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Making a feature film on mini dv - by Cole McDonald


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#1 Niki Mundo

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 04:04 PM

//I found this on noplacethemovie.blogspot.com.Sounds like he knows his stuff..anyone have a comment?

Making a feature film on mini dv - by Cole McDonald

I've got some good friends, with real technical knowledge. I picked up this information the other day during a discussion about the possibility of shooting a movie, that you could legitimately sell, shot for practically nothing by shooting on mini-dv.

If you've read previous post my opinion has always been that this isn't a great way to do it, but I think when you've got no money, but you have got a camcorder and a computer to edit on it is better to make a camcorder movie than no movie at all.

So, if you are considering doing that, here are the tips for making your camcorder footage look as good/filmic as possible written by my good friend and mini-dv technical diva Cole McDonald:

"I own an XL1s and am shooting a feature on that, but I also own a JVC DV GR820U camcorder. If I'm careful, I can get just about as good footage out of the JVC as I can out of my Canon. The XL1s is a $2000 camcorder (used), the JVC...$800 (new). It's all about lighting, filtering, color choice within the frame and framing. I've posted my recipe in the past:

I. understand that white is evil:
- DV has such a limited contrast range compared to film that it instantly looks like DV when you exceed its' limitations. lower the contrast range by avoiding pure white in the frame.
A. Underexpose all of your footage just slightly, darks recover from DV more easily than lights
B. Never use the auto exposure, I'd rather have a camera searching for focus than exposure, it will always get the exposure wrong.
C. Shoot with a circular polarizer to stop off-axis light from washing out your image. It has the added advantage of making the skies bluer and giving you control over the reflections...I use them indoors as well.
D. If you have manual exposure, keep it open as much as possible.
E. Use a neutral density filter to let you open the iris farther. This will also help give you a shallower depth of field (blurry backgrounds).

II. Understand that red is evil:
-DV uses a compression that squashes red more than blue or green. Any pure red will be flattened in texture as it is decompressed when viewing.

III. Understand that Depth of Field is a function of Aperture size and Capture medium size...period.
A. the theory that DoF is a function of lens length is a misconception...all it does is compress the space to show the fuzzy background closer to the focussed foreground:
- I do use this though, it kind of works.
B. the other way to make the background blur with a small CCD is to get painfully close to the actors and focus closer.
- a combination of the two will garner better results.

IV. If your camera lets you turn down the picture enhancement/sharpness, do so.

V. Always white balance once for each camera position indoors, once an hour outdoors.

VI. Light like film (you can use less light than film though). Bounce light outdoors.

VII. slightly over saturate if possible in your camera.

VIII. Frame slightly tighter than you would with film...since there is so many less particles (pixels) to capture detail, we need to give it as much as possible.

Hope this helps! Keep improving...for the lighting, start with the basic 3-point, then think bigger...if you're moving the actors, light the start point and the end point...over lap the pools of light. Experiment, tape is cheap!"
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#2 Brandon Del Nero

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 01:58 PM

it can be done. Look at 28 Days Later...

They had an adapter with pretty quick Canon EC primes, but it's still a 1/3" chip, its still standard def with DV resolution

I've found that your export from the editing program might be the single biggest factor in final look of the picture.

One man's opinion
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#3 Bill Totolo

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 12:35 AM

I don't necessarily agree with point VI which says DV requires less light than film or point VII which says to over saturate your colors.

Other than that it's not very technical. You can draw your own conclusions by playing with the camera(s) yourself for a couple hours in a controlled environment. Transfer the images into an NLE, write your conclusions in a notebook and create your own analysis.
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 02:18 AM

when you've got no money, but you have got a camcorder and a computer to edit on it is better to make a camcorder movie than no movie at all.


Very true, BUT with a little bit of effort and watching your pennies, you could probably pull off 16mm not S16 mind you but plain old 16mm ala Rodriguez. Better to sweat it out with film, even 16, than compete with the ocean of mini DV ....OK, let's call it "product" even though it's really not because no one's buying it.... being pumped out everyday like water from a broken sewer line. Here's how you do it:

Keep your story simple set it in the here and now and in one location, your cast small 2, 3 main characters + a few day players, keep your shoot short 3 days to 2 weeks tops, keep your crew skeleton, Director/writer/producer (ie you), dp/operator, grip/AC, sound, PA (general all purpose grunt), director, cast augments crew (in other words, EVERYBODY moves the equipment around including you), daylight simple 3 point lighting setups using reflectors that are reverse angle friendly, in camera editing, limited coverage-limited takes, mostly MOS shooting hand held when ever possible w/ a zoom lens, Shoot short ends-recans-obsoleted film, Rehearse the cast as much as possible so you can shoot it like it were a play, practical title cards no opticals, no dolly shots, no explosions, if you're not paying your people at least cover their gas and feed them (Cassevettes used to make up mounds spaghetti, sit around with his people laughing and joking and they LOVED him). Get your shot and move on.

In other words Don't think, Micheal Mann, Don't think Steven Spielberg, Don't think James Cameron- think John Cassevettes, think Tobe Hooper, Think Rodger Corman. Quit making plans to climb Everest when you haven't even figured out how to get to the corner store. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 20 March 2008 - 02:20 AM.

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#5 Niki Mundo

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:21 PM

Haha, James, you're so funny. "Product" that doesn't sell, "Ocean" of miniDV. :P
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#6 Jeremy Ford

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Posted 31 March 2008 - 05:17 PM

I shot my first feature "Road to Sturgis" a documentary with a panasonic dvx100a on 24p. Then I cut it at home with Final Cut Pro. It's currently available on digital cable Video On Demand for $3.99.

It can be done. The trailer is here: www.myspace.com/roadtosturgis

I self funded for less than $3,000.00 It took a while but I shopped it and got a distribution deal. I shot this right out of film school.

My suggestion is Definitely shoot your first project on minidv just to finish it or even for practice. A lot of people think just because they've shot a few short films they know how to tell a story in long form but 5 mins and 90 mins are 2 different types of visual mediums!
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 31 March 2008 - 06:31 PM

While it is true that shorts are great, I have to agree that it is a modicum of ability to be able to carry a film (both in scheduling and in storytelling) for a feature run time. It says a lot more than hey, check out this 15 min short on my youtube page.
DV can have great results (especially for documentary, e.g. Iraq in Fragments), so long as it's aesthetic is suited to the story. Same goes for any project. Story should dictate format more so than budget should, though budget is always a major factor. . . I feel it should be a balance between the two.
Network with local film schools, maybe get a few students on for free, have them get school credit or the like. Make friends with people with equipment. A case of beer can go a loooonnnggg way if timed appropriately.
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