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Old November 24th, 2002, 09:26 PM   #1
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Die Another Day

Just a heads up. Besides having a ridiculous script, the new James Bond is a prime example of repeated bad use of the "post slo mo" effect wherein 24 fps footage is taken down a speed using a few ugly filters. Which just goes to show you even the most urbane spy thriller series isn't immune to being cheapened by a few pseudostylistic cinematographic fads. What were the producers thinking? Observe and refrain.
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Old November 24th, 2002, 10:13 PM   #2
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I like that kind of stuff, Robert. Does that make me a "pseudostylistic cinematographic fad kinda guy"? I'll have to get new name cards made.
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Old November 25th, 2002, 02:44 AM   #3
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Thoughtful intention is the difference between substantive style and fadist pseudostyle.

When Hitchcock utilized the zoom-in-dolly-back shot to adapt the feeling of vertigo for film, he was making a stylistic choice apropos of the desired special effect. When Sam Mendes threw the same effect in for no other purpose than to liven up an otherwise static shot of Tom Hanks trudging underneath the El in Road to Perdition, the result was not enhancement the emotion of the shot, but rather the cheapening of the (now-cliché) Hitchcock effect, poisoning its impact under appropriate use.

As irritating to watch as it was, Spielberg's off-angle shutter cinematography during Saving Private Ryan ostensibly had just motivation: mimicry of period newsreel footage. When Ridley Scott shamelessly copied the style for battle sequences in Gladiator, it had no such motivation (film cameras hadn't been invented during the reign of the Roman Empire, thus, no newsreel footage exists of battles between legionaires and barbarians), so the cinematographic effect serves not as a subtle associative visual memory-trigger, but rather it represents a conformation to a trend, pandering unworthy of a director as talented as Scott.

Slow motion (both the in-camera and the post resampling varieties) has many correct uses, some, I'm sure, that have yet to be discovered! But the upsampled 24 fps slow motion in Die Another Day not only looks ugly on screen, it's inconsistent. Some slow motion shots were shot with an overcranked camera, while other shots--punch impacts and bad guy deaths and the like--were given the yucky post slowmo treatment, needlessly and very clearly as an afterthought, likely with the ill-conceived intention of punching-up visuals that didn't need further tinkering.

I'm all in favor of being daring, experimentation, breaking the rules, trying new things. But filmmaking is a wonderfully forgiving process that permits evaluation of processed takes and reversing of one's mistakes. In my not-so-humble opinion, had I a veto vote on Die Another Day I would have pointed out the failure of the post slowmo and axed all such meaningless stylization.

By the way, a great post-Hitchcock era use of the vertigo shot was for Christopher Walken's hypnotic regression scenes in the film adaptation of Whitley Strieber's Communion.
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Old November 25th, 2002, 06:58 AM   #4
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Hey Robert,

A couple of things about what you said about Gladiator. First of all, Ridley Scott was not the cinematographer on Gladiatior. Second point, they didn't "copy" the effect that was used in Saving Private Ryan. Closing down a shutter is also simply away of stopping down the amount of light hitting your film. I read an article about Gladiatior, and they used it at that time of day, and they probably did it because they didn't have any ND's at their disposal at that very moment.
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Old November 25th, 2002, 07:12 AM   #5
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I don't know, Robert. I'd have to say I respectfully disagree with you. We don't lambast every player in the NBA for being a copy cat now when they slam dunk the ball. We don't go to a newly-opened restaurant and complain to the manager when they have unoriginal "burgers" on the menu. And at the ballet, we don't say to ourselves "Oh great! ANOTHER plié. HOW unoriginal."

New techniques find their way into all crafts and skills, and if they're effective and well-received, they become "standard" (as opposed to cliché).

How can everyone be completely original always?
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Old November 25th, 2002, 07:13 AM   #6
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lol, Good point John :)
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Old November 25th, 2002, 11:10 AM   #7
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Bryan:

"Ridley Scott was not the cinematographer on Gladiatior.... they probably [used the Ryan shutter angle effect] because they didn't have any ND's at their disposal at that very moment."

A cinematographer on a $103 million budget film would be embarassed to shame to be deprived of a camera package without a full array of ND filters and other common tools essential to his efficient and effective operation as a cinematographer, whose aim, I might add, is to achieve the look requested by the director. It's grasping a bit to suggest that the decision to use the Ryan look on Gladiator wasn't premeditated, and months in advance at that.

John:

I can always respectfully agree to disagree. My philosophy is, there are no rules in art, only sins. And the cardinal sin is mediocrity. Adapting a dark gangster graphic novel novel and slavishly spreading on Hitchcock, or making a grand gladiator epic and tossing in cinematographic techniques for no other reason than to evoke in the viewer last year's hit violent battle movie--these are choices of a wanton and mediocre sort, reflecting a dearth of, not necessarily originality, but certainly of lack of restraint. When misused, special effects serve not to enhance the emotional impact of a sequence; rather, they only dull the effects.

As you say, it's impossible to be original all the time. I'm not suggesting totality of originality should be the aim of the filmmaker. So in synthesis, we can arrive at a "rule" of filmmaking, a commandment against sins: Thou shalt not copy effects without good reason. Just because it's possible to make every video transition a 3D cube spin doesn't mean it's the best implementation of the tool.

