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shooting again on the Genesis


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 08:09 PM

I just completed a 12-day pilot shoot in Vancouver using the Genesis camera from Panavision.

Because of the current conflict with SAG, all TV pilots this year were shot digitally under the AFTRA contract, causing a rapid decline in film usage this year. I think the disappearance of film from TV production (other than commercials) is being accelerated by the SAG mess in a way that is irreversible.

Anyway, given a requirement to shoot digitally for a director and some producers who usually use film, I had to choose carefully. I felt that it was important to go with a 35mm sensor camera just to get around that depth of field issue, though I don't think that 2/3" sensor DOF is a major obstacle.

Also, with the low level of daylight for interiors that happens sometimes in Canada, and the number of night scenes, I didn't want a camera that was too slow. I knew from experience that the RED is really a 320 ASA camera optimally, if more like 250 ASA in some respects, but I consider that as well as the ARRI D21. Both the RED and ARRI D21 are being used right now on the TV series "Supernatural" up there in Vancouver. But as far as I could tell from talking to people, the ARRI D21 in LOG mode is more like 200 to 250 ASA.

So I concentrated on getting a Genesis package, since that camera (and the F23 and F35) is more in the 400 to 500 ASA sensitivity range, as well as being fairly quiet in 3200K light. With all the pilots arriving in Vancouver, I was lucky to lock down an order for two Genesis packages.

After reading an article by Art Adams on testing the electronic daylight balance in the F35 (something I generally avoided in the F900), I decided to test it myself at Panavision Vancouver with the help of tech guru Scott MacDonald. I found that there are some digital color temp presets that affect the recording (unlike a LUT applied to the monitor signal) - 3200K, 5600K, and some User Presets like 4300K and (I believe) 6300K.

I shot some chip charts and took them over to Technicolor Vancouver, with the idea of creating some on-set viewing LUT's that I could load back into the GDP (Genesis Display Processor) so that my dailies could just apply the same viewing LUT as I was using on set, reducing the need for a dailies colorist to time the footage.

I also looked at my charts shot under the different color temp presets and discovered that as you switched the camera closer to electronic daylight balance, it got less noisy (and it's not that noisy in 3200K to begin with.) This was great news because shooting in these low-level daylight interiors, I could avoid the need for color correction filters and create a half-correction effect using the 4300K setting (as if I were using an 81EF on tungsten film in daylight) and a 5600K or 6300K setting for increased warmth.

One idea I had for the pilot was an increasing level of warmth to the image as the story progressed, so this ability to alter the color temp of the camera was great.

I also shot charts with a pale warming filter (81B I think) and an pale cooling filter (82B I think) plus a normal chart, and then in post, I had the colorist time the unfiltered chart to match the look of the two filters, in order to create a LUT that provided a small degree of extra warmth or coldness to the image.

I also had a color-neutral LUT. The basic look that all three LUT's had was somewhat deepened blacks but as much latitude in the highlights as could be captured.

I also created one extreme LUT that had a cross-processed color reversal look for a flashback scene.

Now these LUT's would have no affect on the camera's LOG recording, just an effect on the monitor image and on how the dailies would be processed for editorial.

So with these LUT's in combination with the camera's color temp processing, I had a wide range of control over the degree of warmth or coldness to the image very quickly on set. For example, in daylight, I could shoot in 4300K mode and add a little more warmth using the LUT, or I could shoot in 5600K mode and add a little coolness using a different LUT.

I was also determined to avoid the whole "DIT tent" phenomenon, even though I knew this meant some loss of precision over the viewing environment, but it allowed me (and the DIT) to sit with the director -- I basically ordered two 24" flatscreen HD monitors (by TV Logic, they hadn't gotten the new Sony ones yet) to increase my mobility on location, rather than use the heavier 24" CRT monitors. When necessary, I had the grips add some black flags around the monitors, but otherwise, we just had them parked on set as part of the director's video station in a cart with a waveform monitor and the two GDP boxes.

I also made sure that the producer's village got an image with a LUT too, unlike on "United States of Tara" where everyone but the DIT saw a flat LOG image.

