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Equipment - too much holding you back


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#1 Danny Lachman

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 10:31 PM

Professional films provide cinematographers with every tool imaginable and the man power to use them. However for amateurs we have to be even more resourceful in terms of using equipment, but there many items out there that try to advertise themselves as being needed on set that really aren't. So what do we really need? Obviously a creative and resourceful mind, but equipment wise are there any general decisive things to keep in mind when getting the bare essentials?

What I'm getting at is that equipment seems to often to easily get in the way of being a good cinematographer. If you get too much you can do lots, but it slows you down. If you get too little than your just screwed. I wanted to get some ideas about the things we should really be concentrating on in amateur shoots in terms of what we need to get the job done. A lot of people seem to get an equipment obsession, especially on the internet, where you can go immediately to a site to check out prices and specs on upcoming technology. I worry that this holds a lot of people back.

Edited by Danny Lachman, 13 May 2008 - 10:34 PM.

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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 10:54 PM

Well, I imagine you'll get a lot of opinions about this, but for starters, I'd say you get what you need. You determine that by breaking the script down with your Director and figuring out to the best of your ability exactly what the shots will be for each and every scene in the movie. Ideally, every movie should make this effort, but low-budget films especially have to be careful due to budget.

Off hand, the necessities are camera body, mags, batteries, power cables, fluid head, standard tripod, matte box, lens shade... then the lenses: either a full set of primes and a decent zoom or just a really great zoom. Again it depends on what you need to do.

Steadicam, dollies, crane? Do you need them to tell the story?

Lights: Again, what do the scenes call for? Every set is different. There's no way to know without going through the script.


Some things, like a 10mm prime, tend to sit on the truck so they could be considered dead weight. But other tools, like a dolly, can help speed up a setup even if there are no dolly moves planned. You'd have to weigh the overall benefits (for story, time management, rental cost) with the potential downsides (extra personnel needed, extra vehicles to carry it, extra cost, potential for wasting time just to try out the cool gear) and then make decisions.
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#3 John Brawley

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 05:15 AM

Professional films provide cinematographers with every tool imaginable and the man power to use them.



Well if only it were that simple.

Often the bigger the budget the bigger the expectations are and that you'll deliver something more. The stakes are even higher, so there's no room for failure.

But I digress.

I have tended to buy format agnostic gear that can usually be used in lots of different ways. I bought a geared head because I wanted to learn how to drive wheels and noone wanted to pay me to learn. Now i have that as an extra skill.

I have lot's of lights that gaffer's don't usually carry with them. Lights that I like using and offer a lot of flexibility in differing styles of shooting.

Lights can be used with any format as can support equipment like tripods.

The one thing I have managed to avoid for the last 15 years is actually buying a camera ! I literally just bought one a month ago when the entire rental for a single job was going to cover the cost of it. But that's the only way I would do it. I've seen many go and put themselves in hock just to own some camera and then see all there work tied to that format so they can pay it off.

A fortnight ago I shot a TV cooking show with a 202. I shot RED for a TV pilot last week and I'm shooting 35mm for a music clip today and tomorrow !

jb
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#4 Glen Alexander

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 05:58 AM

Off hand, the necessities are camera body, mags, batteries, power cables, fluid head, standard tripod, matte box, lens shade... then the lenses: either a full set of primes and a decent zoom or just a really great zoom. Again it depends on what you need to do.


what's your idea of a really great anamorphic zoom that i can use wide open with no disortions or aberrations, comas, etc? please include serial number.
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#5 Walter Graff

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 08:20 AM

equipment seems to often to easily get in the way of being a good cinematographer.


No, I'd say that is better said as "people seem to often get infatuated with tools rather than the techniques of being a good cinematographer."

This generation is suckered by marketing. No one can use a camera unless it has a matt box. No one can use a camera unless it can produce the 'best' image possible. No one can use a camera unless it can be hooked up to a Rube Goldberg array of cables and computers to record. No one can use a camera unless it has an additional five inches of lens adapters glued to the front of it. I grew up learning my art from the gaffers who lit much of the stuff from the late forties, fifties and sixties. What they taught me was how to do more with less. I used ot work on those Liquid plumber commercials in the eighties that so dotted TV. The guy I worked with lit three sets with a few inkies and a 8k bucket. Yet when you looked in the lens, it was magic.

