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Theatrical Films shot in digital questions


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#1 Lance Tang

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Posted 30 October 2009 - 01:23 PM

I've heard that theatrical movies are now shot more and more in digital instead of on film. So this makes me wonder 2 questions

1) Do most theatres now have the ability to digitally project the movies or do they need to convert the digital to film before sending it to theatres

2) What resolution digital camera would I need to make a movie to be able to get it shown on a theatre screen?

Edited by Lance Tang, 30 October 2009 - 01:24 PM.

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#2 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 30 October 2009 - 03:22 PM

More films than previously are now being shot digitally, although many large-budget films still shoot on film. Take a look at American Cinematographer magazine to read about the formats that new films are shot on, or check out the Tech. Specs for films on IMDB.

More theaters are starting to pick up digital projectors, but I think most theatrical projection is still on film. Yes, movies shot digitally must be recorded out to film before they can be shown, but this also happens to almost all film-originated projects nowadays as well, because almost everything goes through a Digital Intermediate.

You can pretty much put anything on screen. The digital cameras that are used for feature films tend to be tens of thousands of dollars at least. I'm guessing from the nature of your questions that you're starting out now, so the advice I'll give you is to get the best camera you can afford that has full manual controls.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 30 October 2009 - 03:45 PM

I'd say most theatrical films are shot on Film, still and most are also projected on film, though in major cities major theaters are converting to digital projection. As Scott mentions, any format can be put on the big-screen. There will be trade-offs of course and things you'll need to deal with with any camera and any format always.
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#4 K Borowski

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 07:14 PM

Just a casual glance through the newspaper, and I note about 50% of the films out there right now on the big screen are digital, in some theatres, through random chance and marketplace demographics, are showing *more* digital movies than film-originated.

This is the first time that I can remember this having happened.


"Extract" was the last finished-on-film movie I remember seeing in the theatres, and it tanked. . .


So, at least for me, this is a rather alarming trend that I just noticed.



Getting back on topic. . . It is easier than ever to get a decent-quality product on screen. Compare "Paranormal Activity" with "Blair Witch Project" from a decade ago. While I feel the latter was a better movie in terms of plot and story, the former certainly is more technically acceptable on the big screen.

You can get HD images very affordably these days. The bar has come down; 2K is the standard now, and after two or three dupes on film before it gets in the theatre, you're arguably getting a better picture on your home HD TV set!



But remember, there is another barrier to the big screen: Distribution money, and advertising. And this will always be around.
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#5 Dominic Case

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 07:43 PM

Most features are still shot on film, though by no means all. Obviously not CGI, and more lower-budget films are captured digitally.

But the release format is entirely independent of capture format. Whatever you shoot on, the final result can be released digitally or on 35mm film. Most projects go through a digital postproduction process, and the transfer from film todata, and vice versa, is commonplace.

Features can be shot on 35mm anamorphic or flat, 16mm, or digital formats from Genesis through Red down to Handicams, and phones. Not sure if the first iPhone feature is out yet. Basically you get what you pay for in terms of quality, and without a good script and direction, it doesn't matter much what you shoot on.

Somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of US screens can now project digitally. Here in Australia it's a lower percentage that are equipped with the Hollywood studio-mandated (DCI) 2k, jpeg2000, highly-encrypted standard systems, but many more have slightly lower resolution and very much less expensive systems. They can't access Hollywood product, but they can access independent and art-house films. I'm not sure if this second-tier system has any presence in the US, but it certainly does in many other countries.

Karl's point about distribution and advertising costs is a very good one. I hear too often about features "made for tuppence". Leaving aside the fact that actors, scriptwriters, and crew aren't paid in these productions, it will ALWAYS cost more than tuppence (a lot more) to make the copies (prints or digital copies) to cinema standard,and to promote the film.
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#6 Lance Tang

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 05:32 PM

So lets say I bought this camera below, just an HD camera 1920x1080

http://www.amazon.co...e...4412&sr=8-1

Would it be ok on the big screen? Or would it look very "home-movie."

