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Inexperienced Filmmaker Near Atlanta Seeks Help/Answers for Short Film for Grad School Application (Alexa XT?)

Alexa XT ARRIRAW lenses lighting cameras film short film help Codex color correction

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#1 Emerson Smith

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:01 PM

Hey there! I'm sorry if this is too many questions at once, but I figured it would be better to just lay my initial questions all out at once instead of peppering them throughout the thread over time.

 

I graduated from college this May with an English degree and a minor in Communications, and I want to go to film school as a graduate student. In order to do this, I need a short film (I'd really like to go to USC). However, my university didn't/doesn't exactly have a cutting-edge film program, so I'm a little flustered.

 

Here's a bit of background about my short film project. It concerns a young woman going to a bar in the early hours of her 21st birthday (it's like 12:08 AM) and ordering her first-ever drink. It's going to be shot without dialog--it will be all body language and sound effects, like a Pixar short, if that makes sense. I want the look of the film to be "objective" (I know that's not a real thing in film) except for a couple of wide-angle shots and a deep focus shot which pulls back over the bar to establish that she's in a bar (if there's a way to do this without deep focus, let me know). I'd also like to do something like this shot from The Music Man (https://youtu.be/CC33O52pGUg?t=2m43s). I don't know how they did it, but I suppose you can cheat it in post if you're a good/patient enough rotoscoper.

 

Anyway, I was looking into what kind of camera I should use to film this project. I've saved up a bit of money and I want to get the best camera possible for the job without requiring me to learn a textbook-worth of information or have tons of hands-on time with the camera before I use it. Since I'll be filming in a real bar (sadly, I haven't saved up enough money to build one from scratch on a soundstage) at night, there will be low light and the possibility of competing color temperatures (since I can't exactly tear out any lights). I'd also prefer to go for as filmic a look as possible. I would shoot the project on film if I could, but I super-don't know enough about film to do that. For this reason, I was looking at either the RED camera or the ARRI Alexa XT. After reading about the RED, I came away with the impression that it was a very particular camera that had kind of a steep learning curve, and that the ARRI Alexa XT would be much easier to shoot with, although I don't know if it's easy enough. My experience has mainly been with that one miniDV Canon SD prosumer camera that everyone had. I also would like to shoot Open Gate ARRIRAW for the project to maximize the pixel count for upscaling to 4K.

 

Since I live near Atlanta, I'm looking at renting from here: http://pce-atlanta.com/. Here is their list of cameras and lenses (PDF): http://www.pce-atlanta.com/pdf/Camera%20Catalog_4_8_2013.pdf. I'm going to be renting the camera and lenses for a weekend.

 

So my first question is: how feasible is this? Especially as I've never used the Alexa before and I'm not an experienced color corrector. Can you just drop ARRIRAW footage into the free version of Da Vinci Resolve or Adobe SpeedGrade and get good results just by messing with a few presets, or is it going to be a month of tedious work? Because I don't have the time to devote every day to it, especially as I'll also be doing foley work.

 

My second question is this: ARRIRAW is flat footage, correct? So how do you know how the colors are going to look when using the monitor?

 

My third question is: how much is that Codex docking station that plugs into the USB 3.0 connection on a MacBook Pro? I've been unable to get a straight answer from their website. And do I need to buy a software license to transfer the ARRIRAW files to a hard drive using it?

 

My fourth question is this: what kinds of lenses should I use? I was thinking of just getting a zoom lens, since that would be cheaper, but would I be able to pull off that deep-focus shot with it? And ARRI's website tells me that shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW can be a problem because a lot of lenses don't fully cover the sensor area. Do any of the lenses on that list qualify? I'd rather not abandon the Open Gate part of my plan, but I'd sooner abandon it than abandon the Alexa XT (although if I weren't shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW I guess I could switch to an Alexa with the XT module), so if I have to, I will.

 

My fifth question is: do I need to get a new tripod? I mainly have the kind which you can use for still camera work or for that relatively light Canon prosumer camera I mentioned. Is the Alexa XT a heavy camera?

 

My sixth question is: lighting. I don't understand it. I have a lot of questions about it. I'm considering just using the available light for this reason. For instance, I understand the three-point lighting method (or I think I do, anyway) and I understand how it's easy to do in close-up, but what happens when you cut to a long shot from a different angle, exposing where the lighting rigs would be?

My seventh question is: how do I keep it from looking like TV? Let me elaborate on that. I initially thought that aspect ratio played a part in making TV look like TV, but Better Call Saul looks like a movie to me, and Witness for the Prosecution, mistakenly presented in 16:9, looked like a movie as well--not like TV. So my theory is that it has something to do with coverage and composition (and maybe editing and lighting, too). I want my short film to look like a film. What are some common pitfalls I should avoid if I don't want my film to be mundane?

I think that's it for now. If you guys could do me a favor and keep checking this thread, I'm sure I'll have more questions. Thank you so much for your time. Also, please let me know if in the future I should make separate topics for questions with separate subject matter. I just didn't want to clutter up your forums.


Edited by Emerson Smith, 14 September 2016 - 12:03 PM.

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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:23 PM

My first reaction is that I think you need to hire some expertise. If you can afford to rent an Alexa package, you can afford to bring someone in who can solve many of these problems for you.

 

The shot in The Music Man just looks like they faded (or rather flagged) off the lighting.

 

 

Especially as I've never used the Alexa before

 

If you have a basic grasp of camerawork and photography, it isn't particularly complicated as cameras go, but if you aren't any sort of cameraman to begin with you probably shouldn't assume you can jump straight in.