The whole system worked pretty well, though I probably made a few minor exposure mistakes due to viewing the LCD image in this less-controlled environment, but it was worth it just to be able to sit with the director instead of being isolated in a tent (I had shot ten digital features perviously with just an HD monitor on set for the director and me... and "Tara" was my only experience with a DIT tent -- and my last I hope, except maybe for some big efx movie.)

The dailies were quite accurate for the first time in my career because they just applied the same LUT to the image that I was using on the set.

It was a hard shoot, lots of long days, but I never felt slowed down by the digital camera technology at least, though I still feel that the Genesis should allow the viewfinder image to have a basic LUT applied for a Rec 709 look or something to make it easier for the DP to judge exposure when out on the road separated from any HD monitors.

Instead, I learned that in a PANALOG recording, white is 70 IRE instead of 100 IRE (as a way of holding extra overexposure detail in the LOG recording), so I set the viewfinder to show zebras at 70 IRE so that at least I could base exposure on something white in the frame.

This director likes to constantly tighten up the framing after a take or two, I ended up using the 11:1 Primo zoom most of the time, something I generally never do. And we ended up shooting at lot at T/2.8 at 270mm at the extreme end of the zoom. This brought up all sorts of challenges, the lack of depth of field being the main one, but also the difficulty of keeping the telephoto shot from jiggling because of the heavier zoom on the O'Connor heads, and basic operator hand vibrations. The AC's relied a lot on their onboard HD monitors to pull focus at these distances and long focal lengths, which meant that while, eventually, we had very sharp shots, there was some reactive "chasing" of the focus as the actors moved.
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 09:08 PM

As always a wonderful read, though truthfully-- because I'm so tired perhaps-- it took me awhile to wrap my head around the whole white balance bit (too many numbers in this state). It's sad to hear about the SAG mess with film, I am curious, do you think this shoot would've rolled film if given the chance to?
Also, any chance we can look at some of your set ups? (always my favorite thing to see in one of your threads!)

Best always!
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#3 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 10:23 PM

This whole SAG / AFTRA madness had to hit the film industry just as Kodak is releasing the V3 '07 250D stock (with less noise in the low light areas I read). Some timing. This whole thing may very well drive film out for good. :(

Interestingly enough, I have noticed that most video cameras I usually use are less noisy when set to electronic daylight balance, at the insistence of a fellow local cameraman, who claims that is all he shoots. But I haven't done chart tests viewed on a post house monitoring environment, just judging by eye on my personal monitor.

It is interesting that David is sticking to Panavision's Genesis despite using the RED One on some features last year. Care to comment on that?

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 14 April 2009 - 10:27 PM.

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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 11:53 PM

I'd like to use the RED again on the right project -- I thought "Knowing" looked pretty good, enough to get me excited again about the RED. But given such a fast turnaround on post for this pilot, plus all the low-light work, it seemed simpler to use a camera that recorded to HDCAM-SR rather than deal with processing RAW files, etc. plus was low-noise at 3200K at 500 ASA and faster ratings.

In order to use RED for a television project, I'd want some prep time to get the workflow down to everyone's standard. John Sprung, who posts here, is the CBS post production supervisor who sent me all the official tech requirements for all CBS TV production, and there's no prohibition against productions choosing the RED ONE as long as they plan it out properly.

Truth is that there is a lot I like about the Genesis too, but it has its drawbacks as well... but the main thing I like about it is that the HD workflow is so standardized that I don't have to worry about editorial or executives getting dailies that aren't accurate to what I shot, whereas my experience on the RED in regards to making Apple ProRes dailies was so variable / inconsistent that I really need to take the time to get that part right before I do another RED production. It was only because the Polish Brothers trusted me and saw what I was shooting on the set that I didn't sweat over the fact that the dailies given to the editor were variable in accuracy. And I'm sure everyone has learned a lot since the summer of 2008 in this regards.

The other truth is that last year I did the two RED movies and then the Genesis TV series with NO prep really, hardly any worth mentioning, and it's only now that I have the time to explore these cameras and get the operational details right.

Sorry if my explanation of the white balance on the Genesis was confusing. I just meant to say that the camera does process the image for different color temperatures even though the "base" setting, as with most Sony cameras, is set-up for 3200K. And I discovered that the electronic color temp adjustments work pretty well, negating the need for 81EF and 85B filters. In fact, the image is cleaner if you electronically switch the camera's color balance to daylight, which in retrospect isn't surprising considering most sensors seem less sensitive to blue.

