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John Bailey's views on DI's


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#1 Serge Teulon

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 06:21 AM

In the June 08 edition of the AC mag John Bailey wrote in the "Filmmaker's Forum" his views on DI's and how it is affecting the role of the cinematographer on the output.

I've never DI'ed anything, have always photochemically finished the projects I have worked on. So I am interested on the views of our DI experienced compatriots as well as everyone else's.

"....Filing from a digital bay in a well-respected color-corrected facility, reporter Susan Stamberg interviewed an eminent colorist, who she said, "corrects" all the mistakes and flaws of the original photography.
At one point, the colorist referred to the scene he brought up as "the raw film", as though it was nothing more than a preparatory sketch for his digital painting. Stamberg called the colorist a "Da Vinci of movies", an "artist" who can remove the green in an actor's face or turn a sunny day into an imminent winter snowstorm. In the much simpler world of photochemical printing, the same people are called "timers"."

He goes on...
And then....

"...I confess I have not been, nor am I now, a big fan of the DI process. I make no secret of this, just as I make no secret of my disdain for every manufacturer's claim that its high-def-video camera equals the quality of 35mm motion-picture film."

".....On a technical level, I don't see the efficacy of embracing the DI for the non-effects films I usually photograph. I use greenscreen for effects shots, which are scanned, worked on at a digital station, and then rendered back to film. I do this for the scenes that require it, but why should I digitize the entire movie? "For more control", say some. Ah, control-the double edged sword. Whose control? If the recent story is an indication, it is not the cinematographer's control."

"....I fear we cinematographers may have unwittingly begun to write our own epitath on the subject of image control. Do I even need to mention the number of producers, PM's, studio execs and other who are promoting hi-def video for image capture because they say, "You don't need to light" and, perhaps more crucial to them, "You can see exactly what you get?" It doesn't take a genius to follow the logic of this chain of reasoning If you don't need a cinematographer to light the scene, or if an executive says you can "relight" it in post, or if you don't need the cinematographer to answer-print the film because the DI fixes all things, including poorly exposed negative, why do we need the cinematographer at all?
That was a missile I saw a director launch at a student audience several years ago. His memorable statement was, "Digital technology will forever free us from the tyranny of the cinematographer and the caterer."
My response was, "I guess we can debate the role of the cinematographer, but I've never seen anyone make a movie without a caterer.""
;)
End quote.
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#2 Paul Bruening

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 10:18 AM

... a clamorous hush befell the group.
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#3 John Holland

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 12:19 PM

John Bailey has got it so right .
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#4 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 02:13 PM

Those pesky cinematographers always wanting to light it this or that way according to the mood of the scene or movie, putting on filters to correct and beautify the image and making sure exposures match. Damn them . . .

We all know the most important people on a movie set are the transpo guys anyway. :P
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#5 Max Jacoby

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 03:32 PM

I like John Bailey's approach to cinematography. In the same article he argues that anamorphic contact printed is so much nicer than Super 35 DI and the man is so right!
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 03:35 PM

Well, even if you , as a DP, do have control over the DI (which is basically the way most still phootgraphers have it now), you're talking about not going home until midnigth, instead of 5PM (which'd probably mean cinematographers would have to forego sleep for the duration of the shoot) flutzing with stuff in photoshop.

Or take little more time and get it all right on set. Hmm, I think i know which route I'll go with. Mind you, a little bit of this stuff is good, but I have seen it way way way overdone in still an motion picture imaging, and every time I do, it makes me regret having chosen this path in life.

Photography is about, more or less, a take on reality, with some basic controls over the image, maybe even moderate controls through photographic compositing in the past. Sure you could have done almost anything they do now with an optical printer, but it would have either cost a fortune or taken an eternity.

Now it's done with a click of a mouse and it has become so pervasive as to cheapen work.

I am not trying to belittle DI colorists, who do great CG work in FX-laden movies. I am criticizing the combination of usually an inept cinematographer and a full-DI movie where they go back over and "fix" everything.

What the hell is so wrong with reality? After all, that is, more or less, what you are photographing, real (staged, but real) things occurring in front of a camera. IDK< it seems like painters are giving photographers their commupence as the dominant artists again :blink:
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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 03:38 PM

Those pesky cinematographers always wanting to light it this or that way according to the mood of the scene or movie, putting on filters to correct and beautify the image and making sure exposures match. Damn them . . .

