Format versus content from a student
Posted 23 August 2007 - 11:51 PM
For those who might not have read my post in the SD and HD forums, I am in the planning stages for a feature documentary I plan to begin shooting this summer, a film about the life and times of James Polk, 11th President of the U.S.
I have been wrestling with the format, whether to shoot super 16, or HD. My school currently is only making the first tentative steps to HD, with the vast majority of its resources still invested in SD. Similarly, their film section is regular 16. I own my own 16mm, which I had considered getting modified to super 16, and shooting my film in that format. But, it would be a great gamble, and I would have to shoot tight, since my film would be long, and my budget extremely tight, 15K roughly. Realistically, it probably wouldn?t be possible.
I have also investigated HD, but each seems to have its own compromises for someone with my budget. The HVX200 is hot, but the p2 technology seems impractical for my location shoot and long form demands. On the other hand, the whole matter seems moot if I get an expensive HD camera, and wind up shooting on tape, which puts me back into SD. The point, even if I finish on SD, is that I have the HD originals. Such a conundrum!
I've gotten great replies, some advocating film, others HD, but I keep waffling between the two. On the one hand, I would like to send it to the festivals, and/or shop it around and see if anyone would want to pick it up, likely as a television program. It would seem I need it to be in 16mm or HD, 16x9. But if neither is really possible with my budget (roughly $15K), what then?
Ultimately, I wonder if I?m just avoiding the obvious solution, which is to shoot it in SD. I wonder if I should worry less about format, and more about making the best documentary I can (content-wise). I mean, should I just take advantage of the SD equipment my school offers, or perhaps get a nice setup like an XL2 with 24p, get my film made, and hope that someone might want to option it as something that could be reshot in HD or 16mm?
Here at SIU, a few years back we had someone in a situation like that, one whose MiniDV documentary made a few festivals, and wound up getting picked up by a company (HBO, I think), which then provided a larger budget and better equipment to produce a version that was broadcast quality. Of course, I realize that is a long shot, but I want to make something that will, if nothing else, get my foot in the door somewhere, even if it is at the bottom of the ladder. So, do I necessarily need to be in on the hottest, newest technology, and the best quality, or would you suggest I take advantage of what I have, and try to compensate for the shortcomings of SD by crafting a production strategy to boost production values (i.e. lighting, great sound), and more importantly, a great story?
Thanks, as always!
Posted 24 August 2007 - 12:27 AM
But the story is what will help you get noticed. If your story is strong, attractive, riveting, etc. I can almost guarantee that nobody in the audience will give a damn what "format" you shot it on. If your story is garbage, the same thing holds true. A bad story shot with SD video is still a bad story shot with 70mm film.
Is film great? Yeah, sure. Is it "better" than HD? Not necessarily, it all depends on the situation. Having to stop a great interview every ten minutes to reload the film camera isn't really in your best interest when you can achieve near equal quality with a 50 minute HD tape.
Now, having said that, there is something to be said about showing up with a camera that doesn't look like you could lose it behind the couch. For better or worse, nearly everyone takes a project (and you) far more seriously the bigger and more impressive your camera is. A brand new tiny prosumer HD camera may very well give you a great picture, but ask first if you might get more "serious" participation if you show up with a larger SD camera. The interviewees don't know that a Sony Digibeta 790 doesn't have the same quality as a small 24P Panasonic prosumer camera. But the 790 LOOKS more impressive when pointed at the subject. Is that important to you? To the project? Could be.
So, if I had to give any advice, it would be to first concentrate on writing the story. Once you know what you want to say, find the people to interview and the locations to shoot them in. Find the photos, film, or tape you'll need for B-roll. You may have to fly to a distant location to get an interview or get that B-roll. Getting there (flying or driving) will eat through your budget, but you have to get there. Budget in all costs including hotels, food, thank you gifts for your subjects, and whatever else you might need to spend money on. Figure out what all of those necessary costs will be and then you'll know what kind of money you'll have left for image acquisition and how you can post it all. You may have to use SD, but if your preparation is strong, nobody will care that it isn't flawless quality.
That's my .02 anyway.
Posted 24 August 2007 - 09:10 AM
Your comments are great, and really appreciated. Sure puts things into perspective. I'm really excited by the potential of the story. Polk is a fascinating man, and I wanted to give him the movie treatment I felt he deserved. I wanted to go all out, and make a great looking film. I think somewhere along the way, I got distracted by all the technical aspects. I'm still really eager to try HD, and to shoot more film, but if the budget won't allow it, better to make the best of what is available. HD will be around for a while, and hopefully so will 16mm. Thanks for the opinion!