But traditionally, I was always told to avoid the D5600 mode of the F900 and just use the filter wheel for daylight, plus everyone told me that people using the Genesis were treating it as a 3200K camera and using the 85 in daytime... so I just did the same thing when I did "Tara" but now I know better. Which is great because there are a lot of day location interiors that look better when the camera is switched to 4300K or 5600K balance, and I don't lose any light from a filter.
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 01:39 AM

Awesome, thanks for the report David. It's great that you found a fast, reliable system for monitoring on set with the Genesis. I do think the whole DIT tent approach is really a holdover from video production and should not be necessary for digital cinema cameras that shoot in raw or log mode. Exciting times we're working in!

Also, funny that you mention the ACs pulling from the monitor on those long lens shots knowing how you feel about that. ;)

Chayse Irvin recently posted about using a similar workflow on a feature with the Red camera: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=36954. He created RSX curves in RedAlert in pre-pro based on tests for a rough LUT and had them applied to the ProRes dailies for the editors. Though he wasn't able to actually monitor the LUT on set (as of Build 17), I think this is the way we'll be shooting with the Red in the future.
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#6 Andronico Gonzalez

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 02:31 PM

Hi David,

Can you tell us the name of the series, so we know if we catch it.
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#7 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 02:48 PM

Because of the current conflict with SAG, all TV pilots this year were shot digitally under the AFTRA contract, causing a rapid decline in film usage this year. I think the disappearance of film from TV production (other than commercials) is being accelerated by the SAG mess in a way that is irreversible.


David,

What does the current SAG/AFTRA contract have to do with the choice of shooting digital vs, film? I must have missed class that day.

-Fran
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 03:01 PM

AFTRA required Digital Acquisition. as far as I know.
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#9 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:13 PM

AFTRA required Digital Acquisition. as far as I know.


Hi Adrian,

Okay, but why would the union care what capture medium is used?

-Fran
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:17 PM

That I don't know sadly :/
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#11 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:22 PM

That I don't know sadly :/


Maybe their 401K is invested in Sony stock. :)

-Fran
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 04:59 PM

It's a loophole created as a holdover from the state of technology a decade ago or so -- when SAG and AFTRA tried to define their boundaries, they decided that AFTRA members (mainly people like TV and radio announcers, game shot hosts, news people, and I believe soap opera actors, etc.) had to be shot on video. I don't know if there was a requirement that SAG actors had to be shot on film conversely, but AFTRA was limited to video productions, the idea being that narrative productions (except soap operas) would probably use film.

At least, that's how I understand the current situation. If the producers used film for their TV pilots and dramatic series, they'd have to use the SAG contract, so shooting on video gets around that. A similar problem actually surfaced back when the Sony F900 came out in 2000 -- many sitcoms were shooting film at the time under a IATSE contract that covered narrative TV production, but when they switched to 24P, producers switched to the less costly video production IATSE contract. That way, they were allowed to have operators act as their own focus pullers working on pedestal rigs, as opposed to a film style crew with a separate focus puller and dolly grip. Don't know how that situation was eventually resolved between IATSE and the producers.
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#13 Bob Hayes

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Posted 15 April 2009 - 07:11 PM

Great post as always David. Are you using any smaller format cameras on your show like the Sony Ex1 or Ex3 for example? Some shows will use these for car shots or where they can’t get the Genesis to fit.
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#14 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 16 April 2009 - 06:28 PM

It's a loophole created as a holdover from the state of technology a decade ago or so -- when SAG and AFTRA tried to define their boundaries, they decided that AFTRA members (mainly people like TV and radio announcers, game shot hosts, news people, and I believe soap opera actors, etc.) had to be shot on video. I don't know if there was a requirement that SAG actors had to be shot on film conversely, but AFTRA was limited to video productions, the idea being that narrative productions (except soap operas) would probably use film.

At least, that's how I understand the current situation. If the producers used film for their TV pilots and dramatic series, they'd have to use the SAG contract, so shooting on video gets around that. A similar problem actually surfaced back when the Sony F900 came out in 2000 -- many sitcoms were shooting film at the time under a IATSE contract that covered narrative TV production, but when they switched to 24P, producers switched to the less costly video production IATSE contract. That way, they were allowed to have operators act as their own focus pullers working on pedestal rigs, as opposed to a film style crew with a separate focus puller and dolly grip. Don't know how that situation was eventually resolved between IATSE and the producers.


