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Making a short -- question about format choices


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#1 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 10:35 AM

Hello everyone,

 

I'm going to be making a short film in the fall, and it's been a LONG time since I've shot anything...about 14 years.  So I am certain a LOT has changed.

 

My short film will be about 10-11 minutes, and will probably be something made for film festival screenings.  I spoke with a NY based producer the other day, and he was adamant that I should shoot the project on digitial rather than on standard 16 or Super 16.   He argued that it would save tremendous amounts of money, offer much greater flexibility during shooting and editing, and the cameras and lenses have gotten so good that they yield high resolution, professional-grade imagery that approaches the 16/S 16 film format.

 

Now, I KNOW, empirically, that film imagery is better than digitial imagery, so you don't have to sell me on how a project carefully produced on Super-16 will look better than the same project carefully produced on HD-digital.  However, I am clueless about how far digital has advanced in the last several years. 

 

So, factoring in cost, flexibility, final screening format, etc., does it make sense for me to plan to shoot my short on digital?   When I was last in the filmmaking world, projects shot on digital didn't command attention or respect on the festival circuit, and certainly couldn't hold a candle to a well-shot S16 project on the visual level.  But are things different now?  I know an HD-digital short film won't win a cinematography award when going up against S16 or 35mm projects, but I am not too concerned with that -- I'm more concerned with the imagery  being good enough to not impede the storytelling.  Are people doing this and are HD projects able to command the same attention as S16 projects at festivals?


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:33 AM

I would say, yes, they are good enough. However, on the low end with fests ect, you're dealing with the vast majority of them shot on digital systems, which could be anything down to a iphone/gopro up to a full on F65 package. In that realm, I would generally err towards film if only to stand out from the vast unwashed hoards. of course it's no guarantee, and you should go with the format which best format for the style of the story (and conversely were I still in Philadelphia I'd just hand you over my SR3 for a case of beer ;) or money or both).

I think what you need to do is speak with the rental house you're thinking about using and do a test between the formats you're considering.

Also look into Light House Lights over in NJ for G/e. Ask for Steve Klink and tell him I sent you and you may be able to get a good deal on a truck. They have fantastic kit over there.


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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 11:34 AM

You should check out your budgets, you may find that you can shoot on a camera like an Arri Alexa or a RED Epic for your Super 16 budget. These are cameras used on major feature films and don't have that video look, although how close to film they look may depend on how you handle them in post. Projection tends to be digital these days, so you don't have the print adding to the look. 

 

The right format really depends on the story you're trying to tell. Film would make you different, although there are other things you could spend the funds on that would add impact, improving your cast or the art direction or your lighting package. 


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#4 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:23 PM

Brian and Adrian...thanks for the tips.  I am a professor at Temple University in Philly, and they have both S16 equipment and digital equipment at the film school that I can secure essentially for free.  But of course, their cameras are not the Red or Alexa.  Basically, I could use their Aaton A-Minima or XTR if I go S16, or use their Sony HVR-Z1U or Panasonic DVX 100a if I go digital.  I've used the Aatons in the past and am confident with them and the S16 format...but then, we're talking some pretty big bucks in terms of budget for stock, transfer, sound-synching, etc., As for the Sony or Panasonic options -- I genuinely have no idea what sort of beasts they are.  I am sure it would be easier/more economical to shoot with them, but I don't know what the end result will look like.

 

Unless those Philly/Jersey rental houses will let me use stuff for ridiculously cheap or work on the barter system (I make custom fuzz pedals and very good chocolate chip cookies, but...I'm a realist...) I will have to go with the free resources at the university.  So, I might be able to get S16 cameras for free, but end up with pretty high related costs.  I might be able to get digital cameras for free and have lower related costs, but with really "video-y" looking imagery.  Unless the Sony and Panasonic options noted above are actually good options, in your opinions.

 

Finally, in response to your comment, Brian, about the story I am going to tell...it's a small domestic story, mostly about a 10 year old kid, his single mother, his accidental discovery that she has a sex life, and the way this shakes up his world.  Sort of a "chamber" piece with few characters and locations.  I initially thought of this as a black and white sort of thing (a la Bergman's The Silence), which is why I immediately thought film was the best option.  But if the Sony/Panasocnic cameras are suitable, I'm open to using them.


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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:29 PM

Hell I used to work there over in Computer Services.

 

Why not try to get their BL4? The lenses suck; but just rent for 'em. I used to use DuAll out of NY, though Arri CSC also is a great place.

 

They also have some other camera, 7Ds if memory serves, they have a Red. Talk to Len about it-- he should know more they may've upgraded (tell him Adrian said hi too!).