An artist should have strong opinions behind his or her artistic choices, and be able to defend his or her choices against criticism. One may not always agree with the artist's reasoning, but in the face of complete lack of reason, art collapses in on itself, unprincipled, façade without foundation.
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Old November 25th, 2002, 03:42 PM   #8
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[used the Ryan shutter angle effect]???
LOL, are you kidding me? It's not like they did it the first time in SPR, they do it all the time! It's just a shutter angle!! And 103 million dollar don't mean crap when you have a tight schedule and hardly any time to even set up the camera alone. Like in the mummy returns, they had to do the shots in 10 minutes each, because of the traffic. Next time do your research better please.
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Old November 27th, 2002, 01:52 AM   #9
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[Next time do your research better please]

Bryan, I'm not sure what your sources were for the various statements YOU made--perhaps you can quote them if you intend to make such requests of others. I took the liberty to look up both "Gladiator" and "The Mummy Returns" in American Cinematographer back issues and here's the closest I could find to what you were talking about:

[Second point, they didn't "copy" the effect that was used in Saving Private Ryan. Closing down a shutter is also simply away of stopping down the amount of light hitting your film. I read an article about Gladiatior, and they used it at that time of day, and they probably did it because they didn't have any ND's at their disposal at that very moment.]

AC, May 2000 issue: "(cinematographer John) Mathieson photographed the battle scenes at various frame rates and with a 45 degree shutter. This technique, employed to great effect for the battle scenes in "Saving Private Ryan", helped to make the combatants appear more aggressive and to reveal clear sword movement through the air. "We got into trouble one day with the light towards the end of the battle, so we couldn't shoot at 45 degrees...instead, we shot everything at 8 frames, which gives you two more stops, and printed that back to 6 frames. Then we stretched that back out to 24 fps."

That's a pretty interesting approach, skinny shutter with long exposure. But I think it's pretty clear that if it was simply an issue with the amount of light, they would have opened the shutter back to 180 degrees and gained the stops. To assume that the 45 degree shutter was originally chosen as solely as a way to combat the bright midday light seems very unlikely. As Robert pointed out, a large feature is never going to be short on a basic item such as ND's. And it takes about the same amount of time or less to add a filter than change the shutter angle.

[[used the Ryan shutter angle effect]???
LOL, are you kidding me? It's not like they did it the first time in SPR, they do it all the time! It's just a shutter angle!!]

Yes, but Saving Private Ryan was the first mainstream film to use the effect so predominantly for such a sustained length of time. The effect has been around especially in commercials and music videos, but like other effects before it, it took a while to show up in features.

[And 103 million dollar don't mean crap when you have a tight schedule and hardly any time to even set up the camera alone.]

Can't agree with this, Bryan. A tight schedule on a large feature doesn't mean there isn't time to slide in filters or set the shutter. You still have to be able to deliver the goods.

[Like in the mummy returns, they had to do the shots in 10 minutes each, because of the traffic.]

AC, June 2001: "The action continues across the city [of London], causing the production to venture out to Tower Bridge...[cinematographer Adrian Biddle], "That was a pretty elaborate shoot, and it proved to be quite tricky, because the bridge could only be closed for three minutes at a time. We'd get ready for a take, close the bridge and shoot, and then minutes later open it back up and start resetting for the next bit."

So the shots were limited to three minute shooting bursts while traffic was held, but that doesn't mean they had a designated time limit on the setup time BETWEEN takes. I've been there many times. Last spring we held traffic on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood while shooting an actor running naked across the street (OK, he was clutching a small throw pillow...!) Each take was maybe sixty seconds long, but it took us hours to shoot the scene from four angles.

Elsewhere in the article, they describe only shooting the day exteriors between 4:30 and 8:30 a.m., or after 5:30 until sundown because the light was prettier. That adds plenty of days to the shooting schedule...

In addition, [Biddle says] "We used various time-related gimmicks, altering the shutter speed to get the no-blur look that's somewhat in vogue."

That pretty well supports Robert's theory that often this sort of thing is done in the name of current style. However, I'm on the fence whether I agree that it is unnecessary and mediocre to adopt and co-opt a "flavor of the month" visual gimmick. In the case of the Bond movie, I was much more disappointed with the tried-and-true and utterly hackneyed plot contrivances such as bad guys leaving their henchman to do away with the good guys in overly complicated means such as slow-moving laser beams (how do you pull this off with a straight face after Dr. Evil from Austin Powers so tidily lampooned this sort of thing?)

Anyway, Bryan, was this the sort of research you were referring to?
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Old November 27th, 2002, 02:32 AM   #10
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Whoa, nelly...this is getting a bit prickly. I had no intention of that...hence the "agree to disagree" part. Repeat after me..."It's just difference of opinion. It's just a difference of opinion."

I can't help but wonder, though...did "standards" today such as film noir catch this much flack when they first came out and were later imitated...to death practically? Did everyone accuse any director who attempted a film noir look after the style had been established of being a copycat?