Here's my reality check for this generation. Learn the art and stop buying equipment. A DoF adapter isn't going to make you a better filmmaker. It's just a tool. A RED camera will make you no more a filmmaker than a Z1. A light kit with every accessory imaginable will never make you good at lighting. I'd rather see a person who uses tools and techniques understand the foundation of the art (lighting, script, blocking, the vision process, editing) and all the real tools that make for good filmmaking. I call this new generation of wannabe filmmakers the Xerox generation. They are amazing at imitating looks and feels of popular films, trailers, etc. But the mechanics of filmmaking never made a good film alone. And as I sit through all this stylized, shallow depth of field, 4:2:2 acquired, P2 transferred, Matte box ready, Steadycam mounted, jib flown, RED lensed, dribble, I would soon rather turn it off and put on an old film that has a story that is captivating, a look that is amazing even though lit with just a light or two, and camera movement that involved moving an 1100 pound camera like it was floating on air. I am always amazed at how people can not comprehend me lighting a set while attending my lighting seminars with a light or two. They feel gypped. Shouldn't I have more tools? Shouldn't I use more lights? That's it? And the disconnect for them is when they look in the monitor and say "Holly SH%t!! That looks amazing. How'd you get that depth of field? How did you make two colors like that? I would have thought you need filters to make it look like that?" Then they look at the set, and back to the monitor and throw their hands up in disgust. Yea they saw what the art of film making is rather than the misconception that tools make you a filmmaker.

I'd start with a camera, tripod, two open face lights, a fresnel, and a 4x4 frame with diffusion. That will be all you need to learn how to make quality images. It's all you need to make 90% of the scripts out there into a great film. Of course what to do with that equipment is the next question. And hence why people just keep adding to the equipment list rather than sitting down with a good book on lighting, taking a seminar on lighting, or spend a weekend watching some of the classics. They think more equipment will somehow fill the void of not knowing what to do with it or that creating a faux look with a tool means it must be a 'real film', it has to, it has a shallow depth of field.

Many sites these days should be called cinematographytools.com because most all the discussions are about the tool belt rather than the house built with the hammer. For example the endless and useless rant about RED and the imaginary markers that make it a film camera. Endless discussions about lens adapters and which is 'best'. Discussion after discussion of 'which' light kit to buy. A plethora of discussions about how film school is useless and one should just throw their money away and make a film instead because that is how you 'become' a filmmaker, and hour after hour of discussions about what's new and what to buy.

If none of this makes sense, wait till you are 20 years older and you'll know what I mean.

:)
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#6 Glen Alexander

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 09:04 AM

No, I'd say that is better said as "people seem to often get infatuated with tools rather than the techniques of being a good cinematographer."

This generation is suckered by marketing. No one can use a camera unless it has a matt box. No one can use a camera unless it can produce the 'best' image possible. No one can use a camera unless it can be hooked up to a Rube Goldberg array of cables and computers to record. No one can use a camera unless it has an additional five inches of lens adapters glued to the front of it. I grew up learning my art from the gaffers who lit much of the stuff from the late forties, fifties and sixties. What they taught me was how to do more with less. I used ot work on those Liquid plumber commercials in the eighties that so dotted TV. The guy I worked with lit three sets with a few inkies and a 8k bucket. Yet when you looked in the lens, it was magic.

Here's my reality check for this generation. Learn the art and stop buying equipment. A DoF adapter isn't going to make you a better filmmaker. It's just a tool. A RED camera will make you no more a filmmaker than a Z1. A light kit with every accessory imaginable will never make you good at lighting. I'd rather see a person who uses tools and techniques understand the foundation of the art (lighting, script, blocking, the vision process, editing) and all the real tools that make for good filmmaking. I call this new generation of wannabe filmmakers the Xerox generation. They are amazing at imitating looks and feels of popular films, trailers, etc. But the mechanics of filmmaking never made a good film alone. And as I sit through all this stylized, shallow depth of field, 4:2:2 acquired, P2 transferred, Matte box ready, Steadycam mounted, jib flown, RED lensed, dribble, I would soon rather turn it off and put on an old film that has a story that is captivating, a look that is amazing even though lit with just a light or two, and camera movement that involved moving an 1100 pound camera like it was floating on air. I am always amazed at how people can not comprehend me lighting a set while attending my lighting seminars with a light or two. They feel gypped. Shouldn't I have more tools? Shouldn't I use more lights? That's it? And the disconnect for them is when they look in the monitor and say "Holly SH%t!! That looks amazing. How'd you get that depth of field? How did you make two colors like that? I would have thought you need filters to make it look like that?" Then they look at the set, and back to the monitor and throw their hands up in disgust. Yea they saw what the art of film making is rather than the misconception that tools make you a filmmaker.

I'd start with a camera, tripod, two open face lights, a fresnel, and a 4x4 frame with diffusion. That will be all you need to learn how to make quality images. It's all you need to make 90% of the scripts out there into a great film. Of course what to do with that equipment is the next question. And hence why people just keep adding to the equipment list rather than sitting down with a good book on lighting, taking a seminar on lighting, or spend a weekend watching some of the classics. They think more equipment will somehow fill the void of not knowing what to do with it or that creating a faux look with a tool means it must be a 'real film', it has to, it has a shallow depth of field.

