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Daniel J Callahan

Early 80's Cinematography

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In any of the following films:

 

Day of the Dead, 1985

 

Into the Night, 1985

 

The Wraith, 1986

 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982

 

Theif, 1981

 

Innerspace, 1987

 

The 'burbs, 1989

 

Firestarter, 1984

 

Fright Night, 1985

 

Escape From New York, 1981

 

Vice Squad, 1982

 

Waxwork, 1988

 

Sixteen Candles, 1984

 

and finally

 

Alone in the Dark 1982

 

Some are late 80's i know, but i still like the look of these films.

 

 

Can anyone tell me,any of the film stocks used in any of these productions? And if so i would also like to know, if it is possible to make movies look like these films nowadays? How about with a digital camera? And if so which one?

 

If these movies were on a low buget back then, would they not be able to be made cheaper the same way today?

 

On top of that i would like to note that i am eceptionaly fond of the way night in the city is captured with these films,(Vice Squad) do cities still look like this today, or have the street lights changed?

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film stocks are only half the equation. lenses, are the other.

 

look into a program called MagicBullet for 'filmic' effects on video.

Edited by Michael Kubaszak

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Print stocks and the fact that those were all optically created films will also have had a lot to do with their looks.

All that being said, were one on film, I don't see much reason why one couldn't get close to the look out of the gate using a film like the '79 from Kodak combined with the power of the Digital Intermediate.

Now, on a fully digital system you're fighting a bit of a loosing battle as, for one, you'll be out resolving the films and that higher resolution have a distinctive look and feel which is thoroughly, in my opinion modern, and be dealing with a more limited contrast range the imagers can capture-- not as true for the current "cutting edge," cameras, such as the Alexa, F35, Epic (not yet availible) and to a lesser extent RED One MX, and as such you'll need to bring a bit more lighting equipment with you to keep things within range.

 

The cost of a film isn't really ever related to camera system, at least not in a big way, when you get to a certain level. The costs of the crew, the talent, locations, etc will all keep the prices, I would say, roughly congruent once you adjust for inflation, if any. Thats my own opinion and I have no hard facts to back it up with aside from the fact that on bigger budget projects you're really devoting a miniscule portion of the budget to stock/lenses/lights etc and much more for things such as talent, wardrobe, art direction, etc.

 

Yes streetlights have changed a bit, but how much will depend on where you are. Also cities have changed a lot in terms of their archetecture so it'll depend on which city and where-- for example Shanghai of today looks little like Shanghai of the 1980s, and the same is true for many cities, whereas other places, such as Philadelphia-- where I live-- looks about the same (minus the new Comcast Building, as I believe the Liberty Towers were up in the 80s).

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You know you certainly could, but I'd say that older lenses would be a better starting point; as a start to lower down resolution and take off that "edge."

I might shy away from filtration with filters and test out a few nets behind the lens myself.

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we may be getting off topic but,

 

why? and what are the differences in softness? Never used a net or had a DP that used 'em.

 

 

edit: and Daniel, I can't believe you've seen Waxwork! One of my all time favorite movies!

Edited by Michael Kubaszak

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The main difference is that w/o glass in front of the lens you're not going to get the same flares/halos you'd get with a typical diffusion filter. It's just a different feeling than putting a classic soft or a fog or a WBPM on front of the camera in terms of how it diffuses. It's also one of those things you just gotta test out. Others with more experience on filtration can explain better, it's just my own "gut choice," given what one's after.

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Generally you home-brew 'em, though a lot of people seem to like Fogal stockings, which you can get @ the DOP shop who is a sponsor here. I've used tons of things, gauze, nylons etc. Well worth playing 'round with if you happen to have DSLR camera behind their lens.

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we may be getting off topic but,

 

why? and what are the differences in softness? Never used a net or had a DP that used 'em.

 

 

edit: and Daniel, I can't believe you've seen Waxwork! One of my all time favorite movies!

 

Yeah, I just watched it agian this morning actually. It is also one of my favorites.

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The key developments around that time were higher-speed stock and HMI lighting. Before 1982, most movies were shot on 35mm Kodak 5247 (100 ASA) often push-processed by one-stop for night work. Then in late 1980, Fuji released a 250 ASA stock (8518) and suddenly Fuji was being used by a number of productions, notably "Star Trek 2", "Das Boot", "Room with a View", later "Legend" (though that was the next generation of the stock, 8512 I believe). Kodak came out with their own version, 5293 (not to be confused with the later EXR 200T 5293), also 250 ASA, sometime in early 1982.

 

The 1983 Oscar nominees for Best Cinematography show this development in stocks, they were:

 

E.T.

Sophie's Choice

Das Boot

Tootsie

Gandhi

 

"E.T." was all shot on 5247, "Das Boot" on the new higher-speed Fuji. "Sophie's Choice" used the new 5293 for some scenes, not sure about "Gandhi" but I believe it was all 5247. "Tootsie" used the new 5293 stock. As I said, "Star Trek 2" from 1982 also used the Fuji. "Blade Runner", a key work of 1982 that should have gotten an Oscar nom for cinematography, was shot on 5247.

