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How technology affects production and distribution

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#1 Aaron Takhar

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 05:36 AM

Hi All, 

 

I am currently writing a business report on media production and distribution specifically focusing on the emergence of technology and online platforms and was wondering if you could answer a few questions relating to this subject area?  

 

 

1.    How significant a role has Alan Horn played in the current shape of tent-pole cinema?

2.    How would you evaluate the demise of Blockbuster?

3.    How important do you anticipate online funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indie go-go be in the future of media production and distribution?   

4.    How significant a role does Netflix have in comparison to other distributors and distribution methods of media content?

5.    Will cinema survive the current prominence of consumers being able to downloadable content?

6.    Can technological advances work in conjunction with traditional production and distribution methods?

7.    Does the employment of single sensor cameras in films mean that tv and movies are now parallel to each other?

 

Thank you for your time. 


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 02:43 PM

Honestly, I don't know how much of a role Alan Horn has played. It's a good question, but studios' have been using those techniques for decades. 

 

I don't think the blockbusters have gone anywhere. In fact, I'd say in today's day in age there are two kinds of movies… The blockbuster and the Indy, that's it. With the studio's churning out "market friendly" safe pieces of entertainment on subjects every inner child want's to see, (blow shit up) the studios are pulling in hefty numbers on those few films. Even though the industry at a whole has worse ticket sales every year, those few blockbusters are what's holding the industry a float every season. Raising ticket prices for premium this and that, will most likely be the demise of smaller standard theaters. Once that happens, all we'll be able to see on the big screen ARE blockbusters. 

 

I think in this transition period, there is a lot of good crowd funding can accomplish. However, people are making films for less and less money. There is a new paradigm being generated through these forms of funding. As a consequence, people are simply expecting films to be made for A LOT less money. This means the workers on those films are getting paid less. This new paradigm is turning the film industry on it's head because harder now to make money then ever before. Every year, new talent hits the street, competing for the same jobs. However, that new talent sucks up all the non-paying (back-end money) or low-paying work, which is where everyone is going these days. So crowd funding hasn't really solved a problem, it's just forced everyone to make movies for less money and it's told the real money people; hey… we can make movies for less! Which is unfortunately, simply not true. To make a good product, still costs a lot of money no matter what. 

 

Internet distribution is the future. The whole concept of paying monthly fee and getting any content you want for that fee, is where we're headed. With the advent of bigger screens at home, with the advent of higher internet speeds and smaller more powerful computers, the streaming age is upon us. It will take someone like Apple to finally figure out the mess we're currently in, because there is no one solution today. I personally think the answer lies in cinema chain's like AMC, selling tickets to movie shows and instead of selecting a theater to see it in, you can see it at home. This will require decoding built-into your TV set, not an external box. I'd assume first run films will be at theaters only for the first two weeks, but then available online right away at home for the same price as going to the cinema. This would make the cinema's smaller, it would keep the distribution chain in tact AND most importantly, in this very busy world, it would allow substantial convince for families. I personally feel that's the only real answer because 3rd party companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple or Hulu will never be able to provide that service. I do think cinema's will survive, but in a different way. More like they did in the 40's and 50's… single screen "event" houses, charging $25- per ticket and showing not just a single 90 minute movie, but huge multi-hour films with intermission's. Real "events" like going to the opera, produced on grand scales, on HUGE screen's that just WOW the audience. 

 

We took a HUGE step backwards when we threw away film projectors and installed digital one's. Most digital cinema's are 2k and some films are only 1920x1080. So shooting technology is far superior to anything we're seeing in the theaters today. We don't need anymore advancement in digital capture technology as we can't distribute any higher quality because the internet providers have put a strangle hold on how much bandwidth customers are capable of receiving. Heck, very few films are even finished in 4k and anyone can shoot with 4k today. So what needs to happen is a multi-billion dollar campaign to bring all theaters up to 4k and force all content makers to provide 4k OR BETTER source material. Which by the way, will never happen. The great thing about film was the gauge defined the resolution. So there were pretty much three resolutions… 16mm/35mm/65mm. Today, there are infinite resolutions and no control over any of it. So no, I don't think anything that happens in the capture world will make one iota of difference in the distribution methods. 

