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Old December 12th, 2004, 01:58 AM   #16
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I'd shoot it on flim.

And if the flim didn't work out, then I'd shoot on film.
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 12:30 AM   #17
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Actually, flim is the best way. I always strive to make my footage flim-like, aka flimsy.

Hi chaps, just stumbled across this here thread. I've been a bit absent of late as I have been shooting a feature--my first on HD. So in fact I have a whole wealth of thoughts on this subject.

When I came on board this show, HD was the medium of choice, as the executive producer owns a post house and had established a workflow that included virtually unlimited color correction and visual effects (wow!) and a filmout to 35mm since the movie already had distribution to 500 screens.

However, in discussions with the director about the look, he was referencing film noir and showing me examples (anyone seen "Branded to Kill", obscure 60's Japanese film?) that seemed much more appropriate to shoot in Super 35mm, if not anamorphic. We started to explore the possibilities and budgetary tradeoffs.

I knew that 35mm would have a much greater acquisition cost (stock, processing) and some additional post costs (workprint, telecine, neg conform) but I also knew that the equipment package would be significantly cheaper to rent, plus the cost of the filmout could be weighed also. We even examined Super16 as a possibility. In all circumstances the HD still came out cheaper (and on a $500,000 budget, it was a primary concern). My next issue was with the image quality, and I wondered if we could compose for 2.40 and film out to an anamorphic print. We had I/O Film in Hollywood run filmout tests in both standard and anamorphic, and discovered that the 2.40 version was only marginally softer (but completely acceptable). In fact, it looked great. I was convinced that HD would hold up for our purposes. At the same time, the axe swung from above and we were informed that we WOULD be shooting on HD, regardless. So that all worked out.

We rented our two bodies from Clairmount Camera and my camera assistant and the video tech spent two full days checking everything out. They assembled an engineering station that travelled on a full size cart with a 20" Sony HD monitor, waveform/vectorscope, frameline generators and paintboxes and clockits and downconverters and 8000 other buzzing, beeping and impressive looking things all rack-mounted and serious-looking. Clairmount's F900's have been nicely customized with beefed-up lens mounts to combat the rampant HD back-focus issue, flat-top handles that allow the camera to be underslung (good for low-mode Steadicam and Hot Gears, both of which we used on the show) and other film-friendly mods. Going into the show, I felt good that we had the support of a top-end rental house and tech support.

Day 1, we couldn't boot up the engineering station. Turns out (after a long period of frantic phone calls by my tech) the boards had worked their way out in transit and needed to be reseated.

Other problems? Occasional headscratching oddities that were largely resolved by shutting down and rebooting (aka Troubleshooting 101). Several times we suffered from head clogs; I was intially baffled that we had not been supplied a head cleaner tape or cleaning kit (me stomping around the set as we lost valuable shooting time, muttering "give me a &!@# swab and some denatured alcohol and I'll clean the damn things myself!") was ultimately tempered by hearing from Sony that head-cleaning an F900 is not a field operation, and is best done in by highly skilled professionals on a bench. Still though, we lost a few shots to this and may need to claim an insurance day to reshoot.

Outside of technical issues, I found that the cameras themselves were not overly heavy or bulky, they had a similar profile to an Arri 535B perhaps ( we were using Digiprimes and a Canon HD zoom). I had always told myself that when the time came for me to shoot an HD feature, I would insist on having an operator as working from the B&W Sony viewfinder was almost like shooting blind. But because of the budgetary constraints, I was out of luck. I decided to employ my Hot Gears system to operate right at the engineering station, viewing the image from the 20" HD monitor, which worked out beautifully. It seemed like the best of both worlds--I could work comfortably and heads-up, see exactly what we were shooting and have the director stand next to me the whole time. Would have been great, except that the Hot Gears console got knocked over and taken out of service for the run of the show...

And thus I was plunged into the fear and loathing of operating and DP'ing HD out of the dreaded B&W Sony viewfinder on the camera. Clairmount had built a funky little adaptor for the viewfinder that allows it to be backmounted in an approximation of an extended eyepiece, which made it possible to be operated with a geared head without having to bend one's body around the wheels like a pretzel. However, significant tilts were useless with this setup as it did not track anything like an extended eyepiece. I soon became used to operating off the Astro HD LCD onboard monitor, which required a bit of contortion to maintain a good viewing angle during shots with a lot of tilt or boom, but doable.

Initially I was doing a fair amount of painting from the engineering station, and the tech was white balancing and chipping both cameras regularly. I'd tweak the gamma and knee, and sometimes the red and blue channels and black level. Once the Hot Gears went away and I spent less time at the monitor, I started to shoot more "film style"; we'd keep the cameras on preset white balance, forget about painting and reserve my sprints to the monitor for checking exposure when the two cameras were aimed at substantially different angles. By the end we were virtually in a film shooting mode.