 

 

 

and I'm not an experienced color corrector

 

In theory, you could have the camera output a corrected version to a monitor, light to the monitor, and then apply the same look in post, and tweak as necessary. There's more than a few steps involved in doing that, however, and you'd need to be comfortable selecting lookup tables for monitoring on set, and then ensuring something like Resolve was using the same one in postproduction.

 

Again, you can have someone do this for you.

 

 

 

Can you just drop ARRIRAW footage into the free version of Da Vinci Resolve or Adobe SpeedGrade

 

In theory, given an extremely powerful computer, recent versions of Resolve (from 12.5) will do it. You would invariably need to implement a proxy workflow to cut the material. However, I would view a raw recording as entirely unnecessary - most people would strongly encourage you to save a lot of time, money and work, and shoot ProRes. You likely won't notice the difference.

 

 

 

ARRIRAW is flat footage, correct?

 

Raw is untouched sensor data (except in the case of Red, when it's heavily compressed sensor data). It doesn't have a look of its own that's in any sense meaningful as a picture. However, most approaches to shooting on any modern cinema camera will involve capturing low-contrast material, while using a monitor set up to make it look more normal. Then, in post, you'll use similar settings to normalise the material, treating the result as an approximately-correct image, then use the controls of the grading software to make final adjustments knowing you have access to all of the low-contrast image data. That's how most stuff is shot.

 

 

 

how much is that Codex docking station that plugs into the USB 3.0 connection on a MacBook Pro?

 

Enough that you'll rent it and plug it into something other than a laptop. But as I say, don't - shoot ProRes. Then you can read the SxS cards into anything.

 

 

 

My fourth question is this: what kinds of lenses should I use? I was thinking of just getting a zoom lens, since that would be cheaper, but would I be able to pull off that deep-focus shot with it?

 

Sure, assuming it has a wide enough maximum aperture. Lots of things influence the ability to create shallow depth of field shots (which is what I assume you mean).

 

 

 

My fifth question is: do I need to get a new tripod? I mainly have the kind which you can use for still camera work or for that relatively light Canon prosumer camera I mentioned. Is the Alexa XT a heavy camera?

 

Moderately heavy. If you were to do this, you'd rent a tripod and head as part of the package. No, a stills tripod almost certainly won't do - an Alexa would massively overload most of them and you need something with a proper pan and tilt head for moving picture work.

 

 

 

My sixth question is: lighting. I don't understand it. I have a lot of questions about it. I'm considering just using the available light for this reason. For instance, I understand the three-point lighting method (or I think I do, anyway) and I understand how it's easy to do in close-up, but what happens when you cut to a long shot from a different angle, exposing where the lighting rigs would be?

 

This is too broad a question to answer on a forum, but it strikes me again that you should hire someone to fill the role of a director of photography and do this for you.
 

 

how do I keep it from looking like TV?

 

Hire a competent director of photography, and don't overlook production design. The best camera and lighting technique can't disguise what's in front of the camera.

 

Unless you are very rich I would recommend shooting some tests and possibly using a less expensive camera. At this level, problems with production design, locations, acting, and directing are likely to cause more problems, in terms of overall perceivable quality of production, than the camera. Many of your concerns over log workflows, lenses and lighting will pertain, but you'll have more spare cash to deal with them.

 

P


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#3 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:49 PM

My seventh question is: how do I keep it from looking like TV?

 

Phil is on-par in all areas, but I just want to second his opinion on this. DO NOT overlook production value. That fabled 'film look' everyone talks about has nothing (or very little) to do with modern camera choices. Back in the day you needed a good camera for it to be HD, non-interlaced, 24p, etc. Now, even cell phones have this covered.

 

The most important step to achieving a film look is in three areas: Lighting, Design, and Post-Production. Lighting is important, because often times 'TV' is shot very theatrically with overhead lights and such to get fast coverage with multiple cameras. This often leads to that flat TV look with hard shadows a few dark or blind spots. In single camera film work, you have more leeway to play with lighting - USE IT. This is not a lighting primer though, as that would be too difficult to go into in any great detail. Design is equally important, as the overall design of a project will affect how filmic it looks in the end. Again, this is not a production design primer, so do your own research here.

 

Finally, a lot of what one thinks of as 'film look' is achieved in post production - namely the grading suite. Color correction and grading will play one of the largest roles in the final outcome of your project. Don't skimp here. If you do not have experience in software like Resolve you'll find yourself struggling to get a good 'film' look, since so much of it is attained from experience.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 14 September 2016 - 01:50 PM.

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#4 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 02:05 PM

To save time, I have replied in BOLD within the quote below:

 

Hey there! I'm sorry if this is too many questions at once, but I figured it would be better to just lay my initial questions all out at once instead of peppering them throughout the thread over time.

 

I graduated from college this May with an English degree and a minor in Communications, and I want to go to film school as a graduate student. In order to do this, I need a short film (I'd really like to go to USC). However, my university didn't/doesn't exactly have a cutting-edge film program, so I'm a little flustered.

Why film school? You do know that for the cost of film school you can purchase a fairly nice production package and work on your own projects, gaining actual production experience. Film school will not get you job when you graduate. At best, you'll make some friends who might or might not help you in the future. Yes, you'll learn some technical sides of the filmmaking process - but you'll be taught the run-of-the-mill ways of doing things, and nothing makes up for the learning experience of a real film set.

