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Basics Instruction : What are the Options?

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Hi Folks,



I didn't go to film school. Most of my training came from internships in middle and high school (also my family was in local television) and those connections worked into jobs when I got out of school, so I'm not familiar with the film school scene, in fact, many of my mentors in the business advised me that unless I had a lot of money and could afford UCLA (this was 1978, by the way) or something equivalent, not to waste time and money on film school, especially since I had already had a good bit of hands on training during my volunteer work. It worked out for me pretty well , but that was a different time.Throughout the years I've done some consulting and community college level teaching, but never on a film school level until a year and half ago when I taught a cinematography class for the New York Film Academy in Celebration, Florida.


I had a blast, great students and I got to work with some high caliber folks and for me the coolest part was I got to work with Arri S 16mm cameras that I thought I would never see beyond a museum again. Tri X Reversal, it brought back memories of high school football games and early 60's newsreels, my childhood and early adulthood.After reading up on NYFA both pro and con, I got the impression that many were questioning the wisdom of teaching students on an "old clunker" when the big guys are shooting with RED's and Alexa's. Fair enough, but you have to remember, this level of student, high school or early college is not going to start out with one of those anymore than I did with a Arri SR or Aaton Prod.You also have to take into consideration the number of students that aren't interested in becoming cinematographers. About two thirds of my students were wanting to be actors, directors and producers and they certainly weren't going to take it to the Panavision level.


So here are the options for this level of student that I see. HD Prosumer or DSLR: I would lean toward either DSLR or perhaps some of what Black Magic is offering. This is where I have to criticize NYFA on their choice of the Panasonic prosumer grade cameras they use. Great cameras, but they're ENG and no matter how much you play with camera tape markings on the lens barrel,it's still not a proper lens for that. I offered the students the option of using that or the MF numbers on the monitor, as most AC's I've seen these days follow the cam op via a small flat screen monitor.Now DSLR's are great, but here again, they're not designed for a Hollywood type film crew operation unless you spend a good deal of cash on camera cages and follow focus attachments. This would be economically impractical in this type of situation, I could imagine the nightmare of trying to keep up with that many DSLR kits students were sent out with on the Disney backlot. High school students and even the adults in that type of situation need to keep the number of items in the field small,and the many pieces of tinker toy type stuff that goes with DSLR's would be a nightmare to contend with.


Then you have super 8 and 16mm. I love super 8 and I could see it being used on a basic "primer" type of project, but beyond the avant garde scene, yuppie weddings and a certain type of look, its not really such a good training format either,It's best reserved, in my opinion for the "intimate" hand held, home movie or retro doc look, which is exactly what we're seeing the industry currently using it for. Then you have the old stand by, tried and true 16mm "clunkers". I love these things, they're my classic muscle cars, what I cut my teeth on, but it disturbed me to see so much precious film footage being wasted on exposure tests and workshops.Moreover , such a volume of labwork was a nightmare for scheduling projects, These days, especially for a film student on a budget, 16mm film stock is like oil and seeing it used like that is almost like driving a Hummer to the corner store.


Check out this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYADhAZsPNA





Now let's say a film school has a fleet of "old clunkers". They're still good for training the basics on, but if,say you converted half of the fleet to a digital hybrid, the student could learn basic composition,exposure, work flow and camera crew operation and once they've mastered that, then they can move on to shooting their projects with real film cameras, if that's the direction, if not, they will still be prepared for the film type work flow that is currently standard procedure in the industry, rather than pick up bad habits from being trained on an ENG camera. P and S Teknik is already doing this with Arri 16 SR 3's, offering a digital mag and as I understand someone else is working on a digital super 8 cartridge.


What are your opinions on this?


Marty Hamrick

Semi retired cameraman


Oshawa, Ontario


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As far as I know the P+S digimag is no longer in production-- I looked into it briefly, but it wasn't as practical as I'd like to to be. The 8mm Digimag, too I believe was a April fools.

Truth of fact, by the time you factor in the cost of one of those things and the retrofit and the machining ect, you're way more than a DSLR package. And even on a philosophical level I don't think it would teach the students the primary lesson-- which isn't how to expose film-- but rather how to make the film in your head first. The fact that it is expensive and each frame is precious is the most important lesson to be taken from working with film. Too often the younger generation just shot-guns everything because it's free, right? This is a really bad habit to get into.

Using film forces the film maker to know what they need to make their story. Know how to get the performance they want from the actor-- even without the camera just running and running, and to visualize mentally how these things are all going to go together. There is no playback-- so you have to have first run through the entire sequence so you know where each camera placement will be (better yet if you storyboard it), and then you have to keep track of what you've done. It teaches the discipline which I think is required to be successful in film.

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Well that didn't last long, if it went out of production that quickly.If NoLab super 8 was an April Fool, I don't get the joke. I see what you're saying and normally I agree with your assessment of retrofit, however this kid's retrofit doesn't look expensive or labour intensive at all. I'm sure not too many cameras could be fitted like this except the Bell and Howell or possibly a Bolex. As far as film consumption, I agree with your philosophical assessment, however, I wasn't suggesting doing away with shooting film, only cutting back from less than necessary expenditure.I didn't see that the "every frame was precious attitude" preserved so much as I heard grumbling about how much it was costing them and what a pain in the ass the lab wait was for something that was dying out anyway.I got more positive attitudes about the use of film and old cameras from the high school students as opposed to the adults.


My thought was to operate similar to the way the military trains with weapons and live ammo. Smoke grenades, laser tag, tracers are all used in drills, just like when you're training to lace the camera, you use a dummy roll Perhaps a simple CCD could be used that behaved the way reversal film does and if you used a camera with an optical viewfinder, they wouldn't have the crutch of a monitor or playback. They would be forced to learn with a light meter. once that is mastered, they learn camera threading and AC work on a real film camera, which would be reserved for final projects. They could make their exposure and composition errors on something digital that still operated like a film camera that was rugged as a tank. Then again, the entire industry is constantly changing so it's really hard to say what the best way to train is. I just like what this kid with something that otherwise would be a doorstop.

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