We all know the most important people on a movie set are the transpo guys anyway. :P


Saul, do you honestly think that filters and even light meters are going to survive at all if/when digital cinematography or even DIs fully take over?

With the exception of the polarizer, the DI guys *love* to do it all in photoshop, and use histograms instead of light meters. Fun! Staring at a computer screen all day instead of shooting film and evaluating timed prints! At least in the lab you are rephotographing something. . .
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#8 Sam Wells

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 05:09 PM

Photography is about, more or less, a take on reality, with some basic controls over the image, maybe even moderate controls through photographic compositing in the past. Sure you could have done almost anything they do now with an optical printer, but it would have either cost a fortune or taken an eternity.

Now it's done with a click of a mouse and it has become so pervasive as to cheapen work.

I am not trying to belittle DI colorists, who do great CG work in FX-laden movies. I am criticizing the combination of usually an inept cinematographer and a full-DI movie where they go back over and "fix" everything.

What the hell is so wrong with reality? After all, that is, more or less, what you are photographing, real (staged, but real) things occurring in front of a camera. IDK< it seems like painters are giving photographers their commupence as the dominant artists again :blink:


Funny I never see 18K HMI's, grip stands, butterflies when I walk around, the peope I see on the street don't have makeup artists trailing them.

If you're talking about narrative/dramatic "Production" filmmaking I think you're arguing one school of artifice over another.

-Sam
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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 05:41 PM

Funny I never see 18K HMI's, grip stands, butterflies when I walk around, the peope I see on the street don't have makeup artists trailing them.

If you're talking about narrative/dramatic "Production" filmmaking I think you're arguing one school of artifice over another.

-Sam


Right, but photography and filmmaking have always been about artistically presenting something that is real (or at least a real model) in front of a camera.

It is derived from reality.

If you are watching on the set when they blow up a hospital in "Dark Knight", you see an explosion. It's something that is plucked from the real world, however staged it may be, that makes photography so cool.

There's really a linguistic limitation here as to how I can describe how painting and photography differ, even artificial photography.

To me, there's something magical about the clicking of a shutter that separates photography from not-photography, not that not-photography is any less an art, just that it's not the form of art I choose to pursue.
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#10 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 05:55 PM

Saul, do you honestly think that filters and even light meters are going to survive at all if/when digital cinematography or even DIs fully take over?

With the exception of the polarizer, the DI guys *love* to do it all in photoshop, and use histograms instead of light meters. Fun! Staring at a computer screen all day instead of shooting film and evaluating timed prints! At least in the lab you are rephotographing something. . .


Yeah, the last HD show I operated on, the DP didn't even bring filters, let alone a light meter. I still take my light meter to HD shoots when I am DP'ing. If nothing else I can tell where the light is falling off and get my contrast ratios right. Most HD only shooters I know couldn't use a light meter to find their way out of a cave. And of course, I love filters.
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#11 Dan Goulder

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 07:20 PM

John Bailey is obviously reacting to certain irresponsible statements and attitudes (such as, "only the caterer is irreplaceable, etc."). However, it doesn't have to boil down to extremes. Labeling one approach "good" vs. another approach "bad" can also be just as irresponsible. One must consider that there's also a good number of well established cinematographers who've not only taken to the D.I. process, but are actively involved with it every step of the way (as opposed to being held "hostage" to it). Many of them, as a matter of personal taste, just happen to prefer spherical to anamorphic lenses, and many also favor using a D.I., even on projects that are shot with anamorphics. They aren't any less right, or any less qualified than those who insist on a contact finish.
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#12 Mike Nichols

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 08:00 PM

John Bailey is obviously reacting to certain irresponsible statements and attitudes (such as, "only the caterer is irreplaceable, etc."). However, it doesn't have to boil down to extremes. Labeling one approach "good" vs. another approach "bad" can also be just as irresponsible. One must consider that there's also a good number of well established cinematographers who've not only taken to the D.I. process, but are actively involved with it every step of the way (as opposed to being held "hostage" to it). Many of them, as a matter of personal taste, just happen to prefer spherical to anamorphic lenses, and many also favor using a D.I., even on projects that are shot with anamorphics. They aren't any less right, or any less qualified than those who insist on a contact finish.



