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D.P. Journal

Choice of Formats

One of the first choices I needed to make for this production was which format we would be shooting on. It is really a fantastic time to be a DP on a low budget production as there is so many options available at lower price points. But as always, we are slaves to the specific requirements of our project - and if we disregard them we might be making a big mistake.

Film - the age old question and argument. We are making a film that we expect to be a hit so people always seem to say - shoot it on film. Film, film film. Bah - you should shoot on film if your project warrants it, if you will be using the advantages of film and if your team’s skillset matches that. Film looks beautiful - no question. It has greater latitude. 35mm allows great control over Depth of Field. But that should not preclude looking at the wide range of digital choices available to filmmakers.

The end of 2005 welcomed in a wide range of lower cost High Definition Cameras. Most of the players came to the table - Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic were the leaders pushing their technologies. The DVX100 from Panasonic has always had a great track record for independent filmmakers and many of us are comfortable with its design and features. But I just didnt think it could stand up to a 35mm film blowup. Recently, “November” starring Courtney Cox was released - it was shot on the DVX with cinematography by Nancy Schreiber. While she did a wonderful job pulling great images and style from the camera, I just felt it still looked like something in standard def pushing the limits of blowup. SD just was not an option for a project this large.

We had to satisfy these project requirements:
- VERY VERY small locations (all bathrooms) so the equipment needed to be compact
- Digital workflow - My skill set is based in the digital world so I knew I could support this end to end.
- Highly compressed timeline. We needed equipment that we could use quickly and move from shot to shot in the smallest time possible.
- Bleeding edge. There still is a stigma attached to not shooting on film. I wanted to avoid that by being on the bleeding edge so that we could generate interest from the technologies used.

So film just was not an option. The cameras are larger and heavier (for the most part). There would be a film workflow which would require us to add people with skillsets to manage the day to day operations of a film shoot. We would not be able to truly monitor the footage which would slow us down since we would need to be more precise in measuring light and angles to reduce the risk of mistakes. And film, while a beautiful medium, is not cutting edge (I guess it wouldnt need to be since film would remove the stigma altogether).

We had to also rule out the 2/3 inch HD cameras (cine-alta, Varicam etc) because of the larger footprint. Losing another 10-15 inches of space in these small locations just wasnt an option. As it was we had to make huge compromises in shootings angles to keep everything on location. I challenge you to take a look at a standard New York bathroom and imagine putting lights, cameras, sound, and then actors in it - every inch becomes as valuable as gold.

I assumed that most of the sub 10,000 dollar HD cameras would perform in the same range - one might be better in one area while another is better in a different area. Truth be told, I am a big fan of Panasonic products. In addition, the HVX200 seemed to have a winning set of features. It could record in 720P, 1080P, variable framerates and would have a similar winning image that we all loved in the DVX.

The P2 tapeless workflow also intrigued me. The thought of being able to shoot without labeling tapes and keep all of our footage on a set of hard drives was amazing. It was a perfect meld of the film process of changing magazines and the digital ability to “shoot more”. The P2 cards allowed us 10 minute “magazines” and made us think just a bit before hitting record as opposed to the limitless feeling of digital tape. Having 2 cards and a part time loader really make it a more filmlike workflow. I will get into the specifics of our workflow later.

But, the big question was, would the camera perform? And what settings would we use? Well, the only way to know for sure would be to test different settings and then transfer to 35mm film and project it on a big screen. One thing I truly believe in is testing equipment and workflow fully. So many times I have read about issues people have had with the HVX and other cameras that could have been solved ahead of time by testing and practicing a workflow. Never work out the kinks on set. So with the help of Postworks NY we performed a full filmout test. In my next post I will detail the test and the results. As you can probably guess we were very happy with the camera’s performance.

© 2006 In the Can Production LLC
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