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Micro-Budget still using film: Brutal Ratios


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#1 Alain Lumina

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 09:10 AM

I've been shooting with a combination of 7D and Ultra 16 for cost efficiency.

With love of film yet extremely limited funds, I would like to try a systematized method of brutal ratios with fallback to digital.

Here's the idea:

1) Inform all cast and crew right from beginning of recruiting how the system will work so they all know what to expect and can start adapting.

2) Select scenes/sequences best done with film according to your criteria-- rippling water in sun, desert, certain high contrast scenes, especially ones with less acting-- reducing variables. OTOH, super low light seems MUCH cheaper to do with digital with 5D/7D

3) Rehearse acting scenes a lot including strict adherence to planned camera moves/focus pulls.

4) Do film sequences with a two take maximum, if Take 1 looks good do one more backup take with digital. I guess you need someone setting
up the shots with the digicam so you can roll over to Take 3/digital quickly.

With this method, besides getting the DP to hate me, I can get film on the screen for less than $50 per minute including stock, processing, and telecine.

Any other ideas for making this work as well as possible despite the obvious pitfalls? I already thought of "Get a bigger budget" and "Just shoot all digital" so votes for those are kind of wasted.

Selecting shorter sequences I guess would help so you don't have a single digicam shot in the middle of a film sequence.

Thanks for any suggestions.
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#2 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 01:38 PM

While I very well understand your desire to shoot on film, your plan strikes me like a lot of additional complexity for a no-budget production. I say this with great respect for no-budget, some of the films that have most affected my life were made with artistry but no money.

Since you seem like the main creator behind this work you're going to have a lot to deal with during production without the additional challenge of filming in multiple formats and camera systems.

Which brings me to this: if it is essential to the visual look you require to shoot on both formats, then go ahead. That's what you need to do, so do it.

However, if whatever you are trying to achieve can be brought in (perhaps not ideally) digitally, perhaps you can spend more effort telling a great visual story if you're not distracted with the two format scenario.

Best of luck on your project.
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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 12:03 AM

I'm assuming you'll buy re-canned stock? You'll save a bundle.

R,
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 06:12 AM

Also cutting from film to digital in the same scene can be quite jarring. If you do go for it, keep each scene consistent-- e. g. this one is all film and the next is all digital.
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#5 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 12:06 PM

I agree with Adrian and Bruce. Unless there is a damn good plot reason for switching between film and video within a scene, or you can do one complete scene on video and the next on film --less distracting, but still not ideal, unless again, there is a good plot reason-- I'd just shoot on the 7D and finish on video. Then at the end you can transfer the edited HD footage to film off of a flat screen monitor if you really want the "film look." Works pretty damn well and at the very least your project would look consistent.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 24 August 2010 - 12:07 PM.

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#6 Chris Burke

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 12:18 PM

have you considered shooting on Vision 3 Super 8? It might be a happy medium between no money and that film look. Any lab that processes it, is most likely to give you a deal much better than the published rates.
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#7 Brian Rose

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 01:37 PM

I've been shooting with a combination of 7D and Ultra 16 for cost efficiency.

With love of film yet extremely limited funds, I would like to try a systematized method of brutal ratios with fallback to digital.

Here's the idea:

1) Inform all cast and crew right from beginning of recruiting how the system will work so they all know what to expect and can start adapting.

2) Select scenes/sequences best done with film according to your criteria-- rippling water in sun, desert, certain high contrast scenes, especially ones with less acting-- reducing variables. OTOH, super low light seems MUCH cheaper to do with digital with 5D/7D

3) Rehearse acting scenes a lot including strict adherence to planned camera moves/focus pulls.

4) Do film sequences with a two take maximum, if Take 1 looks good do one more backup take with digital. I guess you need someone setting
up the shots with the digicam so you can roll over to Take 3/digital quickly.

With this method, besides getting the DP to hate me, I can get film on the screen for less than $50 per minute including stock, processing, and telecine.

Any other ideas for making this work as well as possible despite the obvious pitfalls? I already thought of "Get a bigger budget" and "Just shoot all digital" so votes for those are kind of wasted.

Selecting shorter sequences I guess would help so you don't have a single digicam shot in the middle of a film sequence.

Thanks for any suggestions.


I see a lot of problems with this method. I'm sorry if you don't want to hear "get a bigger budget," or "shoot all digital," but that's your problem. You're hell bent on shooting film, yet unwilling or unable to commit the kind of budget that endeavor demands. Film is not something you can cut too many corners with, and why would you? Its your hard earned money, don't you want to make the best you can?

