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Javier Calderon

Low Budget Shoot On HD or 16mm?

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"Film is dead" blah blah . . . I keep hearing that from people . . . The battle rages on . . .

 

but - and I don't care what anyone says - the HD projects I've seen, from low end productions to top of the line, Apocalypto/Once Upon A Time In Mexico budgets . . . well . . . still look like video . . . Awesome, very clean, very nice video to be sure . . . but I can still tell they're NOT film.

 

Okay . . . So I'm not here to rant (believe it or not) . . . I'm here to throw in a few ideas that have been jiggling around in my mind for a while and see if anyone can offer some much needed help, advice, perspective, etc . . .

 

I'm finishing up post on a DV feature that I helmed. I've been considering the pros and cons of shooting the next feature on video or film . . . It seems that serious, yet very budget minded, productions are, at this point, no longer going to be shot on DV (correct? Does it seem like this is a fair assessment? Someone please let me know if they think or feel that the DV medium has NOT been left behind and is still a viable one at this point for indie feature film making. Heck I'd TOTALLY shoot my next film on DV if my assessment is incorrect. It's cheap comparitively speaking). So if one is serious, but on a budget . . . then . . . HD is one definite option . . . NOT HDV . . . HD. But what's out there? When it comes down to it and one does the cost analysis of doing a film on HD - HVX200 at around $4K, or the Sony PMW-EX1 for $7K as WELL as the computer, P2 cards, storage, etc that it takes to handle HD media - the final costs show up at around the $20K-40K range at the LOWEST.

 

Now then one has to ask themselves: What could the same price get me for a 16mm film production? It seems that for around that price, you can get a decent ACL II (around $2-4K) AND you wouldn't need to get the crazy HD setup that you would have to in order to do post on the Panasonic or the Sony footage. You can edit in SD so you wouldn't need as hefty a computer.

 

Two quick obvious pros of shooting w/HD are that 1) you have immediate visual access to the footage you just shot. Also, provided you have the disk space, 2) you can shoot take after take a-la Kubrik w/o incurring any extra costs (besides, that is, the extra time in post that it'll take to organize and choose between all those takes!).

 

Those two HD pros seem to be, conversely, two obvious film cons, namely 1) you DON'T really know what you're getting out of what you're shooting during production. You have to wait for film developement first; which brings me to the second film con. 2) On a budget, you have a limited number of takes, because each frame of film is money being spent.

 

However, the obvious pro of film is, well . . . it looks how it looks . . . and although HD is definitely making leaps and bounds . . . it's still not there yet . . .

 

It's not there yet . . . and yet in order to presently gear up an HD production . . . it seems you're going to end up spending about as much (if not more) as you would on a 16mm production.

 

It seems w/a video (HD) production, you're gaining in convenience, what you're losing in the "look".

 

Am I on the right track here, people? Again, help me out, and let me know if there are significant variables that I'm not addressing one way or the other that can effect the price of the film or HD prod here . . .

 

In the end, it's seeming to me that, if I'm going to end up HAVING to spend about $20-40K minimum to get an HD feature up and running . . . and that same amount of money could possibly allow me to do a 16mm production (granted w/very different considerations like 1) a much more limited number of takes, and 2) not being able to know if my day's shots are good or not until AFTER telecine) . . . then . . .

 

it almost seems like a no brainer (to me anyway) . . . shoot on 16 . . . right?

 

Okay fine . . . it might be more difficult, etc . . . . but so what? . . . it's art . . . nothing good is (or even should be) easy . . .

 

Anyway . . . Any thoughts on all this garble would be very much appreciated.

 

Thank you very much,

Javier Calderon

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I think this should be a style choice not a budget choice.

If the film calls for a "videoish" look, go HD.

For a film look go film.

 

That being said, i err towards film as its universal and you can use a lot of different gear.

Personally, i'm not a fanof the HVX. that's just me though. Sadly, a lot of things I'm being called on are HVX/DVX shoots. Ahh forf want of a F900!

