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David Mullen ASC

my Star Trek obsession

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Lately I've been watching the Original Series of Star Trek, Season One, on Blu-Ray, as well as the first six features.

 

I've always been somewhat obsessed with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (dubbed by some as "The Motionless Picture") -- it came out when I was a senior in high school and I must have seen it a dozen times just in that year.

 

I've always been a big fan of Richard Kline's photography, especially in "The Andromeda Strain", "King Kong", and "Star Trek" -- and I've been lucky to be able to talk with him over the years now that I'm in the ASC. Also, one of my camera operators on "Big Love" used to work with him in the 1970's and has a lot of stories to tell (though he did not work on "Star Trek").

 

The use of 100 ASA film stock, the anamorphic lenses, that clean look that some people have complained as being too sterile, well, I've always loved it. And the mix of hard and soft light throughout the movie.

 

I've also been obsessed over the use of split-diopter filters in that movie -- half the shots use them. I don't know how to pull Blu-Ray frames on my Mac, so I tried taking a Nikon snapshot of the screen -- I had a lot of moire problems though, forcing me to frame the TV screen small in frame until the moire disappeared. Anyway, I pulled some examples:

 

This was a DVD frame grab (not original size):

startrekTMP4.jpg

 

Here are some Nikon snapshots of the TV playing the Blu-Ray. As you can see, the contrast and color is off:

startrekTMP8.jpg

 

Anyway, it's an example of the use of split-diopter filters in the movie.

 

But on Blu-Ray, you can see a lot more variations in lens sharpness, filter placement, etc. I was noticing early in the launch of the Enterprise scene this unusual use of a split-diopter filter cut and placed only in the middle of the image and clear on each side, to hold Sulu in focus:

startrekTMP9.jpg

 

But a few cuts later, there is no split-diopter and the light level was increased instead in order to stop down and increase depth of field, making the lens sharper (I suspect the light levels of the bridge in general were raised for a few shots because of the use of a bluescreen for the main viewing screen, so maybe they decided to reshoot this angle on Sulu with more light as well. Of course, this is a wider-angle lens as well, and since Sulu's hand is in frame, maybe they decided they couldn't use the split-diopter trick here because it would cut through his hand:

startrekTMP10.jpg

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No disrespect David but William Shatner even says to get a life. You have to watch a commercial first. http://www.truveo.com/william-shatner-snl-...ife/id/53506221

 

I always liked the episode of SNL where Belushi plays Kirk and Chevy Chase plays Mr. Spock. They are being chased by a car and it turns out to be a network exec telling them the show has been canceled.

 

I always liked the use of cartoon colors and some of the light gags. Some episodes were photographed better than others. Sometimes they overdid the diffusion a little but there were some great episodes. The shootout at the Ok Coral was pretty good, I liked the original one with Pike, the Gangster on, the one with Joan Collins, and the one with the kids was good.

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I cannot even tell where the split is exactly on a lot of these. Do these types of shots need to be static, with the camera locked off?

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I cannot even tell where the split is exactly on a lot of these. Do these types of shots need to be static, with the camera locked off?

 

The first one (and two) is pretty obvious. You can see the split on the guard rail. The second one is a little less obvious but it looks to me like it is on his arm and behind his chair. The 4th photo doesn't have one. You don't normally pan or tilt with a diopter.

 

I was just thinking of some other episodes that I liked. "I, Mudd" was pretty funny. Then there was the Nazi episode and the Rome episode. The fight was my favorite. Didn't Mike Meyer re-enact that in Wayne's World?

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I used a split-diopter here on "Akeelah and the Bee" - it barely cuts through the corner of the table:

akeelah3.jpg

 

For comparison, here I used a tilt-focus lens:

akeelah2.jpg

 

I've carried a tilt-focus lens on a couple of movies, but I rarely get a director who understands effective deep-focus staging, so the lens ends up never being used.

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Guest Tim Partridge

The first Star Trek is to me the only one (until this new movie) that looks like it had a lavish budget spent on it to make it a cinematic event. No expense was spared and they seemed to be approaching Trek as though they were wanting to outdo 2001 rather than make a quick buck. The others felt like shoestring affairs that were creative with limited resources.