 

The new high-speed stocks were on the grainy side, plus some exposure and filtering techniques still being used from the 1970's didn't work as well with the new stocks -- you can see this if you compare "The Terminator" (1984) to "Terminator 2" (1991), Adam Greenberg dropped the low-con filters he used on the first movie. With the grain and flatter contrast of the fast stocks then, you had to be careful about fog-type filters and with underexposure because it brought out the grain structure more quickly than it did with 5247.

 

HMI lighting became reliable in the 1980's and it seemed every movie, especially low-budget ones, had a lot of uncorrected HMI lighting for night exteriors, hence the extensive blue look. Plus, as noted, cities back then used more mercury vapor streetlamps (blue-green) rather than the lower-powered sodiums (yellow-orange-green) that are now more common.

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Hey thanks, I'm saving all this information in a file.

 

But I did still have one question, if i were to purchase a digital camera and lense. What would get me the closest to this look? That is what digital Camera, (cause i can't affort to buy a film camera right now) would you suggest for a modest price, would come close?

 

I was looking at the Cannon HV30 camcorder, but what do you guys think? Is that just way out of the league, or could it be alright for starting out.

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Also, Hypothetically, if i were a director. And wanted certain scenes throughout the entire film to look like ones from the movies above(even showing clips from them, to the cinematographer). How would i go about telling it to the Director of Photography or Cinematographer? That is the most respectable way to say it, so as i'm not sounding like i'm trying to tell them their business.

 

Does the Cinematographer comply with the interest of the Director, or is he himself in charge of how a scene is to be lit and seen?

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Also, Hypothetically, if i were a director. And wanted certain scenes throughout the entire film to look like ones from the movies above(even showing clips from them, to the cinematographer). How would i go about telling it to the Director of Photography or Cinematographer? That is the most respectable way to say it, so as i'm not sounding like i'm trying to tell them their business.

 

Does the Cinematographer comply with the interest of the Director, or is he himself in charge of how a scene is to be lit and seen?

 

Visual aids are a good idea, you show the DP the intent, let him figure it out lighting-wise and camera placement/movement, then discuss further on the set if necessary.

 

These are 35mm movies we are talking about, so I wouldn't get wrapped up in trying to make a 1/3" sensor camcorder match it. You'd have a better shot with a larger sensor. Grain is only something that can be added in post, though a bit of gain / noise may be enough for you. You can try using the old filters of the day, Fogs or Low-Cons.

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So would it be incorrect for me to say that i wanted a (For instance) shot of the villian's lair tilted a little to the side like the 60's Batman show, and as the Villian comes in i want a Birds eye view shot, and finish with a worm's eye view.

Edited by Daniel J Callahan

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So would it be incorrect for me to say that i wanted a (For instance) shot of the villian's lair tilted a little to the side like the 60's Batman show, and as the Villian comes in i want a Birds eye view shot, and finish with a worm's eye view.

 

Why would that be incorrect??? That's your job as a director, to direct! You just don't micromanage the other artists, you don't tell the DP what f-stop to use, you tell him how much depth of field you want, you don't tell him to use a tweenie instead of a baby, or 250 instead of 216, etc. But you can say that you want the light to be softer or harder, or that the color isn't right, whatever (within time and budget constraints).

 

But you need to discuss what the shot is, what you want, of course.

 

Now you'd have to define those terms like "bird's eye" or "worm's eye" because it's a bit vague, better just to point where you want the camera lens to be and talk about the angle of view of the shot.

 

Now the DP may have an opinion of course, may suggest things, etc.

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this is what is great about movies.. too many things are not fully under control so it will never be replicated. I say use older lenses than they used on those 82 pictures (look at Cooke SPs, Kowas or 70s Canons) Shoot on eterna 500t vivid and push it a stop for night and maybe use the 64D in day and push it a stop or the 160 vivid and push it one stop. The Ektachrome 100D pushed a stop is also a very early 80s/late 70s feel but real expensive.

but yeah the lighting is important too.

 

as for digital.. over light and over expose maybe.

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Alright, lets say I'm freash out of school. I want to put together a series of low budget films, with older looks to them(Probably one of the most important aspects for me) . Now forgeting for a moment about any other expense, actors est. How much could I expect to pay for the services of a Cinematographer to help me get this look?

Edited by Daniel J Callahan

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I've had this bookmarked for about 6 months now, mainly because of David Mullen's highly detailed post regarding specific film stocks used on various films... hopefully this thread still has some life in it ;P

 

Watching older films (particularly 70's and 80's films), I'm always fascinated by the look of the film, the way skin reads, the softness of glare, contamination of the blacks all resulting from a combination of the things mentioned in this thread. I recall reading that (maybe it was this thread, I can't remember) that film stocks were designed to make skin tones read in an ideal way - the flesh tones in films of this era sometimes seem a bit overly (technically) orange to me. With digital post being ubiquitous now, it seems its fair game to sort of do this by keying skin tones and selectively pushing them around, but obviously back in the 80s this wasn't practical and seemed to rely on a great DP who knows how to light their subjects and at the very most, some full frame color timing.