I believe they also have a AF101- though I may be mistaken on that. If you go AF101 look into going through something like a hyperdeck. Len should also be able to help you out with stock-- though a call to Kodak could also get you a few "test rolls." Give Klink a call anyway over @ lighthouse-- never know when they might have a bit or bob you may need, as the lighting @ Temple really sucks. There's very little there which'll really help you out. Have you considered doing a kickstarter? the TECH Center has a green screen studio set up with a HD camera you could use to record your little pitch video. Pretty simple set up I put in awhile ago. They may've changed it though..

 

 

 Now all that said, I'd still err towards S16mm-- but hey, I'm nostalgic apparently.


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:40 PM

Once you get the S16 footage into a digital format like ProRes, it's all the same, so the question is whether you can afford the stock, processing, and scanning.

 

But the DVX100 is not an HD camera, if you aren't going to shoot S16, then you should be looking at a Red, Alexa, Sony F55, Canon C300 or C500, etc. -- not a decade-old standard def camcorder with a tiny sensor.


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#7 Pavan Deep

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:42 PM

It really depends on what you want and how constrained you are with your budget, I believe it is important for an emerging filmmaker to stand out, to make something that looks and sounds different. Digital has become more accessible and there seems to be a lot of cheap digital systems, this does mean that there is an awful amount of rubbish material out there. Much of the work I see shot on digital cameras is often uninspiring and looks the same. The trend these days is to shoot digital systems, a lot of people believe shooting 16mm is expensive and are too quick to dismiss it, but in my recent experiences filming on Super 16mm has worked out much quicker and cheaper. There are many digital systems, personally I prefer the Arri Alexa, but such high end digital systems can be expensive especially when you put your kit together, camera, lenses, filters and grips. I think that films shown digitally but which have originated on 16mm is the best of both worlds.

 

Pav


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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:54 PM

Which ever system you go for I'd put a lot of effort into casting the lead child. There are now a number of digital options that look good when shot using log or RAW.

 

You could also check out shooting B & W Super 16, but I suspect any cost saving are gone in doing that.


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#9 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 12:56 PM

Thanks again, everyone, for sharing your opinions.  David, I want to follow up on a point you made, as it's something I was thinking about.  If I'm transferring film footage into a really good system like ProRes...then why not just shoot in STANDARD 16mm?  Since I'll be finishing in a digital format and screening it in a digital format (I don't plan on striking a print for a festival-bound short film), couldn't I just shoot on standard 16mm framed for 16 x 9, and have THAT scanned at really high resolution into the digital format without losing a lot of resolution or sharpness during the process?  This is opposed to doing a blow up from a cropped standard 16 frame, where image degradation would really suffer as opposed to an original Super 16 negative.  But if it's going into a digital transfer process, wouldn't the image quality of a good standard 16mm image translate well?


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#10 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 01:44 PM

If you've got a Super 16 camera available you are losing resolution by going the standard 16 route for no reason. Super 16 only just now has got accepted for HD by the BBC. If you're going for big screen projection you need everything possible form that neg.


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#11 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:01 PM

I had a 2K scan done of my 16mm black & white negative (Kodak 7231) done and it was played off of a Blu-Ray at some festivals - one on a huge screen in an old theater.  Looked amazing.


Edited by Bill DiPietra, 15 January 2014 - 02:02 PM.

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#12 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:01 PM

So, even if the image is getting scanned in hi-res on Standard 16, the resolution loss compared to a Super 16 neg is noticable?

 

My curiosity about using standard 16 is mostly because I can sneak a Bolex pretty much anywhere and get almost all of my MOS shots (and the film will not have a lot of dialogue, so much of what happens is MOS.  I could actually get about 70% of the film shot that way, which would minimize the crew I would require, the space I would need, and the time it would take to set up shots and work through the shotlist.  Obviously, this is very appealing when working on a shoestring (and my budget is REALLY tiny), and I wouldn't be able to do it if I went with solely the Super 16 option...I'd have to use the XTR or Arri SR for that, and schlep along all the stuff one needs with those things.  T

 

So, if the loss of resolution/sharpness in the digital process with Standard 16 is only minor or relatively negligible compared to Super 16, but can still yield nice results superior to digital...it might be the right compromise for this project.  Given what I've just said above, I wonder if you would agree.  But I am definitely getting the sense from you folks that digital is not the best option here.


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#13 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:03 PM

I had a 2K scan done of my 16mm black & white negative (Kodak 7231) done and it was played off of a Blu-Ray at some festivals - one on a huge screen in an old theater.  Looked amazing.

Bill -- was that in Standard 16mm?  Got a clip available online?  Would love to see how it turned out!