 

ST:TMP I think is also helped not only by Kline's thoroughly cinematic, anamorphic lensing (you know my bias towards 70s cinematography), but also by the lush production design and epic direction. I also like the creative and resourceful work that Nimoy/Correll/Peterman did later on, as well as Lazlo's smokey lighting and epic location shots from STV, which were classically cinematic and not TV like.

 

I think the ST movies ended up looking like cheap TV episodes the moment they started shooting on the The Next Generation TV sets and incorporating that conservative television style. I don't think you can tell any of ST V-X apart from the Trek television shows of the time, save for Lazlo's work with smoke and locations. I could see Don Peterman or Kline's style as a cinematographer on those earlier Trek movies, but I couldn't tell the difference between what greats such as Alonzo or Kimball shot on the later movies. The mentality seemed to be for a "house style" of shooting that didn't stray from the look of the TV show. Such a disappointing waste of talent, in my opinion.

 

 

I think Wrath of Khan might be the least visually appealing Trek movie for me. ILM's special effects aside, it really does look like a Corman movie, with laughter inducing cinematography and low rent sets. It actually looks inferior and cheaper in my opinion than any TOS episode. Well, it's more entertaining to look at than any of the later Trek movies (and it doesn't hurt that it's a good film either).

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Yes, the irony is that "Wrath of Khan" was the lowest in budget, worst in sets, efx, made by Paramount's TV division -- yet it's the best Trek movie due to the script, acting, and direction. Sort of puts things in perspective.

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I've always been somewhat obsessed with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"

 

A fascinating movie. A race of machines so advanced they couldn't figure out how to clean some dirt off of the side of the space probe! If they had done that we would of had Voyager and not "Veger." Of course then the movie would have only been 10 mins :blink:

 

R,

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Lately I've been watching the Original Series of Star Trek, Season One, on Blu-Ray, as well as the first six features.

OK, I gotta ask - why bother with Blu-Ray? Don't get me wrong, I love TOS and grew up with it. But when I watched it on DVD, every little problem that would have been hidden in the video noise, or that was outside the action safe area (like boom mic shadows), stood out like a sore thumb. I told my wife to slap me silly if I ever brought home a Blu-Ray copy of the original series. My wife says she might consider a Blu-Ray copy if it's been remastered, and if William Shatner's been digitally replaced (is that grounds for divorce?).

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Yes, the irony is that "Wrath of Khan" was the lowest in budget, worst in sets, efx, made by Paramount's TV division -- yet it's the best Trek movie due to the script, acting, and direction. Sort of puts things in perspective.

 

I wouldn't call KHAN worst in VFX by a long shot. Some of the paintings are bad, but the ship stuff doesn't have that filtered-to-blue blandness-passing-for-slickness that the next couple ILM pics have. Main fx problem is how they ruined the Trumbull paint job on the ship to make it work for bluescreen. And even though I love FINAL FRONTIER for its character stuff, it has to cop for the worst vfx (though there are a lot of turkey shots in the CGfests of INSURRECTIOIN and NEMESIS.)

 

I think the diopter stuff in TMP is extremely intrusive and distracting, on vhs, laser, dvd and in the theater (haven't seen the blurays yet, but the screengrabs look oddly mushy in parts, presumably due to DNR.) By comparison the diopter's in HINDENBERG and ANDROMEDA STRAIN, two prior Wise pics, worked just fine. I assume the mushy lighting does little to camouflage the seam lines on TMP.

 

It could be that the DP would have been okay on TMP if not for the 20-footcandle restriction (to keep the RP displays from washing out) on most bridge shots, but I think he was sunk just on the basis of the production designer dictating so much of the lighting coming from the floor 'to make things look futuristic.' It was very unflattering on the actors, too. I've shown bits of TMP and ANDROMEDASTRAIN to people and asked them to guess which came first, and most think TREK because it looks mushier. It is like Wise got it right in '71, then couldn't recreate the look a few years later (granted, different PD on Trek.)