Oh, but then there were the cables...! Let's see: the BNC and remote paintbox cable which were sheathed together into a snake; the two XLR's from the sound department for reference audio (they were recording onto DAT), the Hot Gears command cable when that was in use...they were omnipresent and always a pain. Without question, slowed us down in a big way. We'd go "commando" for Steadicam shots (after wheeling the rig through the shot with the SDI cable for rehersals) but the rest of the time, it was spaghetti hell.

What were the positives? 50 minute loads were nice. Going home at the end of the day knowing that we got what we got without having to sweat it out waiting for dailies was cool. Seeing that image on the HD monitor was VERY trick. Having the extra depth of field was sometimes a frustration visually, but we knew if we got the focus right immediately, and the pulls were easier. (Because of the size of some of our night exterior locations, we couldn't afford the lighting package that would be required if we had gone with a Pro35 and its subsequent exposure loss).

Any other minuses? As it was (sort of) an action picture, it would have been nice to overcrank for slow motion. We shot a couple of shots at 60i with the intention of having it converted back to 24p (recreating a 60 fps look), but since we didn't have time to test the conversion process, we would always cover ourselves by shooting the same thing on 24p as well. The reduced latitude was not so much of a problem since we had virtually no day interiors, thus the lighting was all controllable; but it certainly would have been a pain if this was not the case.

All in all, it was a great learning experience but bottom line: when the newer generation of HD cameras with 35mm-sized imagers and more mature form factors are truly available (Genesis, D20, etc), I'll probably be happier. For now, I'd still rather shoot film, and not just because it looks better; it also tastes better, know what I mean?
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 06:45 AM   #18
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I'm speechless! Thanks for that great story Charles! Are these
Hot Gears a device to remotely operate a geared head or something?
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 06:47 AM   #19
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Thanks for keeping the thread alive Charles, btw whats are hot gears?
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 08:27 AM   #20
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Nothing better than good real-world info. Thanks for taking the time Charles!
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 08:56 AM   #21
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Thanks for the post Charles, always good to hear an inside insight!

So, I take it from your post, that for the original question of film over HD in a "Run and Gun" situation, your answer is film?
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 10:04 AM   #22
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(Branded To Kill is a strange and fun film; worth a look).
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 11:09 AM   #23
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Sorry guys, thought I linked the Hot Gears (there, I did it that time!) It's a system that replaces the wheels on a geared head with motors so that you can remotely control the head. The advantage over classic remote heads is that you are using the mechanism of the gear head that is already on set instead of a self-contained unit, so it is quicker to set up and costs less to rent. Plus, being digital, it has very responsive operation and fun features like programmable moves. I bought a set about 4 years ago and it has been great to have them.

Richard, to answer your question--right now I would still prefer to use film for run-and-gun feature work. I'd have to be VERY confident in my ability to judge exposure etc. from the viewfinder or onboard monitor to sever the umbilical to the big ass monitor for this kind of production. One could easily ask "but with film, you don't even get to see the final image on set anyway?" but film is more forgiving exposure-wise.

Incidentally, we almost never watched playback of takes on set. Only if there was a major stunt or something like that, probably three times over the course of 19 days. I told the director that playback was a big risk to the original tape, which it isn't really but I didn't want to take any chances and also get into a playback situation. Bear in mind that many film originated features use video or hard drive playback anyway, so this factor isn't as exclusionary as it seems.
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Old December 22nd, 2004, 11:33 AM   #24
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Charles,

Thanks for the Hot Gears link... any chance these would work on a Worrell Head? That's what we have the old Mitchel BNCR mounted on.

Great idea telling the director that playback would "compromise" the tape!
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Old December 23rd, 2004, 02:04 AM   #25
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Richard, that may indeed be possible--the Panahead is based on the original Worrall (I know the Mini-Worrall doesn't work due to slop in the belt drives). However I don't think the gear ratio is comparable, and the motors are calibrated pretty finely in that regard. Might be worth shooting an email to Mehran at Hot Gears with that question. I love that you are shooting with the BNCR/Worrall setup by the way--that's truly old school (but bulletproof!) Just don't ask me to come do any Steadicam for you...
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Old December 23rd, 2004, 08:57 AM   #26
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Charles,

My creative partner, Gary L. Watson, is totally old school. He's the one who bought the Mitchell BNCR. Great deal actually. The camera, six mags, the Worral Head, two sets of sticks, an Angenieux 20-120 (or maybe its the 12-120), power packs, cables etc... all ready to go for ten grand. Completely refurbished.
www.nu-classicfilms.com has some shots of it, I think. More at www.roadsterproductions.com We shot "After Twilight" with it, and he also finished shooting a slasher film "Mr. Hell" with it this past summer. Rock solid and absolutely quiet. The company he bought it from bought a whole slew of them from Paramount. They were old sit-com cams. The boxes the gear came in were stencilled with "FRAZIER" or "PLATYPUS MAN" on them! It is a beast though... huge as a refrigerator. We pretty much kept it on a dolly the whole shoot, except when we schlepped it up on to the balcony of my house for an overhead shot!