 

Here's a bit of background about my short film project. It concerns a young woman going to a bar in the early hours of her 21st birthday (it's like 12:08 AM) and ordering her first-ever drink. It's going to be shot without dialog--it will be all body language and sound effects, like a Pixar short, if that makes sense. I want the look of the film to be "objective" (I know that's not a real thing in film) except for a couple of wide-angle shots and a deep focus shot which pulls back over the bar to establish that she's in a bar (if there's a way to do this without deep focus, let me know). I'd also like to do something like this shot from The Music Man (https://youtu.be/CC33O52pGUg?t=2m43s). I don't know how they did it, but I suppose you can cheat it in post if you're a good/patient enough rotoscoper.

 

Anyway, I was looking into what kind of camera I should use to film this project. I've saved up a bit of money and I want to get the best camera possible for the job without requiring me to learn a textbook-worth of information or have tons of hands-on time with the camera before I use it. Since I'll be filming in a real bar (sadly, I haven't saved up enough money to build one from scratch on a soundstage) at night, there will be low light and the possibility of competing color temperatures (since I can't exactly tear out any lights). I'd also prefer to go for as filmic a look as possible. I would shoot the project on film if I could, but I super-don't know enough about film to do that. For this reason, I was looking at either the RED camera or the ARRI Alexa XT. After reading about the RED, I came away with the impression that it was a very particular camera that had kind of a steep learning curve, and that the ARRI Alexa XT would be much easier to shoot with, although I don't know if it's easy enough. My experience has mainly been with that one miniDV Canon SD prosumer camera that everyone had. I also would like to shoot Open Gate ARRIRAW for the project to maximize the pixel count for upscaling to 4K.

 

Since I live near Atlanta, I'm looking at renting from here: http://pce-atlanta.com/. Here is their list of cameras and lenses (PDF): http://www.pce-atlanta.com/pdf/Camera%20Catalog_4_8_2013.pdf. I'm going to be renting the camera and lenses for a weekend.

Any reason you need such an expensive camera for what amounts to a short film for film school admission? I'd look at rather a cheaper camera could be used, and more money put into hiring some help or bettering your production design or post workflow, which will add much more 'film look' than an Alexa will.

 

So my first question is: how feasible is this? Especially as I've never used the Alexa before and I'm not an experienced color corrector. Can you just drop ARRIRAW footage into the free version of Da Vinci Resolve or Adobe SpeedGrade and get good results just by messing with a few presets, or is it going to be a month of tedious work? Because I don't have the time to devote every day to it, especially as I'll also be doing foley work.

Do you have any experience with other cameras? Alexa is certainly no monster to learn. In a lot of ways it's easier than a lot of older broadcast cameras since the image recorded is RAW and you don't need to fiddle with color settings and things on the camera. That does not mean, however, that you can simple pick it up and start shooting. I'd say if you never touched a professional cine-camera in the past, you'll need to spend at least 2 days with it in advance of your shoot to get a basic understanding of how it work and what quirks it has. 

 

My second question is this: ARRIRAW is flat footage, correct? So how do you know how the colors are going to look when using the monitor?

The most common way is to use a monitor that allows for LUT's to be applied in the monitor. I have the Atomos Flame which is a recorder/monitor combo for about $1500. It will display your raw footage as REC 709 on the monitor (but still record RAW).

 

My third question is: how much is that Codex docking station that plugs into the USB 3.0 connection on a MacBook Pro? I've been unable to get a straight answer from their website. And do I need to buy a software license to transfer the ARRIRAW files to a hard drive using it?

 

My fourth question is this: what kinds of lenses should I use? I was thinking of just getting a zoom lens, since that would be cheaper, but would I be able to pull off that deep-focus shot with it? And ARRI's website tells me that shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW can be a problem because a lot of lenses don't fully cover the sensor area. Do any of the lenses on that list qualify? I'd rather not abandon the Open Gate part of my plan, but I'd sooner abandon it than abandon the Alexa XT (although if I weren't shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW I guess I could switch to an Alexa with the XT module), so if I have to, I will.

If you're going all out with a Hollywood-style camera, might as well go for the lenses as well. Zeiss is the common cine-glass used for primes. Zooms are slower usually.

 

My fifth question is: do I need to get a new tripod? I mainly have the kind which you can use for still camera work or for that relatively light Canon prosumer camera I mentioned. Is the Alexa XT a heavy camera?

Still photography heads will not work with any video camera. Well, it might hold the camera, but it won't allow for smooth panning or tilting. You need a fluid head capable of holding the cameras weight. In general, you would probably rent this as a grip package along with your camera. I certainly wouldn't put an Alexa on a $50 Amazon tripod. 

 

My sixth question is: lighting. I don't understand it. I have a lot of questions about it. I'm considering just using the available light for this reason. For instance, I understand the three-point lighting method (or I think I do, anyway) and I understand how it's easy to do in close-up, but what happens when you cut to a long shot from a different angle, exposing where the lighting rigs would be?

No one can fill you in on all of lighting. Many cinematographers spend years learning lighting. To get started, you'll need to do some research on lighting.

My seventh question is: how do I keep it from looking like TV? Let me elaborate on that. I initially thought that aspect ratio played a part in making TV look like TV, but Better Call Saul looks like a movie to me, and Witness for the Prosecution, mistakenly presented in 16:9, looked like a movie as well--not like TV. So my theory is that it has something to do with coverage and composition (and maybe editing and lighting, too). I want my short film to look like a film. What are some common pitfalls I should avoid if I don't want my film to be mundane?

See my above reply in a separate post. 