All other things aside, that alone signals the need for a reform amongst the US unions. Hands on hearts, do we really think runaway productions going abroad is just a cost issue? Who needs that kind of hassle - filmmaking is hard enough as it is, no?
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 April 2009 - 08:44 PM

All other things aside, that alone signals the need for a reform amongst the US unions. Hands on hearts, do we really think runaway productions going abroad is just a cost issue? Who needs that kind of hassle - filmmaking is hard enough as it is, no?


Well, many of those runaway shoots are going to U.S. states with tax breaks and to Canada (tax breaks, weaker Canadian dollar, other incentives), where they still have the same unions to deal with, just that the local contracts may be cheaper for the producers.

But it's hard to not be a SAG production no matter where in the world you shoot, at least in terms of your principle actors.

I'd say that runaway production is most definitely a cost issue -- the pilot I shot looked into shooting in different locations and it all came down to money, but some of the money issues were related to local union costs and deals. For example, some local unions in other states demand a certain payment per crew member hired, or a certain amount of residuals. Unions outside of Los Angeles are not necessarily easier to deal with. For example, there were work restrictions in Canada for IA members that don't exist in Los Angeles. But the budget numbers overall favored Canada.

I can't say what the union issues are for shooting outside of the U.S./Canada though, but while there has been a certain percentage of U.S. production going to places like Romania, Czech Republic, etc. -- I'd say from my perspective as a DP living in Los Angeles, you here a lot more about productions going to either Canada or a state like Louisiana or New Mexico, and in all those cases, they are still union productions. The reasons for the "running away" are almost entirely financial. Line producers get a budget of "x" amount of money and they budget for different scenarios, different locations under different deals, and they often go for whatever gives them the most money back, even if the location itself is problematic for the story.

The SAG problem is something else altogether, and it's hard for narrative feature productions made by Hollywood studios to get around using SAG actors.

I haven't talked to many producers who shoot outside of L.A. because they think it will be easier, less of a hassle. There are all sorts of different hassles when you shoot outside of a major production city, and there are unions outside of Los Angeles anyway.
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#16 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 04:47 AM

But it's hard to not be a SAG production no matter where in the world you shoot, at least in terms of your principle actors.

Are you sure of that David? I know of exceptions to that rule. One example would be Band of Brothers. It shot in England and was not SAG. And of course you would assume that a huge project like that would be, and it's not as if they just used no name actors who were willing to work non-union just to have a job....
I don't have hard #'s, but I'd be very curious to see how many projects shoot out of North America that aren't SAG.
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 10:09 AM

You may be right, I don't know how far SAG's reach can go. Like if you take a cast of American actors over to Australia to make a movie, can you avoid a SAG contract? Maybe you can. I was just figuring that if enough of the cast belonged to SAG it would be hard to avoid dealing with them.
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#18 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 05:59 PM

You may be right, I don't know how far SAG's reach can go. Like if you take a cast of American actors over to Australia to make a movie, can you avoid a SAG contract? Maybe you can. I was just figuring that if enough of the cast belonged to SAG it would be hard to avoid dealing with them.

Yeah, I would figure that it would be standard, but from what I understand it isn't always. But of course if we're talking about movie stars, I don't think they really work off the SAG contract anyway. They make well above scale and don't have to worry about the majority of the things that, say, a dayplayer would. Minimums aren't really an issue.
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 03:07 AM

The pilot, called "The Good Wife", was picked by CBS for the fall schedule. But since they will be shooting in NYC, I don't think I'll be involved with the series.
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#20 Peter Moretti

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 06:30 AM

NYC is a nice enough place :) .

I wonder how you found the resolution of the Genesis compared to the Red?

The Genesis uses a a vertical stripe instead of a Bayer pattern, and Genesis "only" records 1920 while Red up to 4K. I've heard that the Red is really more 3.2K due to debayering and that the Red image has soft quality.

All this leads me wonder how the cameras differ in actual image resolution.

If you would care to comment, that would be great ;).
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