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Thank you for the response, Adrian. You actually bring up what I think is an interesting point: "If the film calls for a "videoish" look, go HD. For a film look go film." This statement is a testament to the fact that nowadays, and with the popularity of video and video productions, films that either have "video-esque" looks to them or are entirely such are not completely disregarded or looked down upon. In other words, if the medium is making an artistic statement based on its use (i.e. a film with a big budget using video for a "documentary footage" look), then it can be effective. It seems this was not always the case. I'd say it's good that it is now, however.

 

I think fictional, dramatic, narrative work, however, seems to call more for film . . . no?

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If you don't have experience with film, don't use a feature to learn on the job. Your reasoning is sound if you have both film and video skills, but it sounds like you're approaching from a video perspective.

 

I'd suggest getting a 16mm camera for a week and shoot tons of tests in similar situations to what you'd expect durring the production. Try shooting people and recording audio, try different lighting, see how light "sticks" to film, understand metering. Only then will you know if you're comfortable with it.

 

Remember in either HD or Film you will need good lighting and know how to use it for each medium (they are different).

 

Film is a skill set worth developing and will help you tremendously in video shoots as well.

 

As far as the numbers, look at the budget and work from there. Telecine for a 90 minute feature will be EXPENSIVE. The entire editing workflow for film is much different even if you're not cutting film. You'll probably want to do a one-light transfer on everything then cut it, and finally go back and transfer the only cuts you want with a good colorist on the best machines you can afford. Once again, more money. Totally worth it, but not cheap.

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Well, I don't know if it does call for film. I would say, by and large it is shot more on film than on video/hd. But, take this for an example:

A lot of people, myself included, have described the look of HD as "plastic," almost. So, say you have a film wherein the main character is in essence the mask of a human being, a shell, or the whole world is a sham, cheap, yet, at a quick glance, pleasing. This would perhaps be a good place to employ video/hd for aesthetics.

However, say you were shooting a gritty and dirty piece where you wanted an "organic" look and feeling. In such a case, film, super 16mm in my opinion, would be a very viable option as often the film look is described as organic.

 

A short i just finished (originally) was going to use this look. Mixing an HVX with S16 betweeen a night-time world of crime, and a happy-go-lucky world of a comic book store (main char decides to become a vigilante hero by night). We wanted the "look" of HD for the comic store where things would be mostly flat, but very colorful (i think, often HD is oversaturated) but a grainy world for the night shots, hence 7218 with minimal lighting and lots of darkness.

In the end, the script was rewritten and we opted for all S16 (7218/7205) and it became a "comedy," which wasn't too funny in the end.

 

The main issue in terms of cinema and art is that for a long time the standards to which productions had to meet dictated only film; as most other formats were not up to par. However, due to the explosion of technology, this is no longer the case.

 

 

Another example is Battlestar Galactaga where the miniseries was film ,and then they changed over to HD, for the look of it. I forget what the DP said, exactly, but it waqs something about crushing/blowing highlights lowlights for the look.

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Thanks, Will.

 

Yes. I am indeed approaching things from a video perspective, as I've never worked w/film before. Your suggestion of renting a camera and testing stocks is a darn good one, and one that I kind've plan on going with. If I decide to work w/film, I know that I won't be able to afford much more than an ACL II. That will most likely be the camera used. Since I don't plan on renting a camera for production - i.e. I'd rather OWN the camera and continue to work on my skills even when not in production - I think the ACL II seems to offer the best camera for the price.

 

Tell me Will (or anyone reading this) how stupid, crazy, UNtenable, etc. the following idea sounds. Be gentle w/me, again, as I admit my filmatic ignorance here:

 

Shoot 16.

 

Get footage back in digibeta format.

 

Ingest into Final Cut Pro

 

Edit . . .

 

Put it on a DVD.

 

The end.

 

Um . . . what am I missing? I'm sure a lot, but . . .

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You're absolutely correct in that aesthetic consideration, Adrian. I guess it depends on what's artistically being attempted. Interesting thing, however, is that if you shoot on film, you can always "muck" it up to look like video. I believe I read that such was the case with Brian De Palma's new war film called "Redacted". It's supposedly got a very video feel - and the footage is all very video looking, very documentary-esque . . . but it was all actually shot on film and then later made to look like video in post.