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#14 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:14 PM

Yes, standard 16mm.  I don't have a hi-def clip online anywhere, sorry.  The only clip I have is the trailer I made from one of the standard def DVDs.  And with all the compression it went through, it really doesn't do the image justice.  I will send you the link in a PM anyway.


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#15 Zac Fettig

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:17 PM

It's not so much resolution loss as grain reduction normally. My last project was shot on regular 16 (7222), then cropped 16X9. We had two cameras; a 16S/B and a Scoopic. It did increase the effect of grain, but it's not too bad.

 

Your solution isn't bad, using the Bolex. It's how Nolan shot Following. Assuming you have a Bolex.

That said, a BMPCC is going to cost about the same as 1200' of film/processing/telecine. And is even smaller, plus it doesn't look like a movie camera.

 

Remember, budget dictates style, or style dictates budget. If you've got a shoestring, digital will be way easier. And it gets better & cheaper every day.


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#16 Pavan Deep

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 02:23 PM

This is Super 16, this trailer is cut from material shot with the Ikonoskop SP-16, out B camera. I will be putting up more stuff from this and some Regular 16 up next week.

 

https://vimeo.com/72831052

 

Pav


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#17 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 03:04 PM

Pav,

 

That footage looked extremely soft.  What lenses were used & how was that transferred?

 

Thanks.


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#18 Pavan Deep

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Posted 15 January 2014 - 04:32 PM

Did it? Those clips were taken with the Kinoptic 9mm lens. It was transferred on a Spirit and I had a Pro Res 444 file [I think].

 

 

Pav


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#19 Mark A. Leuchter

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 12:09 AM

After reading through this thread and seeing "BMPCC", I had no idea what you folks were referring to.  Well, I figured it out, and...wow. 

 

From the samples I've seen, it is quite an excellent device in so many respects.  Though the entire process of color grading is a little intimidating to me -- when I used to shoot on S16, that was something that the genuises at the transfer/post house used to do for me, and the software for the BMPCC looks complicated. 

 

But, from what I can tell, the image quality potential is superb and with the right lighting and lenses, rivals a lot of the S16 footage I've seen.  Given its tiny size and features, I might have to go with this BMPCC to make my short in terms of capturing raw footage.  But I am still sort of overwhelmed by what I can do with it...i.e., how to get it from the camera memory card into a system that can do some color correction and then into the editing software (Avid?  Do people still use Avid??).

 

It seems to me to be between the BMPCC and shooting on standard 16 and then transferring that to digital (since I can run around guerrilla-style with a Bolex and simple tripod for most of my footage rather than lugging around an Aaton, SR, and related hardware).  The BMPCC would actually be easier to do that with, as far as I can tell, though I can wrap my head around post-production with a 16mm camera negative and the post process with the BMPCC still seems mysterious to me.

 

Any opinions on one or the other here?  


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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 12:17 AM

The pocket is great, I own one.

To really open it up with Raw you'll need a lot of SanDisk Extreme Pro 64gb 95MP/sec memory cards. No other cards will work reliably for raw. Each card is about $119, give or take, and should give about 15 minutes of footage. In pro res the cards will give you more like 40 min of footage.

You'll need to run double system, the audio in the camera sucks.

You can use lens adapters to most lens systems which are dumb, or get M43rds glass. If you are using stills lenses, get a speed booster. If you are going PL mount, WoodenCamera makes a great cage/pl system.

 

You'll need some spare batteries-- either a V Mount system or the internal nikon batteries. They run about $20 each and I'd say 4 or 5 will last you a day. You will also probably want an EVF or some kind of HDMI monitor system for the camera (the screen is crap) as well as a lot of NDs to knock down it's iso from 800 to something workable for day shooting.

 

For post, you'll want to use Davinci resolve in raw to convert it to whatever you'd like-- yes you could go DNXHD for Avid editing. ProRes should go directly into editing but isn't as "gradable" as Raw would be-- but that's a trade off I often make.

 

In resolve you could "develop" it with a quick conversion in the system to go to REC 709, and then "conform" later on off of your edit to do a proper color correction, also in resolve.

 

It's a good priced body-- but you need a few things to work it into a good production camera. It can still be small, but without a good deal of SD cards and batteries, none of which last more than an hour, i'd not call it run and gun. Also keep in mind how much the data will cost you to store and backup later on. If you're pulling 64gb per "load" for 15 minutes or so (it is more, but 15 is a good place to swap out) you'll quickly start to get into the terabytes of information.

 

You can also record HD color in the camera, but this is very limiting.

 

Lenses will make a large difference in the camera-- and also be careful of super high over-exposure in the frame as it can cause a strange grid pattern and purple flare to appear.


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