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Old April 10th, 2008, 08:49 PM   #1
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35 mm adapter or not

Hello,
I'm producing a film that will be shot with a canon HDV, the Xh-G1 more precisely.
My DP insist that I get an 35 mm, more precisely the Letus that she has already used. My piece is highly centered on the story and how the actors will convene the message. I've seen many pieces shot with DV cam such as Tadpole, Bamboozled and more and I'm pretty sure that no 35 mm was used. I have the feeling that a 35mm adapter was not even used for November.
If wouldn't have bothered me if Polanski had Filmed Death and the Maiden in video with no 35 mm adapter. The piece was totally carried by the performance of the actors. I was riveted for the two hours it lasted and frankly I didn't pay attention to whether or not the foreground was in focus while the background was blurred, I mean, come on!

I'm used to 16mm film so I know what my DP is talking about when she refers to the depth of field she wants in her photography. Still, I don't see the point! So the background won't be in focus while the foreground will be? And that, with everything else equal, can make a difference? Are we really kidding ourselves here?

My DP has done only two full length films and she's really giving me a break as far as her fee. Instead of her usual 650/day she's asking me 350/day because she wants to do more movies. But I have the impression that the adapter is more for her than it is for me. That piece of equipment is going to make her work look better not my story look better.

What do you think?

Also does anybody know a list of film shoot in DV or HDV with 35mm adapter?

Thanks
Larry

Last edited by Larry Secrest; April 10th, 2008 at 09:49 PM.
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Old April 11th, 2008, 03:34 AM   #2
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Hi Larry,
Your DOP want's the adapter because she wants the film to look good. If she's worried about the quality of her work, it's good for you. If it were me I would sit down with her and ask,"How many of the shots do you need the adapter for and why." And a more important question,"Do I have to buy lenses too?" If you have to buy lenses it will cost as much or more than the adapter. I use an adapter and would never give it up, I use it for everything I do, but every situation is different. Good Luck!
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Old April 11th, 2008, 06:57 AM   #3
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Sure, but again, why did Nancy Schreiber didn't use one when she filmed November with a DVX 100a? I remember the film and I have the feeling that it's her skill that made it look so good and gave her a photography award, not an adapter?
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Old April 11th, 2008, 07:23 PM   #4
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I think you shouldn't be so concerned about what other film makers used and simply consider what you want to achieve. It's important to learn from others but you must take your own path to really find out what you want from your films. If you have collaborators and want them to give their best it's generally a good idea to at least have some common goals before you set out on a film. If she wants an adaptor maybe she has a good reason but then again maybe your film doesn't need it in which case find another dop. An adaptor can be a powerful tool it's not just about out of focus backgrounds it about selective focus, drawing the eye to what you have in mind and for some eliminating that sharp video look.
Just my 2 bits
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Old April 14th, 2008, 12:38 PM   #5
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If shallow depth of field is essential to the story and the visual style you're (collectively) going for then it's worthwhile investment, but shallow depth of field is only one look, not the only look.

A bigger problem seems to be that you and the DP seem to be pulling in different directions. She has one set of priorities, you have another. Why are you so against the adapter? That's not a rhetorical question, there may be good reasons - if your DP wants such a shallow depth of field, you'd better hope she has a really good focus puller working with her. I'm not a big fan of the adapter look myself, but then being a long time Kubrick/Welles fan I'm partial to bit of deep focus. Personally I think it's way overused, (in the way that 70's movies overused zooms) in some cases making every shot look like miniature; check out this example of too much adaptorising http://www.vimeo.com/420617. There certainly is a cult of the 35mm adapter and many believe it's the default position, rather than one option now available.

However on a low budget shallow DoF can have a few serious advantages. It does do a little to take off the video curse. It means you don't have to worry about background composition and clutter as much which tends to make shots look better composed than the same shot with deep focus. It is a look people associate with a bigger budget production (Tadpole, Celebration, 28 Days Later et al all made a virtue of the low budget grungy DV look, so it wasn't an issue). For an actor centered drama shallow DoF can be useful to direct the audiences' attention where you (as director) want it.

