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Low Budget Shoot On HD or 16mm?


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#1 Javier Calderon

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 09:29 PM

"Film is dead" blah blah . . . I keep hearing that from people . . . The battle rages on . . .

but - and I don't care what anyone says - the HD projects I've seen, from low end productions to top of the line, Apocalypto/Once Upon A Time In Mexico budgets . . . well . . . still look like video . . . Awesome, very clean, very nice video to be sure . . . but I can still tell they're NOT film.

Okay . . . So I'm not here to rant (believe it or not) . . . I'm here to throw in a few ideas that have been jiggling around in my mind for a while and see if anyone can offer some much needed help, advice, perspective, etc . . .

I'm finishing up post on a DV feature that I helmed. I've been considering the pros and cons of shooting the next feature on video or film . . . It seems that serious, yet very budget minded, productions are, at this point, no longer going to be shot on DV (correct? Does it seem like this is a fair assessment? Someone please let me know if they think or feel that the DV medium has NOT been left behind and is still a viable one at this point for indie feature film making. Heck I'd TOTALLY shoot my next film on DV if my assessment is incorrect. It's cheap comparitively speaking). So if one is serious, but on a budget . . . then . . . HD is one definite option . . . NOT HDV . . . HD. But what's out there? When it comes down to it and one does the cost analysis of doing a film on HD - HVX200 at around $4K, or the Sony PMW-EX1 for $7K as WELL as the computer, P2 cards, storage, etc that it takes to handle HD media - the final costs show up at around the $20K-40K range at the LOWEST.

Now then one has to ask themselves: What could the same price get me for a 16mm film production? It seems that for around that price, you can get a decent ACL II (around $2-4K) AND you wouldn't need to get the crazy HD setup that you would have to in order to do post on the Panasonic or the Sony footage. You can edit in SD so you wouldn't need as hefty a computer.

Two quick obvious pros of shooting w/HD are that 1) you have immediate visual access to the footage you just shot. Also, provided you have the disk space, 2) you can shoot take after take a-la Kubrik w/o incurring any extra costs (besides, that is, the extra time in post that it'll take to organize and choose between all those takes!).

Those two HD pros seem to be, conversely, two obvious film cons, namely 1) you DON'T really know what you're getting out of what you're shooting during production. You have to wait for film developement first; which brings me to the second film con. 2) On a budget, you have a limited number of takes, because each frame of film is money being spent.

However, the obvious pro of film is, well . . . it looks how it looks . . . and although HD is definitely making leaps and bounds . . . it's still not there yet . . .

It's not there yet . . . and yet in order to presently gear up an HD production . . . it seems you're going to end up spending about as much (if not more) as you would on a 16mm production.

It seems w/a video (HD) production, you're gaining in convenience, what you're losing in the "look".

Am I on the right track here, people? Again, help me out, and let me know if there are significant variables that I'm not addressing one way or the other that can effect the price of the film or HD prod here . . .

In the end, it's seeming to me that, if I'm going to end up HAVING to spend about $20-40K minimum to get an HD feature up and running . . . and that same amount of money could possibly allow me to do a 16mm production (granted w/very different considerations like 1) a much more limited number of takes, and 2) not being able to know if my day's shots are good or not until AFTER telecine) . . . then . . .

it almost seems like a no brainer (to me anyway) . . . shoot on 16 . . . right?

Okay fine . . . it might be more difficult, etc . . . . but so what? . . . it's art . . . nothing good is (or even should be) easy . . .

Anyway . . . Any thoughts on all this garble would be very much appreciated.

Thank you very much,
Javier Calderon
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 09:41 PM

I think this should be a style choice not a budget choice.
If the film calls for a "videoish" look, go HD.
For a film look go film.

That being said, i err towards film as its universal and you can use a lot of different gear.
Personally, i'm not a fanof the HVX. that's just me though. Sadly, a lot of things I'm being called on are HVX/DVX shoots. Ahh forf want of a F900!
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#3 Javier Calderon

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:36 PM

Thank you for the response, Adrian. You actually bring up what I think is an interesting point: "If the film calls for a "videoish" look, go HD. For a film look go film." This statement is a testament to the fact that nowadays, and with the popularity of video and video productions, films that either have "video-esque" looks to them or are entirely such are not completely disregarded or looked down upon. In other words, if the medium is making an artistic statement based on its use (i.e. a film with a big budget using video for a "documentary footage" look), then it can be effective. It seems this was not always the case. I'd say it's good that it is now, however.