Look, bottom line, and this is coming from a PRODUCER, as I am in no way qualified as a cinematographer (just recently learned the difference between a matte box and C-stand), cinematographers are not infallible. Is the cinematographer not hired by the producer at the director's request to bring the director's vision to light? HA!! I kid I kid. Basically, what I am really saying under the missed layer of sarcasm (message boards are hard to convey sarcasm without expositional emoticons), is this:

Much like recreational drugs, when used in moderation and responsibly, the DI process can be lots of fun! Some overzealous Producers/Directors take things too far at times and stray far from the DP's established look. It's a tough call because the case could be made for both the Producer/Director and Cinematographer. And now with the advancement in Desktop grading, Joe Macintosh is now grading 2K films in Color and claiming to be a "colorist."
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#13 Christian Appelt

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 02:50 PM

Karl Borowski wrote:

What the hell is so wrong with reality? After all, that is, more or less, what you are photographing, real (staged, but real) things occurring in front of a camera. IDK< it seems like painters are giving photographers their commupence as the dominant artists again


Karl, you're absolutely right. I have noticed that a lot of people working in HD formats (at least non-feature film work) actually DETEST reality. They prefer postproduction to production work. Recently I had the pleasure of watching a guy who was shooting promotional stuff for some company, and he didn't even bother to frame his HD shots properly. I asked him if he wasn't concerned about a really ugly lime green trashcan in a street shot, to which he replied he would tone it down in post. I believe he just didn't want to get his hands dirty moving it six feet!

I talked to him about his work mode, and I realized he HATED shooting reality, he tried to get his "raw footage" as fast as possible so he could get back to his nice, clean editing room where he would fiddle around with transitions and effects plugins all night. You can imagine how his "films" look - combining the detail of HD with all "arty" clich├ęs you ever saw. To impress me further, he showed me an "exciting" action scene he had shot "Bourne style", just to play around with his muzzle fire effect plugin...

I'm not saying every filmmaker needs to be in love with reality, but too many filmmakers neither know how to make artistic use of reality nor to create filmic reality from scratch like the old masters did on their sound stages (I actually prefer Vincente Minnelli's Scotland sets to most Dogma films :) ).

Edited by Christian Appelt, 15 August 2008 - 02:55 PM.

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#14 Sam Wells

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 08:35 PM

You guys are plying fast and loose with the term "reality"

If we were talking about available light, street photography etc - OK I *might* agree --

But I still think you're privileging one system of artifice over others.

-Sam
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#15 K Borowski

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Posted 16 August 2008 - 11:35 AM

Most HD only shooters I know couldn't use a light meter to find their way out of a cave.


Wait, you can use a light meter to do that? :lol:


@D. Goulder:

I am not knocking the DI process per se, I am knocking the fact that people do it in 2K as opposed to 4K that can afford 4K. There is also this attitude problem I encounter where people now say that DIs are *better* than optical finish, as if easier somehow means better. Maybe to some it does, but not for this guy; *Better* should mean better!

@Christian:

Hey boss, good to see you on board again, remind me later, I have some footage I need to show you when I get it all telecined. Hopefully you'll consider it worthy of the wonderful gift you gave me three years ago.

Yeah, there's nothing wrong (well there is that they actually do their own shooting; people like this should probably just be producers or editors, not directors) with wanting to do things on a computer, on a canvas, in a darkroom, but obviously, discounting the actual photography sells oneself short, as there is a great deal of potential in-camera that people just aren't utilizing anymore, and it is frustrating to us who have studied doing things in camera that our skills are now considered replicatable by the modern-day equivalent of an airbrush artist. Artists, we are sorry we knocked your skills when we invented the Daguerrotype 175 yrs. ago, now please don't try to do the same thing to us all these years later!

Sam, we're not privileging our medium over others, just arguing against the extinction of a medium which we've devoted our lives to perpetuating and using to create art. And, how is *improving* reality through lighting, lens choice, filters, shutter speeds or other methods any different than choosing a different angle? Remember that, in still photography, photojournalists use "supplemental light", i.e. flash, in almost every shot because it provides more pleasing rendition, and photojournalists have very very particular rules discouraging any alteration of "reality" by any means, and they still accept this supplemental light.

I happen to not like over-stylization, so I am very much into as realistic yet good-looking- an image as possible in my work. But what makes the use of a stylized look any less "real"? Why is the human-eye view of the world the only "reality"? Just because we don't see ultraviolet or infrared, for instance, doesn't make filmmakers that choose to photograph for those wavelengths with special stock or cameras impressionists?