On the other hand, if you really don't care, it might be better to defer to the DP - I'm reading a little more "what's the big deal?" in your posts rather than "this is wrong for the movie". That doesn't make you a bad director - plenty of great directors are not particularly technically minded but those directors defer to their heads of department. But at least, ask her WHY she really wants an adapter, what is the look she's going for. If her response is simply "it makes it look less like video", "It's what everyone else is doing on HDV" or "It'll make my job easier" then frankly she's not worth $350 a day.

when Nancy Schrieber shot November, 35mm adapters weren't really as widespread as they are today. Had she had the option, she may have chosen to use one. But as you say there is a LOT more to that movie's lighting than the depth of field.

Maybe you and the DP could rent an adapter and shot a couple of tests to see if it's going to work for you.
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Last edited by Dylan Pank; April 15th, 2008 at 06:56 AM.
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Old May 21st, 2008, 04:08 PM   #6
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fascinating....

Larry, if you spot this and dont mind telling us, what was your decision on the 35mm adapter?

i'm grappling with this myself but i realised that although, for example, Phil Blooms Sony EX1 and 35mm adatepter shots are just stunningly beautiful, (but he also has a creative eye) they could for certain narrative get in the way of the storytelling.

I saw a blu-ray of The Searchers with John Wayne on a 58" plasma - pin sharp and awesome - and where shallow DOF is used to support the story, and NOT in every shot.
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 01:32 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Larry Secrest View Post
I was riveted for the two hours it lasted and frankly I didn't pay attention to whether or not the foreground was in focus while the background was blurred, I mean, come on!
...come on what? I fear that's a little ignorant! Heh

We don't spend thousands of dollars on this kit just so we can "notice the background is out of focus" - it's so that it looks like cinema. Features use 35mm, even digital 35mm... so we're doing the same. People notice different things. In my opinion, as an amateur cinematographer, if a film is shot on video and looks nothing like film, it just looks... crap. End of. And it's a lot less impressive. Okay, great, the actors can perform well etc etc - but this is cinema, not theatre. Which is why I personally would prefer to use 35mm - so we're not all as bonkers as you appear to make out. You just perhaps don't pay attention to the cinematography as much as the rest of us. It staggers me sometimes when people don't even know the difference between interlaced footage and progressive - now, a film shot and left in interlaced scan - THAT is crap. But that's another story...

Anyway yes, like others have said, it depends on what YOU want to achieve - perhaps you want a more theatrical production rather than a cinematic one, one that looks good photographically; bear that in mind - a 35mm will make it look photographic - video is not photographic, it's harsh and clinical and electrical and flat. So it's not just a case of "ooh look the background is out of focus, the £3000 I spent on that equipment is now justified".

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Old May 22nd, 2008, 07:20 AM   #8
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...come on what? I fear that's a little ignorant! Heh

We don't spend thousands of dollars on this kit just so we can "notice the background is out of focus"...<snip>.
Actually Jonny, at the risk of being somewhat incendiary I think that's exactly what a lot of filmmakers are doing. The 35mm lens adaptor is a short cut to the cinematic look. "To hell with acting, staging, blocking, set design, lighting, etc. All I need is this thing strapped to the front of my cam and that's enough to make it a real movie" Look on vimeo, there's tons of DOF adaptor films, but they're almost all landscapes, or just test shots. People are very proud of how shallow the DOF is and how cool the Bokeh looks, but in general they're stumped as to what to do with it.

A lot of filmmakers are nervous about the black arts of directing actors (there's not even a forum on it here, usually pops up here in "techniques for independent filmmakers") or lighting, or staging a scene, or art direction, or composition, but can easily grasp a simple concept like "shallow depth of field". How come there are twice and many threads and three times as many posts under Alternative Imaging Methods (almost exclusively about 35mm adaptors, something of a minority interest really) than there are under "Photon Management" (lighting relevant to almost every live action film made, ever, regardless of whether using movie lights or natural available light)? Simple intellectually, "lighting hard, depth of field easy", the path of least resistance I guess. It's easier to drool over particular pieces of technology that appear to do the job for you (boys with toys after all) than it is to really take control of the film from a craft skills/technique/artistic point of view.