And what about the techniques introduced by Citizen Kane? Did the new techniques in that film ruffle the feathers of purists when they were adapted in later films?

And that's just two examples...think of all the pioneer efforts in film that have been duplicated over the years....some techniques practically standard in all films today.

But really...I guess the reason this has gotten a bit prickly is because of the prickly way it started out (No offense meant, Robert...but it's true). When you make harsh statements like that, you're pretty much accusing those of us that like these "fads" as being idiots. Plus, I know for a fact that one person who was actually in that film (who shall remain nameless) frequents these boards (son of a friend of mine). Imagine how he must feel. Sure would take the wind out of my sails. I vote for not raining on anyone's parade.
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Old November 27th, 2002, 03:12 AM   #11
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John:

It's not my bag to offend anyone to the point of distress. But would anyone deny that spirited rational debate engages the mind and enlivens the scene? I disagree that mentioning what one perceives as something's faults amounts to insult. Where would we be if every teacher gave every student a perfect grade on every test? That elusive maiden Truth is rarely revealed without confrontation of two opposing perspectives.

Everything in good humor, naturally--but I will call 'em like I see 'em. While I'm disappointed over the Bond film, I'm delighted over the debate this thread has produced, and think it has reached a new direction.

Charles:

As usual, good post. (Incidentally, I read the AC articles quite a while ago but didn't have the back issues on hand to quote from.) You say, "I'm on the fence whether I agree that it is unnecessary and mediocre to adopt and co-opt a 'flavor of the month' visual gimmick." Is this perhaps because you have noticed that, every so often, espousing a fad leads to less adoption than adaptation?
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Old November 28th, 2002, 04:16 AM   #12
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Well, Robert, I think I probably agree with John (Locke) in that it's hard to always come up with something new. I don't see anything wrong with adopting a current visual style as long as it is done with some taste, and of course the judgement of success in doing so is purely in the eye of the beholder. It's REALLY hard to achieve originality in every project you do, although I think it's a great idea to strive towards this. The only thing that is a bit of a shame is that a particular technique might suit a given project, but if that technique is perhaps just out of vogue, one assumes the risk of having the results dismissed as dated!

I experienced this sort of anxiety on a music video that I shot a few months back. We had a majestic opening crane shot that we knew required a few speed ramps in post since the crane move could not be executed quickly enough to fit in the time allotted based on the music track. I had recommended that the work be done in the Inferno, which would allow for smoothly ramping up and down to speed. Instead, the footage was simply transferred at different frame rates and hard cut in between the different passes, which means that the shot jumps to fast or regular motion abruptly. This was a popular look in music videos a few years ago, but is a bit passe these days. The decision was made to do it this way from a financial standpoint. I was definitely disappointed however since I felt it reduced the hip quotient of the clip! Whether this is the case or not is up to the viewer....(it can be seen at www.scrubs-tv.com, click on the Laszlo Bane "Superman" link).
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Old November 28th, 2002, 06:19 AM   #13
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Charles, I watched Superman and had a hard time stomaching the whole intro crane/speed ramp shot...it was just SO NOT hip, dude!

Just yanking your chain...it's great...of course. Maybe I'm just a film slut...too easy to please. But I don't think that's the case since there are quite a few films I really can't stomach. In all seriousness, though...how could anyone think that opening shot of Superman is passé. The bottom line is...

- it's interesting to watch
- it fits the flow and mood of the music
- it was made within the specified budget

What else matters?
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Old November 28th, 2002, 02:15 PM   #14
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OK, I'm venting a little more than I should about the Superman clip, it doesn't really affect the hip quotient. It was more of an example than anything else. The frustration I experienced (and lesson I learned) was that I was talked out of performing an in-camera effect with a promise that it would be recreated in post, and then once it was out of my hands it became a whole other effect which I had never intended. That's the growing challenge to cinematographers today; so much can be manipulated in post that your original vision can be entirely tweaked a different direction unless you are able to keep a hand in throughout the post process.

(John, thanks for the compliments. For me, however, the hard speed up/slow down conflicts with the simplicity and flow of the music at that point in the song. My sense is that given both versions, most would prefer the more seamless smoothly ramped look).

Incidentally, the crane used was the Strada, which is the world's longest camera crane and an amazing piece of gear. We built it out to 85 feet but it can stretch to 100...quite a thing! (http://www.stradacranes.com/specsoncrane.htm)
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Old November 29th, 2002, 10:44 AM   #15
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Howdy from Texas,

<< ...would anyone deny that spirited rational debate engages the mind and enlivens the scene? I disagree that mentioning what one perceives as something's faults amounts to insult. >>

As long as that spirited debate doesn't erupt into an all-out flame war (which, here, clearly it has not), then we remain on safe territory but I'll always strongly suggest delicacy in matters involving criticism, especially since an individual's perception is by definition just so subjective. This is a world-wide audience here with an amazingly diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and points-of-view.

I think one thing that can be said with certainty is that individual styles are so hard to achieve these days because everything has been done and done over and done again. Robert Rodriguez employed a unique cinematic style with "El Mariachi" and that's about the only example I can readily think of. Like Charles, I'm kind of borderline in my own opinion on these matters.
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