I'm a camera noob so please forgive my dumb questions.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 06:24 PM

"Home Movie" and "looking bad" are a function of the cinematographer, not the camera. Don't think in terms of which camera looks "professional," get something cheap and learn your trade first with manual controls, or else even the most expensive cameras and lenses on the planet will still look amateurish. There's no magic pill to being a good shooter, it takes time to hone the skills. That said, look into an old used DVX100 which'll have all the manual controls you need to start learning how to shoot.
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#8 Lance Tang

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 12:17 AM

"Home Movie" and "looking bad" are a function of the cinematographer, not the camera. Don't think in terms of which camera looks "professional," get something cheap and learn your trade first with manual controls, or else even the most expensive cameras and lenses on the planet will still look amateurish. There's no magic pill to being a good shooter, it takes time to hone the skills. That said, look into an old used DVX100 which'll have all the manual controls you need to start learning how to shoot.


does that camera shoot to a memory card?
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#9 Tebbe Schoeningh

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 12:27 AM

does that camera shoot to a memory card?


no, it shoots to mini-dv tape.
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#10 Lance Tang

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 01:17 AM

no, it shoots to mini-dv tape.


so when I transfer it to my computer, will there be loss of quality?
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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 02:02 AM

so when I transfer it to my computer, will there be loss of quality?

Depends on how you capture it. You can capture your footage as uncompressed SD from the miniDV tape and not lose any quality. But it will take a fast computer to be able to edit it in real time. Or you can capture it to a codec like Apple ProRes, which is a good compromise between quality and ease of use.
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#12 Lance Tang

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 02:39 AM

Is there any recommendations for a camera I can buy that has the manual controls, shoots in HD, but saves either to internal harddrive or a memory card? I would also like to mention that I am on a budget.
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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 06:40 AM

There's plenty. The Sony PMW-EX1R, the HPX 170, the HVX200, The Sony PMWEX1, there was a JVC as well that came in and out quickl, and I think shoots to SD cards. But all those cameras will cost you....
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#14 Andrew McCarrick

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 09:23 AM

2) What resolution digital camera would I need to make a movie to be able to get it shown on a theatre screen?


Films shot on a DVX have been blown up to film prints before... pretty much any Prosumer that shoots 24p can handle a film blow-up pretty well.

An option if you do SD is Instant HD Advanced.

http://www.redgiants...instant-hd-adv/

Edited by Andrew McCarrick, 02 November 2009 - 09:26 AM.

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#15 Bob Hayes

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:47 AM

There have been a lot of exciting changes in digital project in the last few years. The success of 3D especially animation is forcing theaters to bite the bullet and install at least one digital system. Also because quality digital projectors are getting cheaper some theaters are installing them specifically to show local advertising. Coke can afford a 35mm print for their commercial but Norm's hardware and mattress store can not. By installing digital systems they can run local ads before the 35mm commercials. This means many independent theaters have the systems in place to play your movie.
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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:50 AM

Is there any recommendations for a camera I can buy that has the manual controls, shoots in HD, but saves either to internal harddrive or a memory card? I would also like to mention that I am on a budget.

The Canon 7D is $1700 (body only). Uses 35mm still lenses. Has manual controls. Records onto CF cards in h.264 codec. Does 1080 24P, 25P, and 30P, and also 720 50P and 60P. I think it's a great camera to learn on.
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#17 K Borowski

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 04:27 PM

There have been a lot of exciting changes in digital project in the last few years. The success of 3D especially animation is forcing theaters to bite the bullet and install at least one digital system. Also because quality digital projectors are getting cheaper some theaters are installing them specifically to show local advertising. Coke can afford a 35mm print for their commercial but Norm's hardware and mattress store can not. By installing digital systems they can run local ads before the 35mm commercials. This means many independent theaters have the systems in place to play your movie.


Bob, I have to disagree on your point about "some theatres" installing video projection.

Practically all of them that I have seen in almost a decade now have done so (early 2000s).

Before that it was 35mm slides that the local guys were using. I do remember big-budget ads (Coke) on film, a lot of which were SD video blowups anyway, so video projection makes perfect sense, as the film ads weren't even being taken full advantage of.

Only "on-film" ads I've seen recently at the theatres, and even this has been a while, are "no-smoking" announcements and theatre jingles.

Most of these have been cut out in favor of adding yet another trailer. I seldom show up to a movie on time. Trailers are now almost fifteen minutes.

Only "civilized" state I know of is New York (or is it just NYC?), where the actual movie has to start at the posted time in the advertisements.
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