I think that's it for now. If you guys could do me a favor and keep checking this thread, I'm sure I'll have more questions. Thank you so much for your time. Also, please let me know if in the future I should make separate topics for questions with separate subject matter. I just didn't want to clutter up your forums.

I'll certainly help as much as I can, and I'm sure others would be happy to chip in as well. 


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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:25 PM

To be completely honest I wouldn't shoot a thing, yet. You're in Atlanta, I would look around to other students who are currently working on projects and speak with them about getting onto their sets to see how it all works together and get a bit of a more intimate understanding of production and cameras or at least spend some time reading up on film production from a few good books see this thread:

http://www.cinematog...showtopic=52264

 

This isn't to discourage you; but rather to try to get you from making the mistake of wasting money before you're read.

Further, in truth, the camera is perhaps one of the least important parts of making a good film, but it has been my experience that over emphasis on these things does tend to produce a lot of bad films

 

In any case, we'll all be happy to help you out on your production journeys as times come by and please don't take any advice here in discouragement. Rather, it is that we have all hit a few pits in time past which in hindsight migh've been best to be avoided.

Though all that said, there is something very awesome about just grabbing a camera and learning by the seat of your pants while you still have the benefit of anonymity. That said, proceed carefully, never make a film with money you wouldn't be equally as happy to throw out of a moving car.


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 04:04 AM

Actually, one good way to proceed would be to grab any cheap camera and shoot a simple scene from the production, throw it into an edit program, and go "...ah, yes, I see, there's quite a lot to this..."

 

Nothing opens eyes faster!

 

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#7 John E Clark

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 10:56 AM

Hey there! I'm sorry if this is too many questions at once, but I figured it would be better to just lay my initial questions all out at once instead of peppering them throughout the thread over time.

 

I graduated from college this May with an English degree and a minor in Communications, and I want to go to film school as a graduate student. In order to do this, I need a short film (I'd really like to go to USC). However, my university didn't/doesn't exactly have a cutting-edge film program, so I'm a little flustered.

 

Here's a bit of background about my short film project. It concerns a young woman going to a bar in the early hours of her 21st birthday (it's like 12:08 AM) and ordering her first-ever drink. It's going to be shot without dialog--it will be all body language and sound effects, like a Pixar short, if that makes sense. I want the look of the film to be "objective" (I know that's not a real thing in film) except for a couple of wide-angle shots and a deep focus shot which pulls back over the bar to establish that she's in a bar (if there's a way to do this without deep focus, let me know). I'd also like to do something like this shot from The Music Man (https://youtu.be/CC33O52pGUg?t=2m43s). I don't know how they did it, but I suppose you can cheat it in post if you're a good/patient enough rotoscoper.

 

Anyway, I was looking into what kind of camera I should use to film this project. I've saved up a bit of money and I want to get the best camera possible for the job without requiring me to learn a textbook-worth of information or have tons of hands-on time with the camera before I use it.

 

 

The requirements you are listing are what you will have learned after attending film school...

 

A 'film look' as opposed to a 'TV look' is directly related to many things, of which the 'camera' is a minor contributor.

 

If you have made some short films yourself, perhaps with a low end camera, I'd suggest you stick with that for your image capture.

 

If you have the budget for an ARRI (anything...) then you'd do better by getting some paid acting talent.

 

Where mine and most non-pro works fail is:

 

Acting

Set Design or Location prep.

Lighting

 

and of course... the ever popular

 

Bad Audio.

 

 

These days one hears of people making short films, even an occasional feature, with iPhones or very low end cameras, and if done by people who know how to light, act, direct, write, etc... they look 'good'.

 

So, the focus should be on what is in the frame, not how the frame is captured.


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#8 Emerson Smith

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 11:13 AM

Thank you, everyone, for all your advice so far. And especially thank you for not making me feel dumb--my least favorite feeling. I'm going to respond to it and try to elaborate a bit. I'm not familiar with these forums and I started responding to Mr. Rhodes before I realized I wasn't sure if quoting multiple people using the Quote button would erase my work here, so I'm just going to post this response and then work on trying out that "Multiquote" feature.

 

My first reaction is that I think you need to hire some expertise. If you can afford to rent an Alexa package, you can afford to bring someone in who can solve many of these problems for you.

 

Mr. Rhodes, you intrigue me. I think I'll have to give hiring a DP a try. ...How does one do that? I assume the answer is not "Craigslist." Also, how much will it cost? This would be for one or two days of filming, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Atlanta, with maybe another informal day just to come up and examine the location briefly. The time would be late September or early October. Would a DP have his or her own lenses? (I assume only the most expensive would have their own cameras.) Because not having to rent lenses would save me some money--or, rather, even things out.

 

In theory, given an extremely powerful computer, recent versions of Resolve (from 12.5) will do it. You would invariably need to implement a proxy workflow to cut the material. However, I would view a raw recording as entirely unnecessary - most people would strongly encourage you to save a lot of time, money and work, and shoot ProRes. You likely won't notice the difference.

 

This statement is also intriguing, as you're right, that would probably solve a lot of my problems, and you make a convincing argument. Point of clarification: Is it that there's really that little difference, or is it that, as I'm not making a Hollywood feature, I may not need the latitude that ARRIRAW gives? Also, I do plan to buy a new computer, capable of editing 8K RED footage. Could you maybe give me a brief outline of the workflow if I did plan to shoot ARRIRAW? (Unless it would be super-complicated and lengthy--I don't want to impose.) I know that ARRIRAW Converter provides debayering, but I assume there needs to be more color correction on top of that (I'm definitely showing my ignorance here, I know). Would the DP know how to do color correction? Or would that add a lot of expense to whatever I would have to pay him or her (since I don't know how long it takes)?