I think fictional, dramatic, narrative work, however, seems to call more for film . . . no?
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#4 Will Montgomery

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:41 PM

If you don't have experience with film, don't use a feature to learn on the job. Your reasoning is sound if you have both film and video skills, but it sounds like you're approaching from a video perspective.

I'd suggest getting a 16mm camera for a week and shoot tons of tests in similar situations to what you'd expect durring the production. Try shooting people and recording audio, try different lighting, see how light "sticks" to film, understand metering. Only then will you know if you're comfortable with it.

Remember in either HD or Film you will need good lighting and know how to use it for each medium (they are different).

Film is a skill set worth developing and will help you tremendously in video shoots as well.

As far as the numbers, look at the budget and work from there. Telecine for a 90 minute feature will be EXPENSIVE. The entire editing workflow for film is much different even if you're not cutting film. You'll probably want to do a one-light transfer on everything then cut it, and finally go back and transfer the only cuts you want with a good colorist on the best machines you can afford. Once again, more money. Totally worth it, but not cheap.
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:45 PM

Well, I don't know if it does call for film. I would say, by and large it is shot more on film than on video/hd. But, take this for an example:
A lot of people, myself included, have described the look of HD as "plastic," almost. So, say you have a film wherein the main character is in essence the mask of a human being, a shell, or the whole world is a sham, cheap, yet, at a quick glance, pleasing. This would perhaps be a good place to employ video/hd for aesthetics.
However, say you were shooting a gritty and dirty piece where you wanted an "organic" look and feeling. In such a case, film, super 16mm in my opinion, would be a very viable option as often the film look is described as organic.

A short i just finished (originally) was going to use this look. Mixing an HVX with S16 betweeen a night-time world of crime, and a happy-go-lucky world of a comic book store (main char decides to become a vigilante hero by night). We wanted the "look" of HD for the comic store where things would be mostly flat, but very colorful (i think, often HD is oversaturated) but a grainy world for the night shots, hence 7218 with minimal lighting and lots of darkness.
In the end, the script was rewritten and we opted for all S16 (7218/7205) and it became a "comedy," which wasn't too funny in the end.

The main issue in terms of cinema and art is that for a long time the standards to which productions had to meet dictated only film; as most other formats were not up to par. However, due to the explosion of technology, this is no longer the case.


Another example is Battlestar Galactaga where the miniseries was film ,and then they changed over to HD, for the look of it. I forget what the DP said, exactly, but it waqs something about crushing/blowing highlights lowlights for the look.
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#6 Javier Calderon

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 10:53 PM

Thanks, Will.

Yes. I am indeed approaching things from a video perspective, as I've never worked w/film before. Your suggestion of renting a camera and testing stocks is a darn good one, and one that I kind've plan on going with. If I decide to work w/film, I know that I won't be able to afford much more than an ACL II. That will most likely be the camera used. Since I don't plan on renting a camera for production - i.e. I'd rather OWN the camera and continue to work on my skills even when not in production - I think the ACL II seems to offer the best camera for the price.

Tell me Will (or anyone reading this) how stupid, crazy, UNtenable, etc. the following idea sounds. Be gentle w/me, again, as I admit my filmatic ignorance here:

Shoot 16.

Get footage back in digibeta format.

Ingest into Final Cut Pro

Edit . . .

Put it on a DVD.

The end.

Um . . . what am I missing? I'm sure a lot, but . . .
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#7 Javier Calderon

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 11:05 PM

You're absolutely correct in that aesthetic consideration, Adrian. I guess it depends on what's artistically being attempted. Interesting thing, however, is that if you shoot on film, you can always "muck" it up to look like video. I believe I read that such was the case with Brian De Palma's new war film called "Redacted". It's supposedly got a very video feel - and the footage is all very video looking, very documentary-esque . . . but it was all actually shot on film and then later made to look like video in post.