 

But the diopters wouldn't keep me out of the theater, though the lensflares ARE one of the main reasons I'm passing on the new one (others being imbicilic production design, with a bridge that looks like the Revlon aisle at Target, while engineering looks like a 20th century refinery, absolutely ZERO respect for science -- build the starship in a barn-like facility in Iowa? -- and character assassination on an epic scale. At least the trailer and ads conveyed a lot of information about the product.)

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I have reawakened my fascination with viewer expectations. It is understandable with franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars and an ever-increasing list of fantasy driven character sets. Yet, doesn't this happen with every movie? Isn't that why Hollywood keeps making the same stuff over and over? And over and over and over... I often wonder if it is the chicken and egg thing. Does Hollywood program viewer's to want only Hollywood grade and style of product or does Hollywood simply respond to market demands?

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I have reawakened my fascination with viewer expectations. It is understandable with franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars and an ever-increasing list of fantasy driven character sets. Yet, doesn't this happen with every movie? Isn't that why Hollywood keeps making the same stuff over and over? And over and over and over... I often wonder if it is the chicken and egg thing. Does Hollywood program viewer's to want only Hollywood grade and style of product or does Hollywood simply respond to market demands?

 

Are you picking on me for like "Star Trek" movies? I also like Kurosawa movies...

 

There's nothing wrong with enjoying commercial mainstream cinema, as long as it's done well (which often it isn't.) I see other types of movies -- the last film I saw in a theater was "O'Horten" from Norway... and the day before, "Terminator Salvation".

 

It's a no-brainer that mainstream conventional high-budget cinema, matched with millions and millions of dollars of advertising, aimed at the widest viewership, does better commercially than artistically demanding films with small budgets and little marketing aimed at a niche audience.

 

But it's not easy to predict what a lot of viewers want to see, not to the level where you need a movie to pull in half-billion dollars in ticket sales just to break even or be considered a success.

 

But I'm not going to apologize to you for liking "Star Trek" anymore than for liking the occasional hamburger or hot dog instead of an expensive restaurant meal, or listening to the occasional pop song instead of a classical symphony, or reading the occasional genre paperback instead of a great novel. And eventually I'll get through my Silent Ozu DVD collection, I swear...

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Guest Tim Partridge
I think the diopter stuff in TMP is extremely intrusive and distracting, on vhs, laser, dvd and in the theater (haven't seen the blurays yet, but the screengrabs look oddly mushy in parts, presumably due to DNR.) By comparison the diopter's in HINDENBERG and ANDROMEDA STRAIN, two prior Wise pics, worked just fine. I assume the mushy lighting does little to camouflage the seam lines on TMP.

 

 

Andromeda Strain or not, to my mind ST:TMP is still hands down the most visually appealing Trek movie by some distance.

 

I agree with you regarding WOK's visual effects work. I also think James Horner's score is admirably dignified given how uncinematic (and grossly underwhelming) the other production values are.

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akeelah3.jpg

 

So, David, with a shot like the one above, do you have to kind of explain to the actors and crew what you are doing with the split filter? Is everyone on set, more or less, aware of what type of shot this is -- that it's "special" or whatever? Or do you just say, "Stand here and don't move too much"?

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Well, I'm not sure if I went into detail with Keke Palmer (Akeelah) as to what a split-diopter filter was... but I do describe the shot to whoever it affects. Actually in this case we did a take with and without the filter because she had to cross to the table in the background. But even on the take with the filter, you don't notice too much when she crosses through it. But that's just luck to some degree. So sometimes I just warn the editor that there was a split-filter if I let the actor cross through it, in case they want to cut around it.

 

The reason for the deep focus effect was simply that during parts of the spelling bee, she answers questions tossed at her by the moderator in the b.g. and we didn't want to have a lot of focus racks back and forth with each question and reply, though we also did a take like that in case the split-diopter didn't work, plus for moments when the moderator isn't talking, it was good to have a version where the focus was only on Akeelah.