Now as I said before shallow DOF can be a very useful and important tool in filmmaking and it is associated with the cinematic look. Plus it does help with crappy composition, lighting and set design, it covers up a few sins but just looking inherently posher. Plenty of Adaptor users WAY overdo it, and I do reckon in 10/15 years time, the extreme shallow DOF look will be as dated now as the pan and zoom look is to the late 60/70s movie (and a lot of no budget/amateur filmmakers will through away their adaptors when they figure out how F*&!ing hard focus pulling is with 35mm DOF.)

Kurosawa, Kubrick, Welles, Leone, Wyler, Polanski all used deep focus frequently and I defy you to demonstrate that their films are in anyway uncinematic.

In the end all these decisions are hard, and dismissing adaptors out of hand is just as short sighted as saying "cinematic look? adaptor on, job done!"
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Last edited by Dylan Pank; May 22nd, 2008 at 08:47 AM.
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 09:39 AM   #9
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Actually Jonny, at the risk of being somewhat incendiary I think that's exactly what a lot of filmmakers are doing. The 35mm lens adaptor is a short cut to the cinematic look. "To hell with acting, staging, blocking, set design, lighting, etc. All I need is this thing strapped to the front of my cam and that's enough to make it a real movie" Look on vimeo, there's tons of DOF adaptor films, but they're almost all landscapes, or just test shots. People are very proud of how shallow the DOF is and how cool the Bokeh looks, but in general they're stumped as to what to do with it.
I'm not a director, I'm a DoP/Camera Operator. Directing isn't my business. I work on shoots under the director. It's my job to make it look good - the DOF doesn't "make the film work" - it just makes it look better. Nobody's saying 'to hell with the acting' etc.

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It's easier to drool over particular pieces of technology that appear to do the job for you (boys with toys after all) than it is to really take control of the film from a craft skills/technique/artistic point of view.
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In the end all these decisions are hard, and dismissing adaptors out of hand is just as short sighted as saying "cinematic look? adaptor on, job done!"
I never said that a good DOF makes a good film regardless of the acting etc. The threadstarter however suggested the film would be just as good without good quality photography (perhaps it would be - but in most cases, 35mm does look better. It just does.)

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and a lot of no budget/amateur filmmakers will through away their adaptors when they figure out how F*&!ing hard focus pulling is with 35mm DOF.
Boo hoo for them. I'd rather stick to honing the skill - if they can't be arsed to do their job, a highly respected and technical one at that, then so be it. Throw them a handycam with auto-everything and be done with it

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Kurosawa, Kubrick, Welles, Leone, Wyler, Polanski all used deep focus frequently and I defy you to demonstrate that their films are in anyway uncinematic.
That's because they're geniuses - and they were still using 35mm. I'm sure there are other qualities to 35mm lenses apart from shallow DOF that give it that look. I have a 28mm with obviously a deep DOF and... it still looks better. And remember, they're ticking other boxes - they're on 35mm FILM - at least they have that box ticked - but in my opinion, video, without even a 35mm lens, for a film, just looks... cheap. In my opinion. I mean yeah you can make it look good, but only to a certain extent, I think - I'd always prefer to use a 35mm lens. I think I just have a phobia of video for film, after the amount of student films I've seen... :p </ponce>
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 06:49 PM   #10
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A vigorous debate!

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Nobody's saying 'to hell with the acting' etc.
Sorry I guess I misinterpreted the phrase "Okay, great, the actors can perform well etc etc - but this is cinema, not theatre.". and I have read another post around here (I've tried to pull it up but to no avail) where a director said something to the effect of don't bother with pro actors, and then listed a Brevis35 as an essential part of his kit. So he certainly valued shallow DoF above acting.