 

Unless you are very rich I would recommend shooting some tests and possibly using a less expensive camera. At this level, problems with production design, locations, acting, and directing are likely to cause more problems, in terms of overall perceivable quality of production, than the camera. Many of your concerns over log workflows, lenses and lighting will pertain, but you'll have more spare cash to deal with them.

 

I will definitely take this under consideration. Do you have any recommendations if I decide to go that route? There are some non-ARRI cameras on that .pdf that I linked to in my first post.

I should also probably admit that one of my reasons for wanting a really good camera is that I'm probably unhealthily concerned about future-proofing.


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#9 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 11:58 AM

I've been watching this thread since yesterday, but haven't had the time to respond.

First I'll say welcome to the forum Emerson!

Second, I'll say... who is your audience? Is your product going to be projected in 4k at the cinema? Or will it be shown at festivals with whatever small-town theater projector is available? Maybe reside on youtube/vimeo for the rest of it's life? If the latter is your case, when why do you need 4k?

There are a dozen perfectly capable digital cinema cameras on the market today. So why not first use your good friend google and search for "digital cinema camera" and learn more about the options? I understand the desire to want the best, but if you're just learning, shooting with the best will be very confusing and unwieldy. It's like making your first short with a Panavision Gold II 35mm camera, when you could have made it with an point and shoot Super 8 camera.

Everyone wants the best for their project, but since your new to this, why not start at the ground floor and work your way up? If the goal is to make a decent film to gain admission/entrance to college, you should be focused on the script, not the camera. Almost all of the digital cinema cameras on the market today can be made to look cinematic. However, learning all of those tricks on set and how to work the image in post, takes years of experience. You can't just grab an Alexa, some lenses, shoot your movie, cut/color and somehow magically make it look good. The amount of learning/experimenting you'd have to do first is pretty heavy. This is why MOST people buy low-end cinema cameras to start with, maybe spend a year or two shooting other people's projects for free and grading the material on their own to learn. Then when they feel comfortable, they start shooting for themselves.

Just from the questions on this thread, I can tell you're starting at the ground floor. It's an exciting place to be, but if you truly want to be successful and make something good, you will have to bring in a cinematographer, gaffer, editor and colorist, to help make your vision a reality. Those four skills can take years to learn well enough to churn out something worthy of a college application. It's far easier to be focused on being a writer/director and give all the technical jobs to other people. Pay for the appropriate talent and not for the equipment. They will guide you into what you need and they will make your project a reality. Learn what it's like to direct people instead of being constantly focused on the "technical" side of things like you currently are. That's where a writer/director belongs, not mucking around with camera equipment. So write a kick ass story, something that will WOW the admissions people and spend your time finding a crew. If you do it all yourself, the cost will probably be greater in the long run, not simply money, but also loss of time and a poor product.

Finally, if you are concerned about "future proofing" then digital is the wrong way to go. If I were you, I'd find someone who has a film camera and shoot on film. Admissions people love to see that and it's absolutely future proof.
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#10 Emerson Smith

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 02:34 PM

I'm replying to a couple of people here. I should mention one thing: I've got until the start of November to work on this, so there's a slight time crunch.

 

 

Why film school? You do know that for the cost of film school you can purchase a fairly nice production package and work on your own projects, gaining actual production experience. Film school will not get you job when you graduate. At best, you'll make some friends who might or might not help you in the future. Yes, you'll learn some technical sides of the filmmaking process - but you'll be taught the run-of-the-mill ways of doing things, and nothing makes up for the learning experience of a real film set.

 

I believe in myself a lot, but I don't believe in myself to the tune of dropping $50,000 on a camera package. I don't even have a car; a camera package would be a beautiful luxury. But it's a good idea! I'm just not sure that it's for me. But I will think about it. Either way, I won't start paying for film school (assuming I get in) until next year, so I have plenty of time to change my mind.

 

 

Any reason you need such an expensive camera for what amounts to a short film for film school admission? I'd look at rather a cheaper camera could be used, and more money put into hiring some help or bettering your production design or post workflow, which will add much more 'film look' than an Alexa will.

 

My reasons for wanting to use the camera are as follows. They may not be good reasons, but I think that they're what's motivating a lot of this:

 

1. It's a challenge, which makes me even more excited about the project.

2. I've been very, very impressed with the look of films and TV shows made with the Alexa, although I'll admit that A) I don't know how much of that is the Alexa itself, since I am not a cinematographer, and B) that doesn't mean that I'll be able to get anything like that look.

3. I've mentioned a concern about future-proofing, although someone has suggested film instead and I have some questions about that later in this post.

4. I'm worried about competing color temperatures in the bar and I've read that the Alexa is good at resolving them, although that could just be hype?

5. I'm also worried about the low lighting in the bar. I don't want a bunch of noise in the blacks.

 

 

To be completely honest I wouldn't shoot a thing, yet. You're in Atlanta, I would look around to other students who are currently working on projects and speak with them about getting onto their sets to see how it all works together and get a bit of a more intimate understanding of production and cameras or at least spend some time reading up on film production from a few good books see this thread:

http://www.cinematog...showtopic=52264

 

[...]

 

In any case, we'll all be happy to help you out on your production journeys as times come by and please don't take any advice here in discouragement. Rather, it is that we have all hit a few pits in time past which in hindsight migh've been best to be avoided.

