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Adventureland's look, DI, budget?


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#1 Jean Dodge

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 11:00 AM

I just saw writer/director Greg Mottola's fine film ADVENTURELAND, and was wondering if anyone knew any details about the cinematography. It's a coming of age story set in 1987, and take place in an amusement park, some suburban houses and one or two bars and a disco, with an almost even split between day and night scenes. Looking at the closing credits, the crew seemed ample - with a rigging crew, plenty of carpenters and teamsters, etc. I'm guessing the budget was at least 10 million, possibly more but I have no confirmation on that.

Shot by NY DP Terry Stacey, (DOOR IN THE FLOOR, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, FRIENDS WITH MONEY, WENDIGO) the film had a slightly underlit documentary/low budget look, spherical lenses and a digital intermediate that, to my eye, didn't do the film any favors at all. The film just never seemed as sharp as it could have been, and the color contrast seemed to suffer as well. I'm wondering if the digital intermediate is to blame for a lot of this degradation, and was it 2K or 4K resolution _ I'm guessing it was 2K.

In some regards it looked like the film makers were trying to copy the look of DAZED AND CONFUSED, which in itself was shot to look somewhat like a 1970s film, iifc using mostly 5247 stock, or maybe even 5248, in the daytime to give a feel that viewers associate with older films. I'm also guessing the average f-stop was near WFO but that this was not doing the lenses any favors. It looked more like nikkor lenses than Primos in many places - too milky and not performing as well as they should at the wider apetures. Again, however it seems like the DI is to blame, but I'm just guessing.

To the DPs credit, it was not OVERLIT like a teen comedy, and I appreciated that - the car shots looked good and the homes seemed "real," as in really depressing like suburban homes always do to teens. Not too many filters, either it seemed like. I liked that. But the fuzz factor literally pulled me out of the film when it came time for the romantic close-ups and emotional teen anguish moments. It looked like those old plastic double fog filters or a low-con had been applied to the projector lens, and no it wasn't the theater's fault. My main question then is, why did they do a DI at all? The color palette was nothing radical - maybe they shot it in winter to look for summer and wanted to adjust for that? In any case, to a casual observer such as myself it seemed like they would have been better off with a straight photochemical finish - they had the crew to light the film well enough the first time around, ya know?

Granted, I know NOTHING about the aesthetic choices and monetary decisions that went down - but maybe someone here does? BTW, the film is good - script, acting and direction are up to what we all expected from the guy who made DAY TRIPPERS. Go Greg!
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#2 Jean Dodge

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 12:32 PM

Okay I guess I am the only one who saw this movie? (It made nearly six million in its opening weekend, which is moderate I guess compared to what the marketing campaign seemed to be hoping for. )

Since last weekend, I had the opportunity to see it again in a theater with Sony 4K digital projection and I also read up on what was available on the internet via press kits and sundance publicity, etc. After seeing it in 4K projection, I'd like to amend my earlier comments about the look of the film and shift the discussion (if any) towards the difference between the movie I saw on 35mm projection and the one I saw two days later - they were almost totally different films to a trained eye. It was extremely frustrating to see how much better the 4K digital version handled the fine details in close-ups. (Granted this is just one aspect of the presentation, but it is crucial one, especially to someone who came up in the ranks as a focus puller!)

In 4K, i feel like I saw the cadillac answer print all cinematographers love to see - the work looked as good as it possibly could have and it was beautiful, if simple studio-style dramatic film making at work. And on the 35mm version the fuzz factor was almost unacceptable even to my beer-drinking buddy who knows nada about photography, sitting next to me.

But I still don't know what apples I am comparing with what oranges. As far as I know, the film had a DI from Postworks NYC, and I think the following tech specs were probably passed on to a press release from them as follows: but don't quote me. This info was taken from a sundance-era press story and the link was so old I couldn't be sure the page I saw this on was actually linking the right sidebar to the right feature story. But it seems right.

Production Format: 35mm.
Camera: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL
Lenses: 17.5:75 Primo Zoom; 24:275 Primo zoom, and Primo Primes.
Film Stock: Fuji 35 mm (Fuji Eterna 250D 8563, Eterna 500T 8573)
Editing System: Avid Media Composer version 11.2.7 at Post Factory.
Color Correction: Scanned by Postworks on a Spirit 4K and a Northlight 2 scanner, conformed on an Quantel iQ, color-corrected for D Cinema and film-out on a Pandora Pogle by colorist John Crowley and recorded on ARRILaser film recorders. In addition to opticals and effects done in iQ. VFX were done by Ben Murray at Postworks in 2K on an Avid Symphony DS/Nitris.

Now, I know what all this stuff is - this isn't my first rodeo. But I notice they have carefully left out details like which ARRIlaser did the record out - a 2K version or a 4K version? If the (minimal) VFX work was done at 2K, in house at Postworks, that to me hints strongly that the producer negotiated an all-in deal and that it's very likely the film out was 2K just like the VFX work was.