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Well, I'm not sure if I went into detail with Keke Palmer (Akeelah) as to what a split-diopter filter was... but I do describe the shot to whoever it affects. Actually in this case we did a take with and without the filter because she had to cross to the table in the background. But even on the take with the filter, you don't notice too much when she crosses through it. But that's just luck to some degree. So sometimes I just warn the editor that there was a split-filter if I let the actor cross through it, in case they want to cut around it.

 

The reason for the deep focus effect was simply that during parts of the spelling bee, she answers questions tossed at her by the moderator in the b.g. and we didn't want to have a lot of focus racks back and forth with each question and reply, though we also did a take like that in case the split-diopter didn't work, plus for moments when the moderator isn't talking, it was good to have a version where the focus was only on Akeelah.

 

 

David,

 

How is the framing for TOS? Do they have black bars left and right? Or do they crop the top and bottom? I am becoming used to pillar bars, but reluctantly so. For what it is worth, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was the most magical for me. It had a certain quality scrubbed out of all the others, till the latest.

 

chris

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Yes, the irony is that "Wrath of Khan" was the lowest in budget, worst in sets, efx, made by Paramount's TV division -- yet it's the best Trek movie due to the script, acting, and direction. Sort of puts things in perspective.

 

This reminds me of a thread I started over a year ago:

 

http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?sh...=28468&st=0

 

You have been chosen to direct a film based on your favorite book. You've read this book a million times as a child and you always wished you'd have the chance to direct it as a film. You never thought youd be able to because you have absolutely no money. But a producer who has seen some of your work wants you for the job. This producer has acquired the sole rights to make this book into a film, and you know this will be the only time this book wil ever be adapted into a film. This is a one shot deal.

 

The producer already has the 35mm film equipment and stock. More than enough. Post production facilities and distribution is not a concern - its all locked.

 

But here's the catch. The producer's budget is limited. And he has waaaaay too much pride to get money elsewhere, which means he'd have to share producer credit and he's not about to let that happen. He has $1 million left. Two differnt ways to sepnd it:

 

CHOICE A

 

Producer knows an excellent team of Writes/Actors who intimately KNOW this book and have inspiring ideas on how to adpat the book and the actors know the characters so well because theyv spent half their life acting out scenes from the book, living and breathing these characters. And these guys know how to perform. Actually no. Scratch that. They know how to BEHAVE. How to behave just as natural and as candid as we human beings are behind closed doors when we are all alone. Their fee is $1 million.

 

CHOICE B

 

Producer knows a team of DP/Camera Ops/Gaffers that are so brilliant and innovative, Vilmos Zsigmond and Vittorio Storaro once conspired to have this crew blown up in a car bombing. The jealousy was eating them alive. This crew can do things with light that will make you reconsider your Faith. Guess what...$1 mill.

 

THE TRADE-OFFS

 

The producer will look to a community college for the choice you do not make. Hes got his eyes on a student DP who knows how to get proper exposure, but lights everything even and flat. Producer also knows a guy that can write the script, but his scens are predictable, long and drawn out, dialogue is painfully on the nose. The actors....well, yeah, they can rehearse their lines, and each of them have seen INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO a thousand times. You know this because it says so on their resumes.

 

So...whats more important to you?

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How is the framing for TOS? Do they have black bars left and right? Or do they crop the top and bottom? I am becoming used to pillar bars, but reluctantly so.

 

In a darkened room, with an HD set with black borders, I don't really notice the letterboxing or pillarboxing much. The original series is all 4x3, as it should be, and it looks great in HD. You also have new CGI effects replacing the dupey opticals, which did not age as well as the o-neg did. Some people are appalled, and the film historian in me is too, but as a Star Trek geek, it's kinda cool to see new shots.

 

startrekTOS1.jpg

 

startrekTOS2.jpg

 

Again, keep in mind that these are Nikon snapshots of my HDTV screen. I don't have a way of playing blu-ray discs on my Mac.