 

I don't believe you can shoot on video and then later make it look like film in post. For this reason, it seems film gives a little more flexibility here as well.

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When I do film i try to get it on DVCPROHD 100 and rent a deck for ingest into FCP.

You get a lot more out of the negative than digibeta will give in my opinoin.

I think deck day rate is $450 here in philadelphia and we're normally doing $300 per 800ft of film for a supervised (300 an hour for the telecine which runs through 800 ft of film give or take).

 

 

All in all, your post workflow seems sound to me, although you're missing how to get the footage into FCP; i'm assuming you have a deck.

 

I would also agree that film does give you more flexibility in post than video ever will, especially in terms of "fixing" mistakes (you'd be amazed what a well placed power window can do to a shot! I know I was when i first saw it.)

I see no problem with an ACLII, but you have to realize a camera is kinda like a boat or a house. You'll pour money into it FOREVER. It might be best to rent for that reason, but I know how alluring it is to own (hell i own a camera i probably shouldn't!).

 

Some show an ex g/f of mind had me watching (dirt, i think?) had a great line: "shoot film, you can trust film." I would agree with that. aside from my first ever bolex film on reversal, I never really had an unsalvagable shot. I've had some not so great shots, and a scratch here and again; but never shot on film and got an end result that was so fubar as to be unusable. I wish I could say the same for some video stuff. . . lol

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Tell me Will (or anyone reading this) how stupid, crazy, UNtenable, etc. the following idea sounds. Be gentle w/me, again, as I admit my filmatic ignorance here:

 

Shoot 16.

Get footage back in digibeta format.

Ingest into Final Cut Pro

Edit . . .

Put it on a DVD.

The end.

Um . . . what am I missing? I'm sure a lot, but . . .

 

The general flow is right, but I think you underestimate the "Shoot 16" part and the "Get footage back in digibeta" part.

 

"Shoot 16": You need to know how to handle film, load the camera, use a meter properly, set the camera properly, how to record sound while shooting.

 

"Get footage back in digibeta": Understand that $300 an hour for telecine does not mean RUNNING TIME, it means per hour of use of the machine. If you're doing scene by scene color correction you'll be lucky to get 20 minutes per hour of telecine time. SO, you'll probably want to do a "one-light" transfer of the footage so you can get as much as possible transfered per hour... then edit your piece, then come back and transfer JUST THE PARTS YOU NEED carefully and possibly in HD.

 

So the work flow might look like this:

 

Shoot 16.

Process Film

Telecine footage as a "daily" or one-light for editing only (possibly to miniDV)

Ingest into Final Cut Pro

Edit . . .

Take EDL and go back with the best Colorist and Telecine house you can find to re-telecine only the footage you need with scene-to-scene color

Reconform the newly transfered footage

Put it on a DVD.

The end.

Accept your Oscar. (I added this part)

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I'm interested to know what the finishing workflow is for shooting a project on film. from my understanding there are 2 ways to go about it (but i know there are more options):

 

shoot

processing/ digibeta transfer

edit (FCP)

finish to dvd

 

or...

 

shoot

processing/ one light transfer

edit (FCP)

EDL

cut negative

transfer again in highest quality as budget allows

finish to dvd

 

 

Are those close?

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Adrian,

 

No, I don't have a deck to injest into FCP. That I might rent.

 

"Shoot film, you can trust film."

 

Well . . . isn't this one of the biggest beefs AGAINST film? That you CAN'T trust that what you shot during production is what you'll see when you get your footage back?

 

I'll trust what you said, however, in terms of the success of your film shoots as a good omen for my own future shoots. :)

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Heck, Joshua, it looks like you just read Will's post word for word, so it would seem that you're on the right track (not that I myself would know. That's why I posted this thread:) ).

 

Um . . . what's a one light transfer? (here I'm trying to abide by the "there are not stupid questions" philosophy and hope I don't get railed for not knowing what that is). I'm asuming it's a "low res" or quick manner of developing your film so you can begin quickly editing?