I don't believe you can shoot on video and then later make it look like film in post. For this reason, it seems film gives a little more flexibility here as well.
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#8 Rolando Fernandez

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 11:25 PM

Hello Javier, Filma con pelicula!

"video is what eyes sees...film is what mind sees"

Shoot in film and forget about, blah blah blah.
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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 December 2007 - 11:49 PM

When I do film i try to get it on DVCPROHD 100 and rent a deck for ingest into FCP.
You get a lot more out of the negative than digibeta will give in my opinoin.
I think deck day rate is $450 here in philadelphia and we're normally doing $300 per 800ft of film for a supervised (300 an hour for the telecine which runs through 800 ft of film give or take).


All in all, your post workflow seems sound to me, although you're missing how to get the footage into FCP; i'm assuming you have a deck.

I would also agree that film does give you more flexibility in post than video ever will, especially in terms of "fixing" mistakes (you'd be amazed what a well placed power window can do to a shot! I know I was when i first saw it.)
I see no problem with an ACLII, but you have to realize a camera is kinda like a boat or a house. You'll pour money into it FOREVER. It might be best to rent for that reason, but I know how alluring it is to own (hell i own a camera i probably shouldn't!).

Some show an ex g/f of mind had me watching (dirt, i think?) had a great line: "shoot film, you can trust film." I would agree with that. aside from my first ever bolex film on reversal, I never really had an unsalvagable shot. I've had some not so great shots, and a scratch here and again; but never shot on film and got an end result that was so fubar as to be unusable. I wish I could say the same for some video stuff. . . lol
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#10 Will Montgomery

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:11 AM

Tell me Will (or anyone reading this) how stupid, crazy, UNtenable, etc. the following idea sounds. Be gentle w/me, again, as I admit my filmatic ignorance here:

Shoot 16.
Get footage back in digibeta format.
Ingest into Final Cut Pro
Edit . . .
Put it on a DVD.
The end.
Um . . . what am I missing? I'm sure a lot, but . . .


The general flow is right, but I think you underestimate the "Shoot 16" part and the "Get footage back in digibeta" part.

"Shoot 16": You need to know how to handle film, load the camera, use a meter properly, set the camera properly, how to record sound while shooting.

"Get footage back in digibeta": Understand that $300 an hour for telecine does not mean RUNNING TIME, it means per hour of use of the machine. If you're doing scene by scene color correction you'll be lucky to get 20 minutes per hour of telecine time. SO, you'll probably want to do a "one-light" transfer of the footage so you can get as much as possible transfered per hour... then edit your piece, then come back and transfer JUST THE PARTS YOU NEED carefully and possibly in HD.

So the work flow might look like this:

Shoot 16.
Process Film
Telecine footage as a "daily" or one-light for editing only (possibly to miniDV)
Ingest into Final Cut Pro
Edit . . .
Take EDL and go back with the best Colorist and Telecine house you can find to re-telecine only the footage you need with scene-to-scene color
Reconform the newly transfered footage
Put it on a DVD.
The end.
Accept your Oscar. (I added this part)
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#11 Javier Calderon

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:18 AM

Muy bien, Rolando. Con eso creo que estoy en acuerdo.

Gracias. :)
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#12 Joshua Dannais

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:29 AM

I'm interested to know what the finishing workflow is for shooting a project on film. from my understanding there are 2 ways to go about it (but i know there are more options):

shoot
processing/ digibeta transfer
edit (FCP)
finish to dvd

or...

shoot
processing/ one light transfer
edit (FCP)
EDL
cut negative
transfer again in highest quality as budget allows
finish to dvd


Are those close?
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#13 Javier Calderon

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:31 AM

Adrian,

No, I don't have a deck to injest into FCP. That I might rent.

"Shoot film, you can trust film."

Well . . . isn't this one of the biggest beefs AGAINST film? That you CAN'T trust that what you shot during production is what you'll see when you get your footage back?