Though all that said, there is something very awesome about just grabbing a camera and learning by the seat of your pants while you still have the benefit of anonymity. That said, proceed carefully, never make a film with money you wouldn't be equally as happy to throw out of a moving car.

 

That is very good advice, and thank you for the link!

 

 

Actually, one good way to proceed would be to grab any cheap camera and shoot a simple scene from the production, throw it into an edit program, and go "...ah, yes, I see, there's quite a lot to this..."

 

Nothing opens eyes faster!

 

P

 

I've made some short films before and I'm familiar with the editing side of things. Well, not like "Avid" familiar. "Premiere Pro" familiar. I'm not Marcia Lucas or anything, but the editing and the foley work aren't the parts I'm worried about.

 

 

I've been watching this thread since yesterday, but haven't had the time to respond.

First I'll say welcome to the forum Emerson!

 

Thank you!

 

 

Second, I'll say... who is your audience? Is your product going to be projected in 4k at the cinema? Or will it be shown at festivals with whatever small-town theater projector is available? Maybe reside on youtube/vimeo for the rest of it's life? If the latter is your case, when why do you need 4k?

There are a dozen perfectly capable digital cinema cameras on the market today. So why not first use your good friend google and search for "digital cinema camera" and learn more about the options? I understand the desire to want the best, but if you're just learning, shooting with the best will be very confusing and unwieldy. It's like making your first short with a Panavision Gold II 35mm camera, when you could have made it with an point and shoot Super 8 camera.

 

I guess--and this is probably a case of mixed-up priorities--that I just don't want to look back on this in a couple of years and go "oh man, if only I had..." Also, if I don't get into film school this time around, I'd like to maybe show it to people or enter it in a festival or something. I'd like to have that option, you know what I mean? And I wish I could make it with a Panavision Gold II.

 

 

Just from the questions on this thread, I can tell you're starting at the ground floor. It's an exciting place to be, but if you truly want to be successful and make something good, you will have to bring in a cinematographer, gaffer, editor and colorist, to help make your vision a reality. Those four skills can take years to learn well enough to churn out something worthy of a college application. It's far easier to be focused on being a writer/director and give all the technical jobs to other people. Pay for the appropriate talent and not for the equipment. They will guide you into what you need and they will make your project a reality. Learn what it's like to direct people instead of being constantly focused on the "technical" side of things like you currently are. That's where a writer/director belongs, not mucking around with camera equipment. So write a kick ass story, something that will WOW the admissions people and spend your time finding a crew. If you do it all yourself, the cost will probably be greater in the long run, not simply money, but also loss of time and a poor product.

Finally, if you are concerned about "future proofing" then digital is the wrong way to go. If I were you, I'd find someone who has a film camera and shoot on film. Admissions people love to see that and it's absolutely future proof.

 

I guess I'm just worried about how much these people cost, especially if I also have to rent equipment. I'm also worried about finding them. In order of the things I think I'm capable of doing, it would be:

 

1) editor

2) gaffer

3) cinematographer

4) colorist

 

That part about admissions people loving film is intriguing.... How feasible is shooting on film really, and how would I find someone with a film camera? And could you recommend a good film reseller, if I decide to go that route? And are there film labs in Atlanta? Again, I am worried about the color temperatures in the bar. I'm also worried about space for the camera. Maybe I should take some pictures of the location to show you guys. This is the bar, but I'll try to get some better photos.

 

This site leads me to believe that the cost of film, including processing and the intermediate, for my short film would be about... $2180. That's... not bad at all. The question is: how long does that take?


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#11 Emerson Smith

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 03:17 PM

That last bit about the film lab in Atlanta was silly of me. I remembered that Google existed and I found one: http://crawford.com/film-processing/


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#12 John E Clark

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 04:49 PM


I guess--and this is probably a case of mixed-up priorities--that I just don't want to look back on this in a couple of years and go "oh man, if only I had..." Also, if I don't get into film school this time around, I'd like to maybe show it to people or enter it in a festival or something. I'd like to have that option, you know what I mean? And I wish I could make it with a Panavision Gold II.

 

I do occasionally think in this mode... but here a significant difference...

 

When I was young, there was only something like the Bolex windup 16mm motion picture camera that was in a price range that I could conceivably buy... something like $300 for ones I saw in a San Diego camera store. Then there was the cost of film+processing... and figuring out some way to get at an editing machine(renting), and then... renting a projector and screen.

 

The last item I was at least familiar with as my 'artsyfartsy' circle of friends would rent 16mm films and show them in one of our houses...

 

In any case, I chose the safer and much lower cost of entry path of still photography... which of course did not lead to my eventual career. USC was never on my college event horizon... in fact, any 'film school' was beyond my means, and the only local school, that I could afford, that had anything like a 'film dept', was mainly directed to broadcast TV type 'film' activities...

 

Roll forward about 45 years... today, despite what the purest say... anyone with an iPhone or Android can 'make something of a short', even the totally simplistic 'on phone editing' tools are far better than reels of film, and two reel with stupid viewer, setup that I would have had available.

 

So, to me there is no excuse not making a short... other than time to do it reasonably well.

 

Fancy camera, fancy editing bay, etc. all can of course enhance any effort... provided one knows a reasonable amount of the knobology of the equipment.

 

But for me, for a 'short' as a calling card for a film school, I would imagine the review board is looking for what one can do with story, visuals story, and if one makes a good story on simple easily accessible equipment, I think that shows far more than doing something with sophisticated equipment, and perhaps lack in other areas outside of the equipment.


Edited by John E Clark, 15 September 2016 - 04:53 PM.