 

We use CMOS sensors today in most of our cinema cameras. These sensors are great because they can capture a very wide dynamic range with an excellent color profile. They aren't perfect, but they're the best technology we have today. However, everyone has their own ideas on how the sensor's data should be interpreted. This is why different cameras have totally different looks, even if most of them are using the same cheap Chinese imagers. With that being said, television shows and cinema have generally been parallel until the last 10 years or so when television has slowly switched to digital. Prior to that, a great deal of shows were shot on 35mm including multi-camera sitcoms, which always boggles my mind. Today however, we're more separate then ever because unlike the film days where people only used a few different stocks, today every digital cinema camera has it's own look. So most content has a very unique look and to further that, color correction processes have allowed major changes to look that weren't capable in the film days. So we're seeing an even larger discrepancy in look today, then during the film days. 


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#3 JD Hartman

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 11:04 AM

#2 refers to the demise of Blockbuster, the video rental company.

 

I don't miss them, overpriced rentals, wasn't interested in their streaming offering and they put my local rental guy out of business.


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 11:38 AM

WOW, Blockbuster video? I totally forgot they existed! It's been almost two decades since I last used them. I never liked VHS, the format in my eyes was too inferior to bother with. So I always rented laserdiscs, which kept me away from places like blockbuster. If memory serves me, the problem with Blockbuster was the lack of new title availability. The nice thing about the laserdisc store was; new releases were always available. If you showed up and they didn't have a copy for rent, they'd just open a new one and hand it to you. Sure, it was $5 bux a rental or something like that, but getting that kind of quality at home was unheard of in the VHS days. When everything moved to DVD, the laserdisc stores tried to transition, but Netflix won out in the end because they offered a much better deal. 

 

RedBox has filled in where Blockbuster left off. Sure it's only a small collection of titles, but they always seem to have copies and instead of wading through all the old movies, you only have access to the new stuff. Between RexBox and Netflix dvd rental, I'd say that market is still going, even though most people have moved away from rentals and into streaming. There are also many family owned video rental stores still around, I know one of my laserdisc stores is still in business, though they deal mostly in porno today, which is too bad. 

 

I do miss going to the laserdisc store, not knowing what new releases would be there. Getting all excited about a certain title and walking home with a decent sized physical asset in a pizza box. I bought many movies instead of renting because I wanted them in my collection. Today, everything is available at any time online, so there is no need to even have a collection. In my eyes, that's the sad part because it makes movies have zero value. If you don't go to the cinema, if all you do is sit at home and click on a little button that says the movie title and watch it, you haven't put any value on that product. Sure you may enjoy it, but it won't stick around with you, it will fade away quick and you'll forget all about it when you watch whatever comes next. Movies have gone from a special art form, to nothing more then a commodity. 


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#5 JD Hartman

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 11:46 AM

O.T. sorry.  Miss the local video store, besides the large selection (Redbox and others can't match), my two dogs and any foster dog I had at the time were always welcome to come in browse the titles. 


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#6 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 08:24 PM

#2: Blockbuster's demise was of their own doing... No one want's to pay $5 to rent a movie for 3 days. Not when you have to make a special trip there to get them and return them. Usually, they where not in convenient locations either. With the onset of Netflix's DVD business, Blockbuster chose not to adapt to meet them. Why pay $5 to rent one DVD (and all the gas), when for $10 a month you can have up to 3 DVD's out at a time? Red Box also played a part in putting the final nail in Blockbusters coffin, though they where pretty much gone before that point.

 

With modern streaming technology, and Red Box locations at every major supermarket and Walmart - there is little need for the traditional video store. Honestly, I have only seen one traditional video store in my area, and that was a Family Video. Every time I go by there you might find 1 car in the lot.