I'll trust what you said, however, in terms of the success of your film shoots as a good omen for my own future shoots. :)
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#14 Javier Calderon

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:38 AM

Heck, Joshua, it looks like you just read Will's post word for word, so it would seem that you're on the right track (not that I myself would know. That's why I posted this thread:) ).

Um . . . what's a one light transfer? (here I'm trying to abide by the "there are not stupid questions" philosophy and hope I don't get railed for not knowing what that is). I'm asuming it's a "low res" or quick manner of developing your film so you can begin quickly editing?

I did a google search, but the results were a bit to voluminous for me to get a good handle on what exactly it is.

Thanks
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#15 Joshua Dannais

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:41 AM

Heck, Joshua, it looks like you just read Will's post word for word, so it would seem that you're on the right track (not that I myself would know. That's why I posted this thread:) ).



poop, didn't realize that somebody had already posted.. sorry for the double post
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#16 Javier Calderon

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 12:51 AM

Thank you, Will, for the step by step. It's beginning to give me a better idea of the ins and outs of the process.

Regarding the "go back with the best Colorist..." part . . . Help me out on this one . . . Isn't the coloring/color correction something that I would be able to do on my own in FCP?

On the one light edit, I WOULDN'T do any color correction? . . . I would cut the film, and THEN take the edl to a colorist and let them do it? Again, I know I'm missing something. I wouldn't take the EDL to someone to do an assembly on HD, and THEN take it back to my own place for cc?

I'm sure you're shaking your head and slapping yourself with just how ignorant I am regarding these things.

Thanks for the help everyone,
Javier

ps - and heck, Joshua, I think that that should be a vote of confidence that you unknowingly posted the correct answer! :)

Edited by Javier Calderon, 13 December 2007 - 12:54 AM.

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#17 Javier Calderon

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 01:11 AM

Ahhh . . . I just found out what a one light transfer is. :)

"...a “One light / Content”
transfer starts with an initial color and exposure correction from the first shot and that
color and contrast are toned down to allow for inconsistencies in other shots. ...the film is then run through to the end without any further adjustments to
the color, exposure, contrast, focus, sound, etc."

neato. :)

I feel my filmatic i.q. expanding by the minute.

Edited by Javier Calderon, 13 December 2007 - 01:12 AM.

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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 02:33 AM

Film isn't inherently hard. Basically what "trust film" means is that, you'll get an image. So long as you set your exposure properly (for the key light, normally) you'll get an image.
Loading a camera (in s16mm/16mm) isn't too difficult. I learned in under 10 minutes, though getting fast at it takes a while and it depends on your mags. The ACL isn't too hard, from what I'm told, as it's coaxial, so 1/2 of it you can do in daylight.

if you're renting a deck I'd recommend DVCPROHD because of it's 4:2:2 color space and high data rate. Do it @720P and you'll be happy.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. your first few shoots mightn ot be the best ever, so practice a bit. Find a friend with a bolex and get some 100ft daylight spools of reversal film. hell if you can expose that you can expose anything!

Will's way through post is a more valid way for a feature. Generally my shoots are short (music video or short film) so we don't have that much footage overall (normally under 10,000ft.)
Dailies are a luxury I havn't yet had :(.
A good way to spot check your settings is with a DSLR still camera. Set the ASA to that of you're film, and the aperture to that of your lens, and take a shot. Realize the film will read into the shadows more than the digital, but you'll see, overall, whether or not things are right!

The best thing about film, as far as i'm concerned, is looking actually though the lens at the image. I hate the viewfinders/lcds of video and HD.
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#19 Robert StMary

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 02:37 AM

I think this perception issue is what lies at the heart of Marshall McLuhan's distinction of TV (in this case, video) as a passive medium but film as an active medium. (Read his theories on media in "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man")

On practical level, it's all about budgets, final use, look, etc. Sure, the big guys can get the high end video that makes things look great but that doesn't mean that 16mm isn't worth the time. It's a beautiful format that I've worked in in the past and look forward to in the future.

TAKE CARE!
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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 December 2007 - 02:39 AM

For a good looking 1 light; expose a greycard at the beginning of the reel under the lighting you'll predominately use for the roll (i.e. under the sources you'll mostly use) and they'll correct for that.
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