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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 05:36 PM

For a small project, there's no need to deal with uncompressed ARRIRAW, just record ProRes Log-C.


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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 06:16 PM

I just don't want to look back on this in a couple of years and go "oh man, if only I had
 
Inevitably, you will. Everyone does, at every level.
 
The thing is, the things you look back on, as an inexperienced filmmaker, will not, in all likelihood, be technical issues. OK, you may shoot something out of focus and curse yourself for it, but you're much more likely to be unhappy with lighting, blocking, framing, direction, production design, and a dozen other things which are much harder to get right than simply paying for good equipment.
 
I would propose that the best approach is to either hire qualified help or use a camera system that is, above all, straightforward, so you can concentrate on these other crucial areas too. Shooting raw will not make much difference. Having extra time to consider the way you shoot will.
 
P

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#15 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 08:00 PM

I guess--and this is probably a case of mixed-up priorities--that I just don't want to look back on this in a couple of years and go "oh man, if only I had..." Also, if I don't get into film school this time around, I'd like to maybe show it to people or enter it in a festival or something. I'd like to have that option, you know what I mean? And I wish I could make it with a Panavision Gold II.


Yea, but that's par for the course. I've been at this business for 25 years and I look back on stuff I made last year and say "yuck, that was really bad". I mean, that's just the reality of it. I made a masters thesis film, similar to what you're trying to do now. I had all my ducks in a row; great team of filmmakers, great actors, decent/workable script and plenty of top notch FILM equipment. What we didn't expect was me getting terribly ill, our lead actor bailing and a huge two week snow storm which ruined any chance of making the film during the slated time. I did finish the movie, but without the good actors, without the fancy equipment and a heavily modified script due to shifting the story from winter to summer.

Shit happens and I look back on my "college" films as simply an experiment. That's what they expect at any school you'd be applying to. So don't try to make something crazy, just try to make something good enough.
 

I guess I'm just worried about how much these people cost, especially if I also have to rent equipment. I'm also worried about finding them. In order of the things I think I'm capable of doing, it would be:
 
1) editor
2) gaffer
3) cinematographer
4) colorist


Sure, but you shouldn't really be doing those jobs... you should be focused on telling a story. I mean, I'm a one man band and I preach learning as many jobs as you can. However, on an important project, especially narrative, you need a real crew. Sure, it's common for directors to edit their own films, but the other jobs it's very uncommon for directors to do. You don't want to be on set futzing with lights, messing with lenses and setting up a dolly. You want to be working with the actors. Making sure your composition and art direction are strong and work for the scene. In post production there is more leeway, but think of it a different way. If you bring in professionals to do the work, it makes YOU look so much better.

Plus, most of these people have their own equipment. You aren't going to bring in a cinematographer unless they have a package, you aren't going to bring in a gaffer unless they have a truck, you aren't going to hire a set sound recordist unless they have a kit and you absolutely wouldn't find an editor or colorist without their own suite. So you don't need to "rent" anything, you just need to find people who are good at their jobs and work on your project. Pay for the talent up front.


That part about admissions people loving film is intriguing.... How feasible is shooting on film really, and how would I find someone with a film camera? And could you recommend a good film reseller, if I decide to go that route? And are there film labs in Atlanta?


Shooting on film is a commitment and making it look good requires real talent. So everyone takes working with film a lot more serious in many ways, including the people watching it.

The math is very simple, here is the budget sheet. Look at the 30 minute shoot costs to get an idea, 16mm, 3 perf and 2 perf: http://celluloiddrea...etscombined.pdf

In the end, a good gaffer and cinematographer can make anything you want color temp wise. So you really don't have to "worry" about anything.

Hope any of that makes sense.
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#16 joshua gallegos

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 01:52 AM

Hey there! I'm sorry if this is too many questions at once, but I figured it would be better to just lay my initial questions all out at once instead of peppering them throughout the thread over time.

 

I graduated from college this May with an English degree and a minor in Communications, and I want to go to film school as a graduate student. In order to do this, I need a short film (I'd really like to go to USC). However, my university didn't/doesn't exactly have a cutting-edge film program, so I'm a little flustered.

 

Here's a bit of background about my short film project. It concerns a young woman going to a bar in the early hours of her 21st birthday (it's like 12:08 AM) and ordering her first-ever drink. It's going to be shot without dialog--it will be all body language and sound effects, like a Pixar short, if that makes sense. I want the look of the film to be "objective" (I know that's not a real thing in film) except for a couple of wide-angle shots and a deep focus shot which pulls back over the bar to establish that she's in a bar (if there's a way to do this without deep focus, let me know). I'd also like to do something like this shot from The Music Man (https://youtu.be/CC33O52pGUg?t=2m43s). I don't know how they did it, but I suppose you can cheat it in post if you're a good/patient enough rotoscoper.

 

Anyway, I was looking into what kind of camera I should use to film this project. I've saved up a bit of money and I want to get the best camera possible for the job without requiring me to learn a textbook-worth of information or have tons of hands-on time with the camera before I use it. Since I'll be filming in a real bar (sadly, I haven't saved up enough money to build one from scratch on a soundstage) at night, there will be low light and the possibility of competing color temperatures (since I can't exactly tear out any lights). I'd also prefer to go for as filmic a look as possible. I would shoot the project on film if I could, but I super-don't know enough about film to do that. For this reason, I was looking at either the RED camera or the ARRI Alexa XT. After reading about the RED, I came away with the impression that it was a very particular camera that had kind of a steep learning curve, and that the ARRI Alexa XT would be much easier to shoot with, although I don't know if it's easy enough. My experience has mainly been with that one miniDV Canon SD prosumer camera that everyone had. I also would like to shoot Open Gate ARRIRAW for the project to maximize the pixel count for upscaling to 4K.