Posted 24 August 2007 - 09:33 AM
memorials with a Panasonic DVC-30. It's a lightweight Mini-DV camera, now discontinued but still
available. Because a lot of people wanted a more ENG "serious" looking camera at that price point,
Panasonic put out the DVC-60 which is a typical shoulder mount style, as opposed to the DVC-30,
which is more of the handcorder type.
I had always liked/preferred a shoulder mounted camera but I love the DVC-30. I got several great
shows out of it, it was great for traveling, unobtrusive at places where a bigger camera would have
intruded and yet "real" looking enough so that it didn't look like a home movie camera.
It was necessary to get Panasonic's adaptor which provides two XLR inputs but that made the
camera look more serious as well.
I have to say, while it would have been great to shoot on film, nobody criticized the look.
By the way, I used this camera for a couple of short "films". It doesn't even shoot 24P and, because
I didn't have any After Effects I used the "movie look" in the camera menu. One or two people who
work in this business were critical of that on priniciple without seeing the results but several people
who watched the shorts, and
they may not be cinematographers but they are the people who watch televison and movies like
everybody else and have those frames of reference, asked me if I had shot it on film.
I would say concentrate on the good production values you can get from writing, lighting, framing,
editing, locations/interviews/recreations and you'll have a compelling story. If you use your 15K for
film stock or HD camera equipment, you may not have much $ left to put in front of the camera or to
travel to historically significant sites.
One other thing to consider. What about making an incredible ten minute profile as your demo.
versus a competent 60 minute piece that you have to kill yourself to simply get done?
Posted 24 August 2007 - 11:32 AM
Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it!
Posted 24 August 2007 - 02:34 PM
"I shot a documentary on the protest movement at my campus, SIUC, during the 1960s."
Length is another good point, and I honestly am torn between my original vision, a full length feature on Polk, versus something smaller. On the one hand, I had envisioned spending the summer of 2008 driving to the various places in his life...my film would be a history/travelogue...talking about the places...how they've changed, how he changed them. I'm not too worried about practicality. I've done long form before...as a test of sorts, I shot a documentary on the protest movement at my campus, SIUC, during the 1960s. From preproduction research to the final edit, I made a 55 minute film in roughly twelve weeks. So, it can be done, but should it? As the old saying goes, less is more, but what I have to figure out is the balance. I'm not sure if ten minutes would be enough, but perhaps thirty or forty five? And of course, I could also do more than one version. A short version as a demo, and than something longer if a prospective buyer likes what he/she sees. Obviously, there is a lot I still have to think about. Fun times ahead!
Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it!
How long are you going to stay in school?
Posted 24 August 2007 - 03:53 PM
Posted 24 August 2007 - 04:44 PM
So, if you're aiming specifically at one of those markets as a potential buyer, seriously research their delivery requirements before you choose an acquisition format.
Posted 24 August 2007 - 05:17 PM
Posted 26 August 2007 - 11:54 PM
Sorry, I guess that came out wrong. I have not been in school since the 60s. I wasn't even alive, actually. No, I'm just starting my second year as a graduate film student. That film was a historical piece using archival footage and photographs from the sixties, collected in the campus archive. It's interesting, actually. Originally, all the students in my class had to come up with some piece to show at the end of the spring semester. We chose as an exhibition site this huge, brutalist style building called Faner Hall. Y'know how every campus has that one building with rumors of haunting and suicides? That's Faner. It was built in the sixties, and afterwards, rumors abounded that it was built to be riot proof, that the architect killed himself, yadda, yadda, yadda. I had originally planned on a piece that examined these myths, but the more I dug, the more interested I got into the student protest movement at SIU, which went on as Faner was being built. Faner Hall is like the Forrest Gump of SIU-during a crucial period in the school's history, it keeps popping up, either in the background (numerous protests were held on the ground where Faner was built), or into the foreground. Faner Hall was a contributing factor that led to the shutdown of SIU after Kent State 1970, and led to the de facto resignation of the school's President, Delyte Morris. What was once a ten minute mythbuster type film ballooned into a nearly hour long piece. So, to make the long short of it, no, I'm not THAT old. Hope that clears it up!
Brian, I was in a goofy mood and was kidding. No problem.
Posted 28 August 2007 - 10:23 PM
Posted 29 August 2007 - 05:50 PM
This is going to be a good nich market film, just distribute it yourself and don't sweat it.
Get it shot, get it chopped, get it out there!
Format is only relavent to festivals and geeks like us.
Most of the people I show my stuff to couldn't care less or even notice SD or 16mm.