Yet it seems like you've lost all focus on what matters. Because really, for all we pontificate about film or digital, formats and mediums are rather a small part of the picture. What's your story? How are you going to tell it? You should be allowing that to dictate the course of the production, and instead you're ramming the production through this fine, fine window that will allow you to shoot film, but will likely produce something all mangled when it comes out the other side.

Why do you need to shoot film? Forget for a moment that you "love it." I love 65mm Panavision, but I have no illusions that I'm going to shoot my next film in the process.

Does film add something to the story that digital doesn't? Why is digital so bad? There is just as much artistry with one as with the other. The fact that your picture was shot on celluloid certainly won't make it good or professional.

For example, you say to shoot film you can do no more than two takes. Really? How long is that rule going to stay in place? Do you really expect your performers to hit their mark on the first or second try EVERY TIME? No, they're human, and stuff happens, and there are going to be circumstances beyond your control, and since you've left yourself so little room to breath, you're going to quickly find yourself strangled.

You mentioned having digital as a backup for the film, in case they don't get it on the first take. This may seem like a good compromise, but mixing mediums is one of the worst things you can do. You're setting yourself up for the worst kind of situation, where you're forced to intercut film and digital. It's a recipe for disaster. It'll take you right out of the story. Consistency is the key. It's why DPs plan their lighting ratios, and have their f-stops planned, so the DoF can be consistent. There are so many variables. And mixing film with 7D...the compression, the rolling shutter issues...I think it would be one of the worst formats to try and mix with film.

And what about lighting, camera support, costumes, production design, makeup...all the other things that are so crucial to the production? Really your format is the least of your worries.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but I believe in being honest now, before time and money have been spent that can never be recovered.

Based on what you've described, I don't think film would be a good idea. You've shaved so many things so thin, it reaches the point where you've got to ask, "Wait, why am I so obsessed with shooting film?" You should worry about trying to tell a great story as best you can. Because would you rather have a piece of junk on film, or an excellent work of art shot on digital?

BR
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#8 Phil Connolly

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 05:37 AM

I don't think its a good idea to mix film and video in the same scene it would be too distracting.

If your hell bent on shooting sections on film - I'd work out how many scenes you can afford to do on film giving yourself a sensible shooting ratio. If you pick the scenes that play to films strenghthes eg Day EXT the result could look dencent. But its still going to jar a bit.

I once directed a project that mixed Super 16, Super 8 and Arri D-20 onto SR - we never intercut formats within scenes and made a feature of the different format textures. There nothing wrong with mixed formats, but its better to mix them for creative reasons rather then cost. Our approach was D-20 for present scenes and film for flashbacks. You have to have a logical creative reason for mixing formats - when you cut between HD and 16mm is going to be noticable.

So you could make it work - if you establish a rule for the film scenes vs video - resorting to video because you break the your 2 take rule is going to look very random.

Personally I'm against the "I must shoot film at all costs" approach.

I've seen many short films shot on insane ratio's that ruin the film since there not enough coverage and the perfomances are weak - the choice of shooting film when the budget doesnt support it just kills it. Rehearsing the actors lots doesn't help either - you can get them to make less mistakes, but you end up rehersing the life out of the performance and it can become flat.

I think a few scenes on film might be nice if you have a genuine reason in the story for a different visual texture eg.. a dream or flashback.

But if it were me I'd probably put the money i was going to spend on 16mm and used it to upgrade the digital camera or get better lens's for it - improving the quality of the production.

I love shooting film, but hate shooting film on low budgets and low ratios, its too stressful. Filmmaking is difficult enough why add to your problems by trying to shoot on a format you can't afford. Its not like digital is that much of a compromise these day's either. Sure film's loverly but digital can look very nice too - usually better then cheapo 16mm as the lens/lighting/art direction can better as there more money to spend in these areas.
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#9 Alain Lumina

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 03:51 AM

Thanks for all the wise and honest input. Especially true I think is the need to avoid combining film and digital within a sequence, except for a specific artistic effect.

Also-- it's embarrassing I need to be reminded of the fundamental truth that it's the story above all !

I think what I may do to incorporate the suggestions and still service my fetish ( which indirectly is part of the story as well)
is to use film only on particular selected sequences that:

-- Can be preplanned and not require many takes-- for instance desert landscapes without dialog, without any complex balletic movements of trucks, boats etc.-- where the texture and dynamic range are the central concerns.

And I am a big fan of recans. Was bummed when the Raw Stock NY owner closed ( sorry forgot name for now) He gave great deals and always
shipped what he promised when he promised it. Zero complaints from me.
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