 

Since I live near Atlanta, I'm looking at renting from here: http://pce-atlanta.com/. Here is their list of cameras and lenses (PDF): http://www.pce-atlanta.com/pdf/Camera%20Catalog_4_8_2013.pdf. I'm going to be renting the camera and lenses for a weekend.

 

So my first question is: how feasible is this? Especially as I've never used the Alexa before and I'm not an experienced color corrector. Can you just drop ARRIRAW footage into the free version of Da Vinci Resolve or Adobe SpeedGrade and get good results just by messing with a few presets, or is it going to be a month of tedious work? Because I don't have the time to devote every day to it, especially as I'll also be doing foley work.

 

My second question is this: ARRIRAW is flat footage, correct? So how do you know how the colors are going to look when using the monitor?

 

My third question is: how much is that Codex docking station that plugs into the USB 3.0 connection on a MacBook Pro? I've been unable to get a straight answer from their website. And do I need to buy a software license to transfer the ARRIRAW files to a hard drive using it?

 

My fourth question is this: what kinds of lenses should I use? I was thinking of just getting a zoom lens, since that would be cheaper, but would I be able to pull off that deep-focus shot with it? And ARRI's website tells me that shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW can be a problem because a lot of lenses don't fully cover the sensor area. Do any of the lenses on that list qualify? I'd rather not abandon the Open Gate part of my plan, but I'd sooner abandon it than abandon the Alexa XT (although if I weren't shooting in Open Gate ARRIRAW I guess I could switch to an Alexa with the XT module), so if I have to, I will.

 

My fifth question is: do I need to get a new tripod? I mainly have the kind which you can use for still camera work or for that relatively light Canon prosumer camera I mentioned. Is the Alexa XT a heavy camera?

 

My sixth question is: lighting. I don't understand it. I have a lot of questions about it. I'm considering just using the available light for this reason. For instance, I understand the three-point lighting method (or I think I do, anyway) and I understand how it's easy to do in close-up, but what happens when you cut to a long shot from a different angle, exposing where the lighting rigs would be?

My seventh question is: how do I keep it from looking like TV? Let me elaborate on that. I initially thought that aspect ratio played a part in making TV look like TV, but Better Call Saul looks like a movie to me, and Witness for the Prosecution, mistakenly presented in 16:9, looked like a movie as well--not like TV. So my theory is that it has something to do with coverage and composition (and maybe editing and lighting, too). I want my short film to look like a film. What are some common pitfalls I should avoid if I don't want my film to be mundane?

I think that's it for now. If you guys could do me a favor and keep checking this thread, I'm sure I'll have more questions. Thank you so much for your time. Also, please let me know if in the future I should make separate topics for questions with separate subject matter. I just didn't want to clutter up your forums.

It sounds like a very expensive experiment, the hardest part about making films is coming up with resources and the proper crew that will make your vision the best it can be. Since you plan to do everything yourself, it's going to take you years before you become proficient in making movies. I became incredibly disillusioned with making short films, because I realized I can't do everything myself, and since I don't know any rich people to borrow money from, I can't get any projects off the ground without compromising my own money. Shooting with an Alexa XT makes very little sense since you're a novice planning to shoot the entire yourself. I'd reconsider, since Alexa files are too big to store on any hard drive, post-production costs will rack up. 

 

Consider a great filmmaker like David Lynch and what he managed to do with a Sony camcorder, it's really extraordinary. 

 

 

Experiment without spending too much money. 


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#17 joshua gallegos

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 02:02 AM

Come to think of it, life isn't the same when I'm not trying to make another little movie. I just can't get rid of that feeling deep inside that tells me make more and more. 

 

 

What I realized is that money is actually cinema's worst enemy, but at the same time you're able to open yourself creatively. The key is finding creative like-minded people who actually don't care about money! I think that's why it's important to go to film school and find like-minded people who want to make films. 


Edited by joshua gallegos, 17 September 2016 - 02:11 AM.

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#18 aapo lettinen

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 04:55 AM

of course you can make a short film for experimenting and resume and benefit from it a lot.

Just remember not to use all your money on a single movie, you will want to make another, better one right away (even before the shooting of the first is done)  ;)

The best way to learn is to surround yourself with people who are more experienced than you and learn from them during the process.

If you want to mainly direct films, get yourself a very experienced DP, gaffer, producer, actors, wardrobe, makeup dept. etc. so that they know exactly what they are doing and can help you to fully concentrate on your own part. 

 

I would not use ARRIRAW for a project like this unless it is a experiment on its own. RAW shooting is not that common in film industry anyway, it is more reserved on certain projects and situations when 90% of the other stuff is shot on compressed formats like Prores444 or XQ. For indie use the Alexa Mini is more practical I think than the XT.


Edited by aapo lettinen, 17 September 2016 - 04:56 AM.

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#19 Emerson Smith

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Posted 18 September 2016 - 04:08 PM

Okay, gang. At the very least, you have convinced me to hire a DP. And then a gaffer. I'm still looking into which camera to use. I should have an update for you guys with some pictures of the bar so that you can see what situation I'm working with, if that's okay. There are some tight spaces that I'd like to know if it's possible to fit X kind of camera behind. And I'd like an opinion on the lighting there. If it's not too much trouble. I should have that tomorrow. Thank you so much to everyone who's already responded!


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