I'm wondering if I saw a 2K film out and then a 4K D cinema, which is a bit of an unfair fight. I know for a fact that I have seen Primo shot footage on WORKPRINT that looked better than what I saw projected. But of course, that was a contact print with no DI....

I truly enjoyed the film and thought the cinematographer served the story well and the director should be happy with his work - but I do have to say there were at least two or three important emotional two shots or OTS shots where the focus puller missed his marks and the leading lady's eyes were soft. That's not the problems I'm talking about. I mean the ones where she is planted in a booth across a table, etc or sitting in a parked car or on a park bench and we should be able to make out detail in her eyelashes and we can't.

All this brings about question of budget and post production decisions that I don't have answers to yet. I'd be grateful if anyone with some inside dope could shed light on this. I am assuming from a cursory look at the closing credits that the film was budgeted at more than six million but less than twenty, but that's just one man's vague guess.

For discussion's sake, here's a link to a jpeg of a production still - not a frame enlargement - but it illustrates some of what I'm pointing to. Minus the noise and the clipped/ blown out highlights, this JPEG approximates what the leading lady's eyelashes looked like on screen in 35mm... milky, whitish and blurry. Over-scaled, in a word like this JPEG. In 4K they looked "right," like a good 35mm portrait shot at f2.8 or less ought to.

http://www.allmoviep...nd_001_big.html
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#3 Jean Dodge

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 08:54 PM

Okay, I'll just talk to myself some more here... starting to get used to it.

I learned a few more things from someone who works in post, who told me that "if the picture was color corrected using a Pogle, it wasn't done at 4K. And if the VFX were done on a Symphony Nitris, they weren't done at 4K or 2K, they were done at HD resolution (1920x1080) because that's all Symphony can handle (DS Nitris can go higher, but not Symphony).... there are very, very few DI's done at anything other than 2K, both for cost and practical reasons. And even in the rare cases of a 4K DI (usually done only for studio pictures, and only select ones at that), virtually all visual effects are done at 2K - once again, for practical reasons (like cost and turnaround requirements). So even for a large picture completed via a 4K DI, if it's got a big visual effects component - think Iron Man or Watchmen, for instance - every shot that has been touched by visual effects (and in these cases, it can easily be 75% of all the shots in the movie) is, by definition, 2K."

So that seems to mean that what I saw in 35mm projection was recorded out from a 2K Digital Intermediate, with elements comprised from 35mm principal photography and some simple visual effects done at 1920x1080.

Then a few nights later I saw a 4K projector screen a DCP (digital cinema package) that was almost assuredly a 2K file. I don't understand the tech involved, or if there is any interpretation or "up-res" process or oversampling type issues that make a 4K projection of a 2K file look better than a 2K projection of a 2K file.

So in that regard I'm left to ponder why the digital version seemed acceptably sharp while the 35mm was frustratingly soft where it counted most - but the culprits could be narrowed down to:

registration issues w 35mm projection

other issues with the 35mm projector lens regarding lens performance, such as critical focus (focus seemed good however) or overall resolving power

generational loss between an interpositive struck from a DI, then an internegative and then the release print I saw

issues with the ARRIlaser introducing softness

what else?

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#4 Jason Debus

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 01:23 PM

Hi Jean,

Good 35mm projection is tack sharp and shouldn't be fuzzy. My guess is you were at an AMC somewhere with shoddy projection (I don't think you gave that info, maybe I missed it?). I haven't seen Adventureland (except for the trailer) but unless you saw it at a place like Arclight I wouldn't be conjecturing about the Arrilaser or post path.
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#5 Jean Dodge

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 07:36 PM

thank you kindly jason, I was tiring of talking to myself - I'm long winded and sometimes go off on tangents...

jason wrote:
"Good 35mm projection is tack sharp and shouldn't be fuzzy. (snip)... unless you saw it at a place like the Arclight I wouldn't be conjecturing about the Arrilaser or post path."

I'll take that as a vote for registration as the culprit, but I know what you mean. "The projectionist gets final cut," as the joke goes. I've bullied my way into the booth for festival screenings of films I was attached to in various ways and seen all manner of "film wreckers," we all have probably. But I've also seen hard working projectionists who use everything from rubber bands, nose grease and micrometers to make it run as good as possible. In this case it was yes, a platter system at a run of the mill multiplex, of unknown quality but I've always stayed until the end to watch b+w crawl credits to try and judge registration issues as a habit - and even look behind the matte to check for jumpy frame lines - another good way to try and judge multiplex projectors where you don't have access to an intercom.

What I saw wasn't just registration it seems like... it was a softness that was introduced as some sort of generational loss. I can see why cinematographers are starting to endorse 4K projection, however. Who wants a film wrecker in charge? Too bad about all those union jobs, however, and let's also stop and think what this might do to Kodak and Fuji's bottom line, when they no longer get to make all those release prints... remember, we've already lost Agfa.
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