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Alan Kovarik

Is cinematograpfy these days too perfect?

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While it's true, Tyler, that there's a whole new level of post production dependency, I do think that there are good, relatively fast, cheap, dps. In the indie film circuit alone you see sooo many films that clearly seem low budget but with good framing, composition and shots.

 

If you had to choose between a good, cheap, relatively fast dp who would give you well composed, well lit digital images and a cheap, fast, not so great dp who just wants to get the job done and is of the "we'll just fix it in post" attitude, who would you pick? Obviously the more efficient one. This doesn't have to be a Lubezski. I honestly think a lot of the dp's work is just to make sure that the image can be the best it can be given the project constraints (and most projects that aren't of unbelievably epic proportions have them). I could be biased but to me, this seems crucial. Yes, your argument about post production being able to do wonders in today's age is valid to a large extent but I personally feel anyone who's doing their job well won't pass the buck on to the next person in line.

 

I have seen footage of another dp's go from flourescent yellow because of bad white balancing to regular skin tones in post. If you're of the argument that time is money, what then saves more time? Taking a few minutes to make sure you've got your white balance right? Or correcting each shot in the grading suite? And the argument that it's a given that a dp should know how to white balance isn't solid simply because there do exist those who don't.

 

And honestly a badly composed shot can have very little done to help it in post. Yes, I'm sure anyone can pick up a camera today and shoot a film. But there is something that differentiates visuals that evoke a certain emotion from visuals that just don't do anything for a story. And that, in my experience, comes mainly from the collaborative effort of the director/dp. I cannot even begin to think of a film working without a competent director. Frankly, you are only letting a story down by not caring enough about the visuals on set.

 

My main point is still why would you not want competent crew members in every department? Especially when there are so many aspiring, talented cinematographers out there right now. It's not like there's a lack of them so why even think about hiring a below average dp? Just like you would want the best you can afford in every other department as well. And like David Mullen said, this argument could be made by singling out any other department in a film as well.

 

I could even argue that some films can be made with absolutely no fixed story in mind beforehand and actually brought together by the director at the edit table. My argument would be stupid but I could argue that.

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I could even argue that some films can be made with absolutely no fixed story in mind beforehand and actually brought together by the director at the edit table. My argument would be stupid but I could argue that.

 

For example, taking something like the documentary Leviathan into consideration, could it be said that most of the footage you see is directorial and/or cinematographic? Or would you say it's based on a solid storyline?

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1 Yes Ive seen the video.. and have emailed with John Seale directly about the production.. it was his first digital shoot and a learning curve.. but lighting was not dictated by post..

 

2 You dont answer the question.. 1 light rushes look like crap before post too.. whats your point

 

3 Well Im very sure Ive been alot closer alot more times than you have to be honest.. I worked as a loader for any years on features and commercials and assisted Barry Ackroyd for 6 years .. my union app in the UK was signed by Barry Ackroyd .. Chris Menges.. Walter Lassally.. and Peter Suschitzky.. dont want to boast, but that road will only get you into a deeply embarrassing position..

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Well I haven't seen anything from a digital camera of any kind that doesn't need re-working to make look "acceptable".

I feel like we've been here before, but maybe your definition of acceptable is so narrow as to be virtually unachievable. There are many, many movies made each year where post production color is nothing more complicated than a 709 LUT and some tweaks for shot to shot consistency. Do all these movies look terrible?

 

It seems like you are so determined to find fault with digital imaging, and so convinced of the necessity of complicated post, that you are blind to the fact that there are plenty of DPs creating quality images without an army of post production workers behind them.

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I feel like we've been here before, but maybe your definition of acceptable is so narrow as to be virtually unachievable.

Says you... "acceptable" is easy. It just requires a bit of work. One of the two movies I'm currently doing post on, has "acceptable" exposure and it won't be difficult to color when I'm done cutting. The other one is a mess, absolute train wreck with a cinematographer who told me on set to "fix it in post". Mind you, a working cinematographer that has shot hundreds of commercials and many features. I was the DP on that show for 2 days AFTER the first DP left and my stuff came out great. It's not that difficult, it just requires more then 10 minutes to setup decent lighting that compensates for issues. I always pretend I'm shooting film and I could care less what the "monitor" looks like.