 

#5: This is anyone's best guess... With technology changing, none of us can possibly know what will happen to cinema. HOWEVER, I think it's important to note that the death of Cinema is not something impending. Movie attendances has honestly been pretty flat - and the big blockbusters still pull in hundreds of millions of dollars. New cinema's are still being built. Honestly, until you can get a 60 foot IMAX screen in 16,000 watts of sound in your house - Cinema will probably remain.

 

I love mt 70" plasma as much as the next guy, but it's maybe 1/100 the size of a standard cinema screen.

 

#7: Not sure I understood the question correctly, but 'television' is a very broad term. The half-hour sitcom's are traditionally shot on studio cameras, probably 3-chip variety. Anything above the live audience Sitcom, you run into all sorts of production types. Some shoot super16, some 35mm where its justified. Some shoot on camera's such as the Alexa and Red. I do think that as camera's become more advanced, we'll see that the single chip cameras such as the Alexa and Epic, and possibly the Black Magic's - will start to takeover all forms of production. 


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 30 April 2015 - 08:29 PM.

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#7 John E Clark

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 01:08 PM

 

Landon D. Parks said:

---
I love mt 70" plasma as much as the next guy, but it's maybe 1/100 the size of a standard cinema screen.

 

------

 

 

I'm somewhat of an oddity... I prefer my 32 in. screen to the 'big' ones that I see...

 

 


Edited by John E Clark, 01 May 2015 - 01:10 PM.

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#8 JD Hartman

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 01:22 PM

Why would anyone want to stream a movie to their smart phone or tablet?  If you're being held prisoner in an airport waiting area or similar, maybe......   Any new release, I'd still prefer to enjoy it on the big screen in a theater.


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#9 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 11:23 PM

With current digital projection technology, nothing stops you from doing what I do… 

 

14 feet wide screen… Imax BluRay of Interstellar… and a bitchin' stereo. Sounded better and looked better then standard digital projection in a cineplex. 

 

interstellar.JPG


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#10 Aaron Takhar

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Posted 02 May 2015 - 06:23 AM

Thank you all for your responses they have been very valuable to my report. 

I would like to especially thank Tyler Purcell for the rigiourious and substantial

contribution you have made in asnwering my questions.  


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#11 Freya Black

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 10:21 AM

 Today however, we're more separate then ever because unlike the film days where people only used a few different stocks, today every digital cinema camera has it's own look. So most content has a very unique look and to further that, color correction processes have allowed major changes to look that weren't capable in the film days. So we're seeing an even larger discrepancy in look today, then during the film days. 

 

Dunno. I tend to find that everything is basically shot on the Alexa from huge movies to cheap TV serials. Even soaps are now being shot on Alexa and the Alexa has quite a distinctive look. Just recently I've had the experience of watching a couple of movies shot by directors who normally shoot on film and withing a few seconds after it has started I've been like "Alexa?" and then looked it up and found I was right.

 

It tends to be Alexa everywhere at the moment. Every so often you see something shot on Red or Sony F5 or something but it's rare.

 

Freya


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#12 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 05:23 PM

 

Dunno. I tend to find that everything is basically shot on the Alexa from huge movies to cheap TV serials. Even soaps are now being shot on Alexa and the Alexa has quite a distinctive look. Just recently I've had the experience of watching a couple of movies shot by directors who normally shoot on film and withing a few seconds after it has started I've been like "Alexa?" and then looked it up and found I was right.

 

It tends to be Alexa everywhere at the moment. Every so often you see something shot on Red or Sony F5 or something but it's rare.

 

Freya

 

I have noticed this as well. I always felt the Alexa was sort of, I don't know, unneeded. It seems to want to be a film camera replacement (and you can tell this by the cost of the unit), but it honestly produces just basic image quality. It's nothing special, and I've seen just as nice stuff shot on the Red cameras.

 

I think a lot of it has to do with the name of maker, and not the camera itself. Arri just seems like the way to go for big productions. They know the name from the days of film shooting. Panavision seems to have sort of taken a back-seat and disappeared, so Arri is the only major 'old school' name delving into active digital acquisition. 


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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 06:13 PM

I think you are selling the Alexa users a bit short -- almost anyone testing digital cameras finds that the Alexa is still beating the competition in terms of usable dynamic range.  In particular, it still produces the most film-like image in terms of how highlights roll off into the clip point.  