Many sites these days should be called cinematographytools.com because most all the discussions are about the tool belt rather than the house built with the hammer. For example the endless and useless rant about RED and the imaginary markers that make it a film camera. Endless discussions about lens adapters and which is 'best'. Discussion after discussion of 'which' light kit to buy. A plethora of discussions about how film school is useless and one should just throw their money away and make a film instead because that is how you 'become' a filmmaker, and hour after hour of discussions about what's new and what to buy.

If none of this makes sense, wait till you are 20 years older and you'll know what I mean.

:)


This is good and funny.

For my little film, if your concepts are modern, we're going primoridial. "Take only what you need to survive." It's going to be too hot, too remote for all the 'tools' and electronic crap.
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 09:43 AM

No, I'd say that is better said as "people seem to often get infatuated with tools rather than the techniques of being a good cinematographer."


With that in mind :) , doing what I do most of the time, I have to be able to fit it all on one magliner. No bobtail truck, no assistants, not enough time.

So 99% of interviews can be shot with a camera, sticks, fluid head, mattebox with lens shade, batteries... 4 light ARRI kit (2 650s, 2 300s), a bit of gel, chimera... at least 1 C Stand for the backlight, dimmer for the backlight, sandbag, AC cables.... monitor, BNC cable.... magliner.

If it's greenscreen, I bring the seamless roll of green paper and the stand to put it up with. Also two 4' KINOs and my lightmeter.

DAY EXT I add an 800w HMI Joker, 4x silk, and a Westcott net frame to knock the background down, two more C-stands and more dirt in case of wind. Also a Polarizer usually.

If the shoot/setup is bigger than that and I know it going in, I plan accordingly, hopefully with a location scout. If it's a big room, I like to measure it so I can sketch out my lighting plan and camera placement. From that, I can figure out how many people I need in order to set it all up in the time alloted. But most of my shoots aren't that complicated or allow for that kind of preplanning. I have to be ready for anything and be able to figure it all out within roughly thirty seconds of seeing the room.

The less stuff I have, the better because I have to transport it and carry it all with a little help from my Sound Mixer. But my shoulder and back aren't what they used to be! <_<
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#8 Glen Alexander

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 09:48 AM

The less stuff I have, the better because I have to transport it and carry it all with a little help from my Sound Mixer. But my shoulder and back aren't what they used to be! <_<



How are you going to make that 1100 pound camera float around then? :lol:

Edited by Glen Alexander, 14 May 2008 - 09:48 AM.

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#9 Michael Nash

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 11:03 AM

The idea when using more gear is to get more people and more time to set it up. Ask any 1st AD. An insert shot takes less equipment, time and crew than a big stunt sequence with extras and special effects. You use what you need for the shot(s).
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#10 Danny Lachman

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:22 PM

I'm glad that people like walter graff and others seem to agree about the equipment obsession.

I pretty much learned my lesson this year after buying a bunch of grip equipment and camera stuff for my photo shoots (film). Most of it is useless and gets in the way of creating a great shot.

A lot of my friends are raving about the RED and other digital cameras and I've become disgusted with their obsession. I used to be a techy too, and that's all I cared about. However, I went to art school and started to realize that the end product is the most important thing, and I saw my equipment as actually holding me back because of the way I sought how to use all of my equipment.

Mark Twain once said "To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"

Now I just have lots of equipment that I can sit on. I'm glad I opened this discussion, I'm trying not to be part of the xerox generation.

Edited by Danny Lachman, 14 May 2008 - 12:27 PM.

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#11 Walter Graff

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 01:39 PM

How are you going to make that 1100 pound camera float around then? :lol:


Watch a film like Singing in the Rain and you'll see just how an 1100 pound camera (blimp and all) is moved more gracefuly in one of hte largest studio shots ever done.
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#12 Walter Graff

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 01:44 PM

Danny you have opened up a can of worms here. A good can of worms. It's never about equipment. When I see a thread that is about equipment, I know it is mostly non working people speaking. I was into equipment when I started and realized as soon as I started really working that most of it served little purpose. There simply is no need for all the gimmicks that many folks get infactuated with. As Brian says, the less you have the easier to transport and I''ll add, the more you actually have to work with. Good to see you are starting the see the light. As you said, art school opened your eyes to that. That shows me you are more an artist than many of the newbies that have recenly posted here all infactuated with equpment, but with little hope of a career.

Good luck!!!
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#13 Glen Alexander

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 01:56 PM

Watch a film like Singing in the Rain and you'll see just how an 1100 pound camera (blimp and all) is moved more gracefuly in one of hte largest studio shots ever done.



Is the one?? :unsure: :lol:

Edited by Glen Alexander, 14 May 2008 - 01:58 PM.

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#14 Glen Alexander

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 02:02 PM

With my small crew, we're taking the Bob Dylan approach, ... all i got is a guitar, three chords and truth....
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Visual Products

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rebotnix Technologies

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Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Broadcast Solutions Inc

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Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

CineLab

Paralinx LLC

Glidecam

Rig Wheels Passport

Opal

Tai Audio

FJS International, LLC