 

There are many, many movies made each year where post production color is nothing more complicated than a 709 LUT

With digital? I've never seen that, or done that. Generally with digital the first step is to apply a LUT, usually a custom one that was created on set (if it was given to you). The second step is to balance the image and the third step is to create a look. The "look" portion of the process includes all the tricky matte work which takes up all the time. I always do cleanup work like that, even on my simple shows. There is always an actors face which is a bit too dark. There is always a background which is too bright that needs to be brought down, but the actors need to stay the same. There is always some object in a shot that needs to be removed or blurred. A typical shot in any show I work on, will have upwards of 3 - 5 power windows. These are the basic things that every show does in post. Not a single digitally shot movie you've seen in the theater, has a REC709 applied as their only correction. Sure, television is a different can of worms because they don't have the schedule allotment. I've worked on several TV shows in post and most of the time, we just color in Avid Symphony, which is probably the worst color tool ever. I did a pilot not long ago where we had two weeks to cut, color and do audio mix. I had to do everything in Avid... so in that case, yes I would literally apply a blanket color and do a single balance pass and that would be the extent of it.

 

It seems like you are so determined to find fault with digital imaging, and so convinced of the necessity of complicated post, that you are blind to the fact that there are plenty of DPs creating quality images without an army of post production workers behind them.

Cinematographers rarely know the guy sitting in the editing or coloring chair. MOST shows are posted without ANY cinematographer engagement. Heck, even the TV work I've done, where the DP is still a paid member of the crew during post, they just watch it before release and if they see anything wrong, they'll comment. Most of the time they're too busy shooting to take the time and that's how it is in the indy feature world as well. All of the shows I've worked on, we've had almost no engagement outside of an online screener and maybe a few notes in an e-mail. Yes it's true on bigger shows, especially theatrical, the cinematographer has a lot of input, but it's budget depending. The colorist will generally do almost all the work up front and the cinematographer will be brought in after it already looks good. They never see what the show looks like prior to the colorist spending quite a bit of time cleaning it up first. Point being, most DP's DON'T know how much post goes into their work. People like myself, who shoot, edit and color their own work, we're absolutely a myopic part of the sector because we know exactly what we need the file to look like and how to massage the image in post. Also, I've seen camera houses program LUT's into the camera that we never see in post. Most of the time post is blind to the look they created on set, of course unless it's baked in. Once you have 'monitoring' on set, you tend to gauge your imagery from the monitors. So if the monitors are not relaying what the image actually looks like in the coloring suite, that look is worthless to you.

 

I firmly believe DIT's and color calibrated monitors on set are the cause of the problems, not "digital" technology. Because we have these tools, it's made working with digital a lot harder because cinematographers think they can get a lot more out of the image in post because someone in the past has. I wish the set monitors were black and white and I wish there was no such thing as a DIT. The "loader" should be the person downloading the files and the cinematographer should focus on making the image look good without the support of color calibrated/accurate monitors. On bigger shows where the LUT's are custom made and handed off to post production, it's a blessing. But most of the time, those LUT's don't exist outside of the monitor and most DIT's will program dozens of LUT's into the monitors and never write down what look was used on what shot. So they become entirely worthless pieces of pre-vis, that the cinematographer somehow expects will be applied to each shot properly. This leads to unsatisfactory work in post, especially on smaller shows where they can't afford to bring in the cinematographer for a week to help with the coloring.

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Says you... "acceptable" is easy. It just requires a bit of work.

Yet apparently you've never seen it from 'a digital camera of any kind'. All of the problems you've mentioned are a result of poor work by a DP, and have nothing to do with the camera system.

 

Just because you have had to deal with poorly executed work does not mean that there is some inherent deficiency in digital cameras. Maybe you've been unlucky, but I know for a fact that a great many DPs, myself included, take pride in the fact that our dailies are as close as possible to the desired end result.

 

the cinematographer should focus on making the image look good without the support of color calibrated/accurate monitors

 

That's a ridiculous statement. Are you seriously suggesting that being able to see exactly how an image looks on set is somehow a bad thing?

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In my experience, all artists are on the same side. They're just using different brands of director viewfinder :)

 

 

Optical or digital though.. :)

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