 

I keep going specifically to movies in the theaters shot on other cameras -- Sony F55, Red Dragon, etc. -- and while many of those look great too, and fairly film-like, there is often a scene or two where the bright highlights look a little odd to me, not just in the clipping but in the clipping in a particular color channel.  But that's nitpicking I suppose, I could get good results with any of those cameras and I don't think the audience is seeing the differences that I am seeing.

 

I recently saw a movie where I had assumed Alexa was used because of the wide latitude on display, but it was shot on the Sony F65 ("Ex Machina" -- which looked great!)

 

Anyway, my point is that cinematographers think about image characteristics all the time in terms of cameras and lenses, and while they don't always agree with each other, you ware doing them a disservice by implying that they like to shoot on the Alexa because they don't know any better, that it's just the brand name or that they are scared of other digital camera companies.  That may be true of a small percentage, and it may be true for some producers and directors who don't use these cameras regularly, but most cinematographers I talk to sincerely like the Alexa image, even in watching blind tests.

 

The other reason why the Alexa is popular is that it is reliable and robust, which is a legitimate reason why a producer, director, or cinematographer might lean in that direction even if the image quality is similar to the competition.  The two directors I worked with recently -- who had worked on other shows using a number of other cameras -- asked me to shoot on the Alexa specifically because they were annoyed with the technical problems on the other cameras like overheating (and I'm not just talking about Red cameras...)

 

Personally, ignoring the advantage that ARRI has in terms of building a very solid camera (which partially explains the weight!), and ignoring price, this doesn't mean I think that the other cameras on the market don't have some advantages over the Alexa, particularly in terms of resolution. A few cameras might also have better sensitivity, or run at higher frame rates, and many are lighter and smaller.

 

I just get tired of the repeated accusation that us working cinematographers in Hollywood pick our equipment based on brand-name loyalty rather than using our eyes, head, and taste.  I try to use a variety of equipment, partly because I don't have much choice in lower-budgeted productions, but also in order to keep abreast of current developments -- in the 35mm film days, I alternated between Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa, and between Panavision and ARRI -- and I'd like to use a variety of digital cameras too, but ultimately performance issues beat any personal longings to play with gear and I have to go with what works, what will hold up over two months of feature shooting, or seven months of TV shooting.  And I have to factor in the comfort level of the director and producer (and network and studio) with the gear I choose.  All of these factors come into play to make the Alexa a common choice.

 

But nothing stays the same -- there were some years before the Alexa was released when other digital cameras were more popular than their D20/21 for example.  And with the mandate to originate on 4K cameras from some companies like Netflix, Hulu, etc. there has been a rise in using Sony F55's and Red cameras again.  Eventually ARRI has to make a 4K camera and hopefully it will have a lightly compressed raw recording option to make using Arriraw less onerous in terms of data levels.


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#14 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 07:36 PM

David, I know it may have sounded that way, but I was not meaning to imply that Cinematographer's choose camera's based on brand loyalty alone, although I do think (based on my observation) that it plays into the decision. This is NOT bad thing, either. Like you say, Arri is a professional company with a long-standing reputation for quality. It would make perfect sense to pick equipment from a company such as this. Black Magic, and to a lesser extent, Red Digital Cinema has had some hiccups with their equipment in reliability and sensor issues.

 

My main point was that Arri almost seemed to 'slip in' the Alexa amongst the other selections of Camera's, each of which seemed to do more for less money. Almost like they missed the boat in terms of design and trends. As for build quality and design, I am sure Arri has the upper hand in this. 

 

As for the usability of an Alexa, I cannot say because I have never used one, though I did see one of the new Alexa mini designs at NAB this year - looks like a great design, though I'll probably never be able to shot on one.

 

Honestly, I have my eye on the new Black Magic Ursa 4.6K sensor with 15-stops. I think this one could be a good choice, if they don't run into major production delays and/or the camera does not have some of the similar issues of other sensors and bodies in their line. I love my Black Magic Pocket as much as the next guy, but the little thing has its share of issues.