Its nice to be able to offer clients the ability to shoot MiniDv, Super 16 and 35mm when they walk in the door.
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Old December 23rd, 2004, 12:09 PM   #27
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Charles Papert is a genius, I want to say that before I go on. The stuff that I've seen him do first hand with a dvx100 makes many HD shoots I've seen look amatuer, but I'm also VERY pro HD and I believe that the original topic was FILM vs HD, so i'd like ot throw in my two cents (maybe more like 1 cent in comparison)

The head clogs should not have happened, a lot of people have (mistakenly) been told that you should not use the head cleaning tape too much because it will mess up the heads, which is true for many cameras but not true for the f900 as the heads are made in such a way that if the heads are worn down they actually come MORE in to contact with the tape, one fo the few times that head cleaning truely has no down side. Cleaning the heads with a Foam tipped swab (cotton will come off and cause even more head clogs) and cleaning can be done in the field but unless it's an engineer who knows what they're doing it defintely should be done in a clean space.

As far as cables go, refrence audio could have been done on the camera mic especially if it's slated and timecode matches up, the paint box is something I'll discuss in a second, the BNC RGB cable is required to view playback and I can totally understand how that may become annoying, however they do come in different sizes so you could have one that is fairly skinny as well.

As far as the paint box cable goes, I can understand how great it is to paint on set but once you've painted you don't need to have the rmb 150 (if you had rthe rmb 750 you could use it as a monitor to!) attached to the camera. Many of the editors I've spoken to would rather color correct and paint in post, which can add some cost but ends up being a lot safer.

Again let me say that I have nothign but respect for Charles (he even let me screw up a shot on one of his films!) He is multitalented and has probably forgotten more then I will ever learn, but I think that a lot of the problems that occured with this HD shoot are not always going to happen.
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Old December 23rd, 2004, 01:19 PM   #28
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Thanks for that info Nick. I agree with you about many of your points.

The head cleaning issue was something I suspected could have been dealt with as I indicated, but when the rental house says not to clean the heads and you clean the heads anyway, you leave yourself open to some real headaches/liability issues if the camera screws up down the road.

I sure wish we could have done reference audio with the on-camera mic. However our sound mixer insisted on hardwiring his mix, and I wasn't able to win that fight (but I will next time). I pitched him a compromise, which was to send a wireless mix to the camera, but he wouldn't do that either, saying he didn't want his receiver beat up by having it mounted to the camera. Sigh.

I think I agree about the paintbox, since I ultimately ended up not needing it all that much. There were a few times that I really needed to compress the knee (candles, practical lamps etc) that it was great to have, but I ultimately had to "shoot clean" and leave the coloring to post. My love for paintboxes came from all of the shoots I'd done over the years that had been promised tape-to-tape correction and then it never materialized; I realized I'd have to start delivering images that were corrected in camera if I wanted to see the stuff looking good. But in this environment, without a full-on DIT onboard, maybe I would go the route you suggested. Usually, though, it was too time consuming to have to wire up the box when I needed a last minute tweak. And the cable was already snaked with the BNC.

I pointed out that I was boned by having to operate myself, and how lame the Sony viewfinder is. There are other options out there but we couldn't afford them on this show. And the newer generation HD cameras have optical finders, which will improve things a lot. Many have complained about not being able to see beyond the actual image as you can with the film groundglass, which means you don't see the boom until it is in the frame etc. We were lucky with this show in that we were cropping the 1.78 to 2.40, so we plenty of headroom to check the boom.

Incidentally, Nick, I'm currently color-correcting "Cry for Help" at home--it looks good (and the effects shot worked out great). However, after all those weeks with HD, I'm suddenly really aware of the scan lines on the SD monitor! Oh oh, I'm hooked...
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Old December 24th, 2004, 02:42 AM   #29
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I received the e-mail about "cry for help" it's nice to know that I helped out on (if ever so briefly) something that was accepted into sundance (I'd also really like to SEE it to). I agree that it stinks that you had to serve as operator (and my guess is at least once as steadicam op) and I can see how that would be frustrating. I wish I had been in town to help on this as I might have been able to do something useful, or at least keep the hothead's from being knocked over.

As far as painting goes, I know first hand what a time kill can be with painting as I'm now perpetually matching and painting a 900, a 750, and a 700 and just when you think you have something dialed in, we go do a shoot at the ocean and it's back to the drawing board.

I know what you mean about the HD transition, and I hope you got my e-mail about the zr1 I think maybe I was a little harsh on it but it can be a little dissapointing when you get used to the larger cams, on the other hand if you've been using the vx1000 it's like hitting the lottery I suppose. Have you decided what's going on as far as that camera's concerned?
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Old December 29th, 2004, 05:14 AM   #30
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And some thoughts from the sound department:
http://home.comcast.net/~tyreeford/GoodSound.html

<g>
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