthew Buick
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2345 posts
  • Student
  • Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Posted 22 August 2007 - 04:02 PM

I personally would go with what an expirienced forum member like John Holland would say any day of the week. Beg, borrow, steal. Just get enough stock for your needs.

P.S: Have you ever consider just buying a K3 and buying the cheap Super 16mm gate and viewfinder modification for NCS. I would imagine the KC from eBay plus modifications would come to about $1000 USD, perhaps slightly less.

Hope I have been of some help. ;)
  • 0

#10 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 22 August 2007 - 06:47 PM

Thanks for all the replies. It gives me a lot to think about, and it gets me excited! Matt, thanks for the tip on the K3. I actually already own an NPR, and it would cost about the same for the conversion as it would to get the K3 and modify it. But I really appreciate the thoughts. Super 16 would be really exciting, and give me a nice edge in school, where everyone is either digital or reg 16. Thanks!
Best,
BR

I personally would go with what an expirienced forum member like John Holland would say any day of the week. Beg, borrow, steal. Just get enough stock for your needs.

P.S: Have you ever consider just buying a K3 and buying the cheap Super 16mm gate and viewfinder modification for NCS. I would imagine the KC from eBay plus modifications would come to about $1000 USD, perhaps slightly less.

Hope I have been of some help. ;)


  • 0

#11 John Cummings

John Cummings
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 32 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Chicago, IL

Posted 22 August 2007 - 11:20 PM

Brian-

I hate to rain on your film parade, but I don't think you can go the film route with a $15K budget.

A two hour finished historical doc requires a massive amount of footage and hours and hours of interviews. Travel and logistics alone could cost you a few thousand bucks.
You can do it on your own, but chances are you'll need paid help at some point. You'll need good lighting and audio to even have a slim hope of somebody picking this up for air.
Nobody worth pitching will be interested if it's not widescreen and HD...whether it comes from S16 or HD. The 4:3 SD days are gone forever in any market that counts.

Just for an example, I'm gearing up for 10 hour HD documentary series right now and our budget is tight at $250K for each hour...and thats DVCPro HD. A sizeable chunk of that cost is travel and post production. Unfortunately, those are the kind of numbers it takes to get on the air in primetime these days...and we don't know if we'll get picked up.

My advice: Shoot only in HD, post in SD. If the project's good enough, you'll be able to recut it in HD. I urge you not to blow your whole budget on film. When you run out of dough...and you will...you'll probably never finish your project as you envisioned it. And something else to consider...three hours on Polk? You may want to think one good hour...and it would be a lot more manageable as a project.

Don't be discouraged...but think this through, carefully.

Good luck-
John
  • 0

#12 John Cummings

John Cummings
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 32 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Chicago, IL

Posted 22 August 2007 - 11:49 PM

Brian-

Another thought.

There are no issues with HD "workflow" in the field...it's pretty much the same as any SD camera...unless you are shooting a P2 camera.
That's probably the last camera you would want to use for documentary work. Shuffling P2 cards and downloading to a notebook or hard drive is something you don't want to try on a long form project...especially when you're working without a crew.

If you go the HD route, stick with tape. Not as sexy, but it's cheap and fast and very hard to screw up.

Ok. I'll shut up now.

Cheers-John
  • 0

#13 Brian Dzyak

Brian Dzyak
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1517 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Encino, California USA

Posted 23 August 2007 - 01:28 AM

I'll agree with the opinion that you acquire in HD and post in SD. The "workflow" in the field is no different between HD and SD unless, as previously stated, you choose a format that does not record to tape. Some people talk about tape as if it is inferior in some way, but the truth is that people continue to use tape simply because it works. The moral, don't be afraid of tape.

In fact, the film workflow in the field is far more cumbersome than tape any day. And for documentary work which always includes long interviews (at least a 3 to 1 shooting ratio) and "event coverage" in which you have no idea how much you will shoot every day, film is not the best choice at all unless you have an unlimited budget and sufficient crew to handle the gear and frequent mag changes.

So, do what you can to get a Sony F900, F900R to shoot in HDCAM and shoot in 23.98P (for the the more "film" look) or in 59.94I (for straight to broadcast use). If you find yourself lost in the specs, then try to find a camera owner/operator/Videographer who is willing to donate his time, expertise, and equipment for your project. That will be tough to do, but worth the effort. You don't want to shoot with an HD camera that isn't properly set up. A single error in production could cost you dearly when you get to post.

But once you're in the field, your tapes will run 40 to 50 minutes, which is very helpful when shooting interviews (as opposed to switching out film mags every ten minutes). And the cost per tape (about $40 bucks a piece for HDCAM if you buy a lot) will beat your film cost.

Acquiring in HD gives you the option to keep it in HD, downconvert to SD, or do a filmout later on. Shooting SD locks you into SD and/or a crummy filmout. Shooting film for a documentary can be more cumbersome and financially limiting.

And one more thing to think about... if your CONTENT is strong enough, the slight difference in look that you'd see between HD and film won't matter. For that matter, if your content is strong enough, it won't matter what you shoot and/or show the documentary on. If your "story" is engaging enough, it doesn't matter how you make it happen. If your story is weak, even the best DP and film crew in the world can't make it any more than it is. So shoot and post it in the best that you can AFFORD, but spend a lot more of your time concentrating on what you're shooting. That is what will get you a career, not the format you shoot on.