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#15 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 09:45 PM

There are definitely identifiable characteristics of Alexa shot films but you can say the same thing about films shot on Red cameras.  I saw Starry Eyes on Netflix and within 5 minutes I was like "Oh, definitely a Red Epic."   I looked it up and sure enough it was.

 

But I don't think this is specifically the cameras.  Dead Snow 2 was also shot on a Red Epic but you would never know it because the color grading was much better.  Vibrant colors and true blacks.  Predestination was shot on an Alexa but it looked like 35mm in my opinion.   Also a very rich diverse color palette not usually seen on Alexa shot films like The Drop which was a classic Alexa look.

 

I think it really has to do with the grade and the LUTs applied and all of that more than anything and there are some particular cocktails of grading that are just all too common and seem very cookie cutter with each camera.  Not sure exactly why that is but it could be that the same post houses and top colorists work a lot and though it's usually up to the director and dp how it looks, the colorists may have certain proven "go-to" looks that get auditioned and used often.  That would explain why we keep seeing the same sort of "look" applied to each and every film shot with a particular camera.


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#16 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 11:07 PM

The Alexa is a powerhouse because it fits right into a similar workflow as film and it's a well made, known-brand camera. The technical features are only icing on the cake as most of the other options don't have nearly the reputation as Arri. Let's face it, Arri did almost everything correct on the Alexa, even the pricing isn't too ridiculous for the image quality. 

 

But to my original point, which was interpreted differently then my initial meaning… Unlike the film days, each digital camera has it's own unique look, where the film camera body played no role in the quality of the final image. The camera body is the expensive part because it's not a mass-produced machine, it's made for a specific, limited production use. But now, if you don't like the look of a certain camera, you're stuck with changing cameras OR fixing it in post production. 


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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 May 2015 - 11:27 PM

Unlike the film days, each digital camera has it's own unique look, where the film camera body played no role in the quality of the final image. The camera body is the expensive part because it's not a mass-produced machine, it's made for a specific, limited production use. But now, if you don't like the look of a certain camera, you're stuck with changing cameras OR fixing it in post production. 

 

But film stocks have their own looks and now that your choice is just Vision-3 Kodak color negative, you basically have one look that you're "stuck with" too unless you want to do digital color-correction to alter its gamma, saturation, etc. (other than the traditional photochemical adjustments that shift the look a little.)  If you wanted the Agfa look, you're stuck with the Kodak look, if you wanted the Technicolor look, you're stuck with the Kodak look, so I don't see a big difference in terms of your image changeability options between film versus any of the digital cinema cameras -- they all require digital color correction to obtain a wide variety of possible looks and within reason, it's not that hard to get any of them to look fairly similar to each other.  Sure, the cameras have their own looks but working from raw or log files, there can be a lot of variations in looks created.

 

I would argue that since the days of digital color-correction, we've seen a greater range of looks than ever happened in the days of pure photochemical shooting and post.  If you look at Hollywood movies released in 1979, for example, you do not see as wide a range in color saturation and contrast as you do with movie images today, simply because most people shot 35mm Kodak 5247 stock and went through a normal photochemical post, with only minor variations like push-processing, ignoring in-camera look creation through lighting and filtering on the camera, or using smoke, etc.  But you can do all of that today as well.


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#18 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 04 May 2015 - 12:11 AM

Things are changing fast.. an F5 with good PL lenses shot ,Slog3 .cine gamut ,can have an Arri C log LUT applied .. and look a lot like an Alexa straight out of the tin.. and is a 4K native camera at a fraction the cost  of the top end Alexa.. 

But for the sheer battle ship build the Arri,s win hands down.. if the weight is not an issue..  which it seldom is on drama anyway.. and the known work flow .. 


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#19 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 04 May 2015 - 01:44 AM

But film stocks have their own looks


Yep and that's my point. The media makes the look not the camera body. So if you want a different look, you simply change the recording media, instead of selling all your camera gear and buying new gear for a different look. If a filmmaker want's a certain look, you don't need to rent different equipment, you simply do some tests on different stocks and lighting, find what you like and go with it, using standard camera bodies and "cinema" workflow.