 

I'm sure its quite doable to emulate the look with a careful attention to detail in post, there are some variables I'd love to have more scientific data on. For lack of a better description, the color response curves of the particular film stocks David Mullen mentioned - does such data exist? Were these films exposed to McBeth charts (or something else?) so one can fairly accurately create a color profile that matches these stocks?

 

In the grand scheme of things none of this is extremely important as I believe artistic emulation can fill the gap in most cases, but it would be a great starting point if some of this data exists somewhere.

Edited by Jeremy Buttell

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Alright, lets say I'm freash out of school. I want to put together a series of low budget films, with older looks to them(Probably one of the most important aspects for me) . Now forgeting for a moment about any other expense, actors est. How much could I expect to pay for the services of a Cinematographer to help me get this look?

 

If you're fresh out of school I'd be experimenting a bit before settling down on some fixed project.

 

Find others, also fresh out of school, and collaborate on a project. You can put stuff together for next to nothing this way. If everyone has their own particular stake in the project, and can happily put up with each other for the duration of the production, you can all get something out of it, for next to nothing.

 

But the trick here is for everyone to not get too wrapped up in their own particular concept of what others should be doing. Collaboration means negotiation on all sorts of things including what the work is about. Identify what each of you want to get out of the project and in what way teaming up together might or might not provide for that.

 

Treat it as a learning exercise - as an extension of school. Allow yourselves room for mistakes - as many as you can imagine. You'll find learning will be the case for every project you do - that it's an ongoing process of education, whether you are paying someone, being paid, or doing it off the smell of an oily rag.

 

As for matching or simulating film stocks. I wouldn't worry too much about that sort of thing. Make a virtue of what you do have rather than what you don't. It will be a lot cheaper. If ans when you acquire the skills to match or simulate some particular film stock - then you can do a project that might exploit that. Trying to do a project ahead of certain knowledge is just a recipe for expenditure you don't need.

 

C

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Visual aids are a good idea, you show the DP the intent, let him figure it out lighting-wise and camera placement/movement, then discuss further on the set if necessary.

 

Even though I DP my own shorts, I always storyboard every shot so that everyone else I'm working with has a reference with regard to frame, mise-en-scene and overall look. It winds up being very helpful since words garner different interpretations from different people. In film, visuals are the universal language.

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Watching older films (particularly 70's and 80's films), I'm always fascinated by the look of the film, the way skin reads, the softness of glare, contamination of the blacks all resulting from a combination of the things mentioned in this thread. I recall reading that (maybe it was this thread, I can't remember) that film stocks were designed to make skin tones read in an ideal way - the flesh tones in films of this era sometimes seem a bit overly (technically) orange to me. With digital post being ubiquitous now, it seems its fair game to sort of do this by keying skin tones and selectively pushing them around, but obviously back in the 80s this wasn't practical and seemed to rely on a great DP who knows how to light their subjects and at the very most, some full frame color timing.

 

I'm sure its quite doable to emulate the look with a careful attention to detail in post, there are some variables I'd love to have more scientific data on. For lack of a better description, the color response curves of the particular film stocks David Mullen mentioned - does such data exist? Were these films exposed to McBeth charts (or something else?) so one can fairly accurately create a color profile that matches these stocks?

 

Almost every movie made shot grey scales and color charts during the camera prep, so I'm sure there are thousands of them if anyone bothered to save them, but it would be hard to dig them up. They tend to be owned by whoever bought the film and I doubt that they want to dig through a vault looking for them.

 

Warming up the image was popular back then, either with camera filters like Corals or with gels, some cinematographers like Sven Nykvist or Philippe Rousselot complained in articles back then about overly orange skin tones in other movies. The stocks were designed as best as possible for neutral skin tones so most of that warmer look was in the photography.

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Thanks for the information David, that's great to know. I'm not aiming to duplicate an 80s look completely, but I hope a deeper understanding will help me carry over the qualities I subconsciously like, but haven't been able to quantify yet. I can imagine the frustration of cinematographers back then working with film stock, as beautiful they were, with their substantial color characteristics. I doubt many were content with where the technology was then and if they had the choice, many would have probably opted for more precise lenses and photo receptors. Being alive today, I guess its nice I have the luxury to look back on those older technologies and observe them for their beautiful quirks and contribution to cinema.

 

I have a lot of respect for the amount of depth a skill-full DP brings to a film. Unfortunately I get the feeling that skill isn't always appreciated with a lot of contemporary work, instead relying on heavy post color manipulation which sometimes looks stunning, but often times just looks inappropriate and over manipulated.

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I saw a bluray of Dead Poets Society recently and it has been remastered with a 2 tone blockbuster orange / teal look that the original film definitely did not have. Kind of disappointing actually. Why would they go and mess with a perfect film just to make it look like it was shot yesterday.

 

I love the simple look of those older 80's films. I definitely don't want to see them all changed and "updated" to look like a colorist today worked on em. Cleaning and noise reduction fine. But significantly altering the look is, in my opinion unnecessary. There's a character to them that feels genuine and I hope that digital one day will reach that sort of natural organic look.

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