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Independent Film, 35mm or Digital?


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#1 Tyler Leisher

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 08:21 PM

Hey, I'm an independent producer-director, and after shooting a ton of shorts on HDV/HD Digital I'm planning my first feature film.

I had planned on shooting it on HDV/HD digitally, but then I started reading about festivals and my future career...

Should I be shooting on 35mm (or 16mm) film for my first feature, or go with digital and let a distributor blow it up to 35mm if they need to?

Do festivals allow digital films nowadays, the book Im reading is a few years old.. printed before the digital revolution, as it were. Am I going to have to pay the money to transfer from digital to 35mm just for festivals? (Like Cannes, Sundance, Slamdance, Toronto, etc)

My origional thought was that I could shoot it digitally, take it to festivals where I could find a distributor (God willing) who would then blow it up to 35mm for a theatrical release (God, and the distributor, willing)...is that not the case?

My goal is theatrical release, but the chances of that are slim.. and despite having a great script, I dont want to get my hopes up and shoot on 35mm only to have to transfer it to digital for a DIY distribution strategy.
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 08:34 PM

Shooting film makes you look good.

Shooting film makes it (a little) easier to sell.

Shooting film stands you out (a little) from the crowd.

However, do not rob every other aspect of your production - especially production design - to feed a film camera. Too many people in your position end up with film-originated, high resolution, high dynamic range, technically excellent pictures of a crappy-looking production.

There are halfway houses between 16 and HDV. Really decent, uncompressed HD from really good cameras looks vastly better than consumer gear, offsets the "not-film" criticism by bearing comparison to major movies that've shot with it, and is still much cheaper than film. I'm trying to get more people to do this...

P
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#3 John Hoffler

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 08:38 PM

it depends on the budget, experience with the two mediums, work flow and type of image you want.

as far as I know, HDV will not be accepted in festivals.
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#4 Tyler Leisher

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 09:06 PM

it depends on the budget, experience with the two mediums, work flow and type of image you want.

as far as I know, HDV will not be accepted in festivals.


What about a DVD of the film?

I would love to shoot on 35mm but it would be tough with the budget Im on.

I'm looking at shooting with the Sony V1U, whats your opinion of this camera? The images that I have seen when doing testing show up beautifully, but they are compressed 1440x1080, 24p files.
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#5 Hal Smith

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 09:45 PM

35mm shot 1.85 and contact printed is the cheapest route to a high quality deliverable. The workflow is old school and very well understood.

All of the usual pitfalls are very well known issues (sound sync issues, etc.) and easily avoided by designing the workflow on paper in advance and consulting with post people to make sure you're not creating a monster. Phil is spot on about art direction, etc. There's no point to making high quality pictures of boring content. I'd think about a small film in terms of cast and locations so that you can smother each shot with the best possible creatives from every department. Better two locations fully dressed out than thirty with nothing interesting to look at. I spend a lot of time at the movies admiring the corners of the frame and just how much work has gone into making the background of every shot rich with detail.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 10:15 PM

As always, shoot with the best format that is practical and affordable and do your best with it. What else can you do? Don't get too hung up on the format issue if it's not really possible to upgrade anyway, and if it is, then you should do it. Don't cheap out but don't break the bank either, not if it harms other aspects of the production.

Most festivals offer digital projection these days.

It's a combination of factors that have to be weighed in. For one thing, exactly what sort of image quality best suits your script? If your script consists of people talking in cars and diners and kitchens, maybe 35mm is not worth the cost and effort if your budget is tight, or maybe your money would be better spent elsewhere, like cast. On the other hand, if your movie is very small and intimate but it is all shot outdoors in some spectacular scenery, but image quality becomes a higher priority to spend money on even if you steal from some other part of the budget.

I would at least look into upgrading to a camera that does 24P HD for narrative work, if possible, just because it makes it easier for a potential film transfer later and it has more of the classic film look in terms of motion artifacts.
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 01:43 AM

According to Richard Boddington, who just sold his film at AFM and has managed to broker deals to get a theatrical release for Dark Reprieve, His indy, at AFM 35mm if still the king by a HUGE margin and it is MUCH more difficult to sell a movie shot on any other format. He also mentions in another thread that he did not make release prints but only perused deals to have the film screen in digital theaters. He believes festivals are a waste of time and money which from everything I've learned about distribution, I would agree with. Unless it's Sundance, forget about it. Food for thought. ;)
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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 10 August 2008 - 04:38 AM

You should go for the best format that your budget can stand. You could shoot on HDV, but you'd better have something special in there eg an possible Oscar winning song or great script and acting.

For drama on digital, I'd shoot progressive frames and there are a range of options from the JVCs, the EX1 or EX3 on up to the high end HD cameras. "Once" was shot on a Z1, so it's possible on interlace, however the wide shots were struggling on a big screen.

I'd allow a good budget for lighting, even on HDV (or even more so) the trailer for a film that Tim Dashwood shot on a JDV looks impressive on-line.

I guess you'd have to work out if your film is one that would do well around the festival circuit or is one that is more commercial and you'd be better in the film markets. To get into Sundance the film may have to create a profile around some international festivals.
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#9 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 11 August 2008 - 11:15 AM

What about a DVD of the film?

I would love to shoot on 35mm but it would be tough with the budget Im on.

I'm looking at shooting with the Sony V1U, whats your opinion of this camera? The images that I have seen when doing testing show up beautifully, but they are compressed 1440x1080, 24p files.


As far as I am aware Marcel Zyskind has shot the latest Michael Winterbottom on the Sony V1E, he posts here occasionally so you could try sending him a message to see how he found it.

The V1's produce very nice pictures for a camera of their price range, of course they are compressed and HDV does have its problems.

But there is a lot in-between, super-16, the infinite HD varieties, even 2-perf 35mm, of course each format will have its own cost in delivering it to a 35mm print if thats what you need/want.
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