I guess this begs another question: What is real? Reality as you describe it is an illusion that the human brain generates to interact with stimuli from the outside world.
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#16 Sam Wells

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Posted 17 August 2008 - 11:08 AM

And, how is *improving* reality through lighting, lens choice, filters, shutter speeds or other methods any different than choosing a different angle?


Rhetorically I would ask, then "how is 'improving' reality by secondary color grading (let's say) any different than choosing a filter to put on a lens ? By extension how is 'painting' shadows on a digital canvas different than setting a flag ?

I think we all accepted, sometimes without deep questioning, certain truisms about the ontology of the photographic image, regarded it as a kind sign of truth in the photochemical world (and separated the deliberately created illusion or trick as an "effect" - as an exception...) because the image was manufactured so to speak (it's working parts catalogued) but in the world of digital imaging we know that the image does not need to be partly - or wholly - manufactured - it can be *described* mathematically and in that light (since a computational language is used to make the description) it as fluid as a text can be - which is to say it can be articulate, truthful, deceptive, incoherent etc.

-Sam Wells
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#17 K Borowski

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Posted 17 August 2008 - 03:56 PM

Rhetorically I would ask, then "how is 'improving' reality by secondary color grading (let's say) any different than choosing a filter to put on a lens ? By extension how is 'painting' shadows on a digital canvas different than setting a flag ?

I think we all accepted, sometimes without deep questioning, certain truisms about the ontology of the photographic image, regarded it as a kind sign of truth in the photochemical world (and separated the deliberately created illusion or trick as an "effect" - as an exception...) because the image was manufactured so to speak (it's working parts catalogued) but in the world of digital imaging we know that the image does not need to be partly - or wholly - manufactured - it can be *described* mathematically and in that light (since a computational language is used to make the description) it as fluid as a text can be - which is to say it can be articulate, truthful, deceptive, incoherent etc.

-Sam Wells


As a rule, a "description" is not as accurate as a "recording". And people that shoot through filters and set stops and pick out lenses are different people than the ones who change printer lights, although there is sometimes no apparant difference

We had a discussion about the purpose of using CC filters when timing is so efficient, and the answer I got back was that, except with something very minor like a skylight filter, "fixing it in post" or "color correcting it out" will not produce the same image because the exposure across the three color layers will not be the same.

Again, nothing wrong with painting, except that it is not the filed that *I* want to do. I want to paint with light, not with photoshop. . .
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#18 Sam Wells

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Posted 17 August 2008 - 08:42 PM

Again, nothing wrong with painting, except that it is not the filed that *I* want to do. I want to paint with light, not with photoshop. . .


Fair enough, I felt that way for 30 years, now I absolutely do paint with both.

-Sam
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 03:31 PM

I could apply myself and become decent with photoshop, but I still haven't learned to print decent stuff optically, so I choose to (try to) master one medium rather than be adequate at both. Just because you have a computer doesn't mean that the old adage "Jack of all trades, master of none." doesn't still hold true.

I'm not saying someone can't really become a master at more than one thing, but I have other interests than cinematography that also take precedence over diddling with a mouse and keyboard on this thing.

Further food for thought: How much better would people be with photoshop if they *actually had an intuos pad* instead of a precariously perched, fussy mouse. No one strives for perfect technique anymore. Personally, the Olympics, and gymnasts deciding at *6* to devote their lives to a single endeavour and practice said endeavour ten hours or more every day for a decade, have been a wakeup call for me to really hone and master skills instead of wasting so much time every day with diversion, like this forum :ph34r:
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#20 Keith Mottram

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Posted 20 August 2008 - 12:31 PM

i think there are a lot of old gits who still cannot get there heads round computers. I'm being facetious, but i'm sure there were people who moaned that word processors would kill the art of writing. computers seem scary to some people and when they have to rely on someone half their age to manipulate 'their' work the get scared and mourn the loss of the dudes that were older than them in the white coats. i've got nothing against john bailey, but lets be honest he started shooting thirty odd years ago when few people had a computer and if they did it was less powerful than a modern cell phone. people relax. do you really think deakins should be denied tools because they have a computer chip in them? besides like i always say if you really want 'reality' avoid the cinema and sit in woolworths for two hours.
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