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In a darkened room, with an HD set with black borders, I don't really notice the letterboxing or pillarboxing much. The original series is all 4x3, as it should be, and it looks great in HD.\

 

Yes but you can't help but notice how shockingly cheeeeeezy the sets look in HD :)

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One thing I've always liked about the first movie was the way the corridors were lit. This was a period in art direction where everyone was inspired by the use of brushed aluminum in "The Spy Who Loved Me". The bridge set for the movie was built originally for a new Trek II TV series, but the corridors were more redone by the new art director Harold Michelson and he put as much real metal in the sets as he could afford. Richard Kline had learned from shooting "The Andromeda Strain" to light metallic surfaces using large bounces. So the hallways had a nice pristine sheen to them. Kline also did a lot of lighting with a small handheld inky as a portable eyelight, which you can see in some shots. Here is an angle of the corridor where you can see the clean look:

 

startrekTMP11.jpg

 

I also like the use of blue gel on this hallway in the background, something they never repeated in the later movies:

 

startrekTMP12.jpg

 

Some more examples of the use of split-diopters. Personally, I think it's cool. Most of them are pretty subtle and it's only by studying still frames that you can spot some of them. As a teenager, I had the photonovel of this movie and studied all the frames in there, which is how I learned about split-diopter filters. Years later when I talked to Richard Kline about them, he was a bit disappointed that I noticed them at all. But of course, he was talking to someone who had seen the movie dozens of times.

 

startrekTMP13.jpg

 

startrekTMP14.jpg

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And it's veering of the subject a bit, but Jerry Goldsmith's score was also extraordinary, it's something I still listen to quite often.

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This thread sparked my interest enough to buy the six movie collection on BluRay - seen as Generations was the first Trek film I saw in the cinema. Before that I had only seen the films on TV or VHS. I figure BluRay is the closest I'll get to seeing the original quality of these older films as I'm unlikely to see them projected in a cinema.

 

Some of the split-diopter shots do stand out like sore thumbs, but I do kind of like them. It's hard to imagine some of the compositions working with a focus pull.

 

Special Photographic Effects wise I thought the matte painting work was pretty lousy, I can look past the technical issues like black outlines around mattes or mismatched colours between painting and plate, but here I felt they weren't done artistically very well. That said I was rather impressed with all the effects work that went into V'Ger, the miniature in particular was pretty cool.

 

One thing I'm curious about is when V'Ger scans the bridge of the Enterprise. I figure the drop off in quality is because it's a duped optical, but I'm curious as to how they went about the intense light source on set, these days you'd just shoot the shot with someone moving about holding the light and they'd be painted out digitally. Here I imagine they did something similar, although the 'scan' effect they came up with didn't seem enough to cover up a grip waving a light about onset - perhaps the light was boomed from above? Does anyone have any more precise info? An old cinefex perhaps?

 

Overall the film did feel much more epic than JJ's re-imagining. I actually like JJ's films, but the first two Mission Impossibles felt like action films even if they weren't great action films - where as Mission Impossible III felt like an episode of 24 (or perhaps Alias but I've never seen it). The same could be said of his interpretation of Star Trek - it felt like an action packed episode of the just ended Battlestar Galatica.

 

Next up is Wrath of Khan. I saw the opening earwig scene on telly when I was young and it scared the bejesus out of me - gave me nightmares for weeks. I'm still not sure if I've seen that scene again, I think I may have skipped it when I watched the film on DVD a few years ago.

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The light effect of the probe was created by a big wheeled cylinder of bright light, I think from a Xenon, pushed around by a grip. After it was shot, they fired Robert Abel, the efx supervisor, and then they weren't sure how Abel had planned on removing the grip from the footage.

 

They more or less projected the footage on a screen and reflected that projected image over a piece of mylar, then pulled at the mylar to warp the image around the moving column of light, sort of sucking in the picture at the fold in the mylar. That got rid of the grip, other than an elbow that sticks out briefly if you look for it... then Robert Swarthe put an animated moire pattern in the column of light. So the sequence is somewhat soft & grainy due to be a reshot projected image that was then duped for an animation overlay.

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Gosh- That's the ultimate, isn't it? Why cannot movies look this good today?

 

Well, Tim, because we were shooting outdoors in a park and I didn't have a 10-ton lighting truck and a generator and I don't think Cat would have wanted to be that colour anyway so...

 

...I'll get my coat, eh?

 

P

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