Good luck!
  • 0

#14 Jonathan Bowerbank

Jonathan Bowerbank
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2815 posts
  • 1st Assistant Camera
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 23 August 2007 - 04:15 AM

PBS seems to be priding itself on its HD channels these days, I'm sure they would love more HD content if you can provide them with something fantastic.

Shows like Rudy Maxa's or Rick Steve's look like they're shot in HDV, just judging from some strange codec & compression artifacts that show up during fades and dissolves. But it's fine and there's still a lot of gorgeous stuff on those shows.

If you can get your hands on a decent prosumer HDV camera that shoots to tape so you can archive your footage as you go, I think you'll be in good shape.
  • 0

#15 John Cummings

John Cummings
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 32 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Chicago, IL

Posted 23 August 2007 - 08:34 AM

Amen to the last two posts.

I think even an F900 is out of his reach. A prosumer HDV camera with true 24P sounds perfect for this project. Something like the JVC with XLR audio inputs. That and a good tripod is a must-have. Brian could sell the camera gear after he's done with the project to recover some of the production costs.

I doubt many thesis projects have ever ended up on national TV, but why not aim high! He has a good chance of getting on his local PBS station, and that's a great start.
Like Bryan D said, it's all about content.

Speaking of PBS, I can assure you that Rudi Maxa and Rick Steves series are shot on big boy cameras...probably Sony 700 series.
What you are seeing on the fades and dissolves is mpeg compression artifacts, probably somewhere in the transmission chain...especially if you're watching on cable.

Good luck Brian and go Salukis!
  • 0

#16 Brian Rose

Brian Rose
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 896 posts
  • Student
  • Kansas City area

Posted 23 August 2007 - 01:04 PM

Thanks a lot guys! Your info is reassuring and pretty exciting. Sure makes HD a lot less scary, although part of that was due no doubt to my own ignorance of the format. I will have to continue my reading. I think the P2 card issue was a big factor for me. So it is possible then, to shoot HD on a tape format, and then downconvert it? Does that require anything special in the way of hardware/software, or could any adequately powered computer handle it? Here at SIU, most of the editing stations run Final Cut (sorry, the edition escapes me) on Mac G5s.

I should have said that my plan was, if I was going to shoot super 16, was to reserve it for the exterior shots, landscapes, location shoots, and then shoot the interviews in digital. Since I will be mixing formats anyways, still photographs, drawings, paintings, footage, and such, I thought I would be in a better position to intermix. But, I would ideally like to strive for a consistent, competent look, which makes HD more attractive.

Ideally, I would prefer to buy a camera, so if need be, I can sell it to recoup some of my cost. Rental money, once it's gone, it's gone. What I'm looking at is getting something in the range of 5K to 6K. What do you all think? I've read so much about the different brands, like Canon, Sony and Panasonic, and each seem to have their own pros and cons. Do you figure, as long as I can get something that's 3-chip, 24p, I ought to be in a good starting position? Obviously, I cannot afford much, but I figure if I could get something nice, and couple it with a good lighting scheme and sharp audio, yield a production whose apparent quality and content masks the low cost.

And to some extent, I am looking forward to "jumping off the cliff," so to speak. I figure, as a student, without a career to jeopardize, without a wife or kids to provide for, or a house to pay off, I'm in a good position to take a risk, one that will likely plunge me into debt, but have the potential (however small) to produce dividends.

I recall a story about a filmmaker who came to speak to a group of students. He asked them about their productions. Several students proudly proclaimed that they had raised half their budget, and hoped to start shooting soon. The filmmaker replied bluntly that they would never finish their film. Shocked, they asked "Why?" He replied that they should have started shooting, should have gotten something in the can, as soon as they got the money. Now, they have nothing to show other investors, and those who have invested are likely to grow impatient and withdraw.

Now, this might be a little extreme. Of course, one has to prudent in how they undertake a production. But all the same, I'm looking forward to diving in to this. Worst case scenario, perhaps i don't finish it, but I will at least have something, and hopefully that something might be enough to convince someone to invest in me, or at least give me a job, even if it is at the bottom of the ladder. If I can get even that, the film will be a success.

And you all are right, that content is the most important, not how flashy or slick the piece is. I think I've got a great story about a fascinating American figure, one who has been almost totally forgotten by the public at large. I want to do Polk's story justice, and give him a documentary treatment he deserves.

Thanks again for all the help. It really means a lot, and any other feedback, or suggestions, would always be appreciated!

Best,
Brian Rose
  • 0

#17 John Sprung

John Sprung
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4635 posts
  • Other

Posted 23 August 2007 - 01:07 PM

... shoot in 23.98P (for the the more "film" look) or in 59.94I (for straight to broadcast use).

Perhaps this is less of an issue given the subject matter, but in general, shooting 23.976p makes your project marketable worldwide, while 59.94i locks you into the NTSC/ATSC markets only. 59.94i is a pain for the post people because 99+% of their work is 24p.



-- J.S.
  • 0


FJS International, LLC

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Visual Products

Opal

CineTape

Tai Audio

Wooden Camera

Aerial Filmworks

Abel Cine

Paralinx LLC

Broadcast Solutions Inc

The Slider

Ritter Battery

CineLab

Metropolis Post

rebotnix Technologies

Technodolly

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Rig Wheels Passport

Willys Widgets

Glidecam

CineLab

Technodolly

rebotnix Technologies

Wooden Camera

Glidecam

FJS International, LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Willys Widgets

Metropolis Post

Abel Cine

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Visual Products

Paralinx LLC

Opal

Aerial Filmworks

Ritter Battery

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

CineTape

Tai Audio

The Slider