I also know that a lot of big name professional filmmakers have used DV (Mike Figgis, Alex Cox, Lars Von Trier, Steven Soderberg, Danny Boyle, plenty of others) at one point or another and I'm not aware of any of them using a 35mm adaptor.

BTW in the next few years I predict a rash of badly shot "student" films using 35mm adaptors that'll trash shallow DOF's reputation for making films look cinematic: "A 35mm adaptor man? what are you doing, I don't want this to look like some student film!" :-)
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 07:33 PM   #11
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Having the option of selective focus is better than not having it, but choosing when and where to use it is the true art. I've seen too many clips in the past couple of years that are clearly shot at full-open apertures even for exteriors, which gets tiresome after a while.

The factors that a 35mm adaptor bring to bear are worth considering on a low-budget shoot: a skilled focus puller is critical as was mentioned; the possibility of more lighting instruments and power needed for night interiors and exteriors, the extra time it takes to swap lenses and/or move the camera rather than set the framing with the camera's zoom.

Larry, I would suggest that you and your DP spend some time together talking about and viewing films and photography books to find a look that you both like. She needs to show you what she has in mind with the adaptor, and you can show her examples that represent the look you want. Ideally her images will perfectly complement your story and the actor's performances, and the film will be all the better for it. If you find that you are not seeing eye to eye on all this, it might be a sign that you are not meant to work together.
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 11:11 PM   #12
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This is where storyboarding and planning out your shots helps; do that before picking your equipment. The great thing about these adapters is that they give us low-budget filmmakers more choices, but as many have pointed out, shallow DOF does not equal cinematic.

The 35mm adapter doesn't change anything but the depth of field. It doesn't change color or dynamic range. And, with the Canons (I work with the A1), I can get fairly decent shallow DOF with the native lens at 3.4-4.0, obviously more on the wider end.

The point is, you don't always need the adapter on. But it's a good tool to have for close-ups, for wide angles that still have a shallow DOF (such as a crane shot where the focus noticeably shifts), and to muffle the clutter of an indie set.

On the other hand, steadicam shots might work better with the adapter off, as would situations with low light -- the Letus Extreme sucks in about 1/2 a stop at least, dependent upon the lenses you use.

But never ever ever just pick a piece of equipment because you'd like to have it, and don't ever ignore a piece of equipment just because you don't see the use. Test, play, and figure it out. Find another filmmaker with the adapter your DP wants to use, and you and the DP play with it, on and off.

I think you'll both find that you don't always need the adapter for the look you want, but other times, it is a necessity.

But above all, like I said, know what you want, and know the tools that are out there to get the look you want. When you say, "That piece of equipment is going to make her work look better not my story look better," I don't understand the conflict of interest -- doesn't your story look better when her work looks better?
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 04:43 AM   #13
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The 35mm adapter doesn't change anything but the depth of field.
I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say the 'film grain' effect of an adaptor with a spinning ground glass is almost worth it alone.

Even with my wide angle 35mm lens leaving everything in focus - as digital would - it still looks much closer to film than video.
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 05:16 AM   #14
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Oops, double post...
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Old May 23rd, 2008, 07:23 AM   #15
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I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say the 'film grain' effect of an adaptor with a spinning ground glass is almost worth it alone.

Even with my wide angle 35mm lens leaving everything in focus - as digital would - it still looks much closer to film than video.
Yeah that's what I thought. I knew there was more to it than just shallow DOF.

Although the other posters have got me thinking now - there's a film I'm working on this July which has a Steadicam shot in it, and I have a 28mm Pentax but the thing is, I'm thinking the remote focus drive unit isn't gonna be powerful enough to drive the focus ring, 'cause it's quite stiff... wondering whether to just not use 35mm lenses at all for wide shots. But on the other hand, as you said Jon, the grain etc is noticeable - plus of course, the fact that the nature of the focus is still slightly different.

Another pain is the fact that this film I'm shooting is mainly set at night - that'll be a laugh, trying to expose it well using 35mm, but oh well.

Hmm, decisions decisions... might just have to buy another 28mm to be honest

Anyway that's my story, back to Larry :p
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