 

I did a google search, but the results were a bit to voluminous for me to get a good handle on what exactly it is.

 

Thanks

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Heck, Joshua, it looks like you just read Will's post word for word, so it would seem that you're on the right track (not that I myself would know. That's why I posted this thread:) ).

 

 

poop, didn't realize that somebody had already posted.. sorry for the double post

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Thank you, Will, for the step by step. It's beginning to give me a better idea of the ins and outs of the process.

 

Regarding the "go back with the best Colorist..." part . . . Help me out on this one . . . Isn't the coloring/color correction something that I would be able to do on my own in FCP?

 

On the one light edit, I WOULDN'T do any color correction? . . . I would cut the film, and THEN take the edl to a colorist and let them do it? Again, I know I'm missing something. I wouldn't take the EDL to someone to do an assembly on HD, and THEN take it back to my own place for cc?

 

I'm sure you're shaking your head and slapping yourself with just how ignorant I am regarding these things.

 

Thanks for the help everyone,

Javier

 

ps - and heck, Joshua, I think that that should be a vote of confidence that you unknowingly posted the correct answer! :)

Edited by Javier Calderon

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Ahhh . . . I just found out what a one light transfer is. :)

 

"...a “One light / Content”

transfer starts with an initial color and exposure correction from the first shot and that

color and contrast are toned down to allow for inconsistencies in other shots. ...the film is then run through to the end without any further adjustments to

the color, exposure, contrast, focus, sound, etc."

 

neato. :)

 

I feel my filmatic i.q. expanding by the minute.

Edited by Javier Calderon

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Film isn't inherently hard. Basically what "trust film" means is that, you'll get an image. So long as you set your exposure properly (for the key light, normally) you'll get an image.

Loading a camera (in s16mm/16mm) isn't too difficult. I learned in under 10 minutes, though getting fast at it takes a while and it depends on your mags. The ACL isn't too hard, from what I'm told, as it's coaxial, so 1/2 of it you can do in daylight.

 

if you're renting a deck I'd recommend DVCPROHD because of it's 4:2:2 color space and high data rate. Do it @720P and you'll be happy.

 

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. your first few shoots mightn ot be the best ever, so practice a bit. Find a friend with a bolex and get some 100ft daylight spools of reversal film. hell if you can expose that you can expose anything!

 

Will's way through post is a more valid way for a feature. Generally my shoots are short (music video or short film) so we don't have that much footage overall (normally under 10,000ft.)

Dailies are a luxury I havn't yet had :(.

A good way to spot check your settings is with a DSLR still camera. Set the ASA to that of you're film, and the aperture to that of your lens, and take a shot. Realize the film will read into the shadows more than the digital, but you'll see, overall, whether or not things are right!

 

The best thing about film, as far as i'm concerned, is looking actually though the lens at the image. I hate the viewfinders/lcds of video and HD.

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I think this perception issue is what lies at the heart of Marshall McLuhan's distinction of TV (in this case, video) as a passive medium but film as an active medium. (Read his theories on media in "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man")

 

On practical level, it's all about budgets, final use, look, etc. Sure, the big guys can get the high end video that makes things look great but that doesn't mean that 16mm isn't worth the time. It's a beautiful format that I've worked in in the past and look forward to in the future.

 

TAKE CARE!

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For a good looking 1 light; expose a greycard at the beginning of the reel under the lighting you'll predominately use for the roll (i.e. under the sources you'll mostly use) and they'll correct for that.

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The first time you shoot with a pro 16mm/35mm film camera will surprise you because you can clearly see outside of the frame you are filming. This is almost reason enough alone to go with film. They are also much more comfortable and functional to operate handheld.

 

Another big reason to consider film is that distributors or producers reps. will very often not watch low-budget video based features. I have a feeling this will stay true since the recent floods of no-budget DVX movies have jaded them.

 

I'd also not compare HVX video to Super16 film results. S16 is a far superior medium. It uses real lenses and records far more overall information than consumer grade 1/3" chip HD devices, which is what the HVX is. You also have more DOF options, lens options and far more latitude.