Today, digital cinema has turned everything upside down. If you're just a cinematographer, then who cares, but when you work in post all day long like I do, you see how absolutely atrocious image digital capture is. There are zero standards, everyone shoots however they want, which means the post people have little to know understanding of what it's suppose to look like. In the film days, I could edit with a one light on my steenbeck and know what it's going to look like. But today, just making simple shot decisions is nearly impossible because even if you apply a LUT to all the material before editing, you can't tell if they will match well with other clips in the final. It requires serious talent to make even two of the same camera match because the cameras are so highly technical today, one little setting throws everything off. Plus, it's now a race to make these cameras cheaper and easier to access for the public. In a few years when anyone can shoot a 4k for cheap money, it will dilute the whole profession like digital still photography has already. The truly talented people have simply retired and the replacements are fighting over the few jobs available.

Anyway, this is why I see digital technology as the demise of everything we love about cinema.

Edited by Tyler Purcell, 04 May 2015 - 01:44 AM.

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#20 Freya Black

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Posted 04 May 2015 - 05:16 AM

There are definitely identifiable characteristics of Alexa shot films but you can say the same thing about films shot on Red cameras.  I saw Starry Eyes on Netflix and within 5 minutes I was like "Oh, definitely a Red Epic."   I looked it up and sure enough it was.

 

Definitely I just saw a trailer shot on Red MX the other day and I was like "wow that's genius" because the subject matter of the film was a total match for the Red MX and while it might have been accidental, I thought they had very much chosen the best camera for the job. Actually come to think of it I thought that District 9 also worked great on the Red camera. It's really nice when that happens these days because it's becoming more rare that I think the look is a good match for the film. I was especially disappointed by one of the two movies I mentioned earlier that had been shot on the Alexa because the cinematography was outstanding, I absolutely loved it and it added a lot to my enjoyment of the movie but the Alexa look really detracted from the movie in a really, really big way. I just kept thinking it was such a shame they hadn't shot the movie on film. It might have been a really good match for Super16 film actually but what can you do. It was kind of heartbreaking to watch. Such a terrible missed opportunity.

 

I didn't think that Predestination looked anything like 35mm film really but I understand what you mean that it doesn't look quite as Alexa-y in places. I don't believe this is down to any genius colour grading however (although it has a good grade too) but just more down to the fact that the movie features a lot of brown. This is something I've said about the Red cameras in the past, that they look great when they are shooting in brown. The Alexa has quite distinctive blues and greens that are nice but are everywhere and also a somewhat distinctive yellow that can sometimes look really quite ugly. Overall the Alexa has nicer colours than most other video cameras and works better in a lot more situations which is one of the major reasons it has become so ubiquitous. People are choosing the Alexa because it is far and away better than any of the other video cameras out there in terms of the picture (at least better than those currently available anyway) and is the first port of call for people who are forced to compromise by not shooting film because at the moment it's the closest you can get.

 

There are other possibilities out there. I thought the F65 worked well on Oblivion, giving a very clean and different look that suited the sci-fi movie it was to some extent. I also think Red and Lomo anamorphic lenses is a really interesting look that I would like to see someone try in a movie but I'm not sure anyone would dare. I suspect that if someone is brave enough that they may well get great results however. Maybe we will get to see this when the 8K Red camera becomes available as that should be a great match for anamorphic lenses.

 

There is still a huge gulf in quality between video cameras and film however and whenever there is a big leap forward in the quality of the images from video it seems we have to take two steps back. There is even a trend at the moment for stuff shot on the Alexa that looks so nasty that I think it might have looked better if shot on a much cheaper and nastier video camera of some kind to give it some more character.

 

Freya


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Willys Widgets

Visual Products

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Metropolis Post

Paralinx LLC

Ritter Battery

Glidecam

CineTape

Pro 8mm

CineLab

Abel Cine

rebotnix Technologies

Aerial Filmworks

Rig Wheels Passport