 

One idea is to buy a simple wind-up 16mm camera like a Russian model for $250 to practice and hone with. Rent an SR2 or Aaton LTR54/XTR for your feature. You simply won't find a practical, feature ready S16 camera package for less than around $15,000. Rentals can be fairly cheap if you look around.

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For an example of cheap rental. I rent myself/lenses/matte/and some lights for $750/day with my SR3 for low budget stuff, though, I normally would love to get a dayrate on top of that.

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On Telecine:

 

Film captures WAY more information than ANY video. WAY MORE. Because of this, film gives you the opportunitiy to adjust color, contrast and a million other image variables infinitely when transfering to video. Keep in mind, this is only really true when transfering directly from the film in Telecine, this is where you have the most flexibility in color. The color correcting tools available to a telecine operator (colorist) are lightyears above anything that Final Cut Pro could offer, even with the new (and buggy) COLOR application. Yes, you can adjust from your tape but once it's on video tape you now have a video signal and maybe 5% (if that) of the available "picture info" to work with. Fine for minor, subtle adjustments

 

HENCE is born THE COLORIST. The colorist lives in a dark room, drinks lots of coffee and will talk endlessly about how someone has "olive" skin vs. the person next to him with a fair complexion. They know color and how to get the most out of film.

 

This is one of those things you kinda have to live through. IMO the colorist is the most important person in the production chain after the DP but you never notice his work because we expect things to look "right". Do your test and sit through a telecine session and ask questions to understand what they do. You'll be amazed when you see the source image compared to when their done with it.

 

I hope you can shoot film on your next project, it will be a great learning experience. Make sure you do tests and go through the whole process so you'll be prepared for you feature or at least know what to expect.

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Wo, Adrian. $750 a day for a month (which I can't imagine shooting a feature for less time than this) runs around $22,500. That's definitely out of my price range. I know Vincent mentioned not being able to find a good, feature ready S16 package for under $15K.

 

I'm basically looking at an overall budget of between $20-40K for the entire enchilada (that is, for pre pro, production, and post). I already have most of the gear for post (G5, 2Terabytes of space, Final Cut Studio, Logic Pro, etc, and am probably going to be getting a 17" JVC DT V1710CGU for critical color correction). I just need the camera . . .

 

I think I'll work with what a lot of you guys have already helpfully suggested on here and getting a good, solid, but relatively inexpensive camera and running tests w/it. Although Adrian's suggestion of a Bolex or something around the $250 range would work, I'd possibly like to see if I can get ahold of a solid ACL and perhaps use that for more than just test shoots. I just got in contact w/George over at Optical Electro House, and he was very cordial in his response, so we'll see what turns up there.

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Man . . . thanks so much for the thorough explanation, Will, of why one would want/need an actual colorist to do the coloring on your film in Telecine as opposed to you yourself off of the video daily in FCP. That really helped me understand much better.

 

What else can I say? This has been a very educational endevour for me - reading everything you guys have had to offer. I know there's much, much more, but the information I've gotten so far is helping me in ways I hadn't surmised before. Yeah, unless video/HD can make even more leaps and bounds than it already has and come out with something amazing in the next year - which probably won't happen since The Red One camera has just been released already and that will probably be the best to offer for at least a little while - I think 16 will be the medium for my next feature.

 

I was over at DRCO just a day or two ago, looking at professional color correction monitors to get, and David Riddle - owner of the company - who was an AMAZINGLY helpful, giving, and nice man, just sat me down and pretty much gave me a quick class on film and video technology, began by telling me that "film is dead." - something he repeated with relish a few times over before continuing on. I felt my heart sink a little because, although I did feel that this couldn't possibly be 100% true, here was this incredibly knowledgeable man with tons of experience IN film, who's worked with just about everyone in the field (and had the photos and the Emmy to show for it), who was telling me that "film is dead".

 

Convinced as I felt I was beforehand of the possibility of shooting my next feature on film, I started climbing back on that proverbial fence . . . and that's part of why I posted this thread on here.

 

Thanks all again, for the help and perspective.

 

Film is film. And video - awesome as it is in it's own way - just hasn't gotten there yet.

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