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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Film vs Video

16mm Film
A Reel Education has been fortunate that to have shot on all formats of film and in SD and HD video.

HD Video
One thing to remember about shooting film. No matter the actual dollar amount Raw Stock is cheep. One thing some indie filmmakers do is try to cut corners on the purchase of film stock. This is a major mistake.
SD Video
Not having enough coverage because some bean counter decided that it's too expensive will destroy a good film's chances of finding distribution and thus making money. Put everything into whats on the screen. That's where it makes the most since, its what will give you the biggest payoff in the long run.

In the beginning video the quality and glossiness of the image just didn't hold the same appeal as film. It was too fake looking too perfect without that "real" quality that makes film so appealing.

HD video is not the same as SD in a lot of different ways. As a guy who worked his way up the ranks of the production business via the lighting and grip departments I think of the way that HD handles light as its biggest challenge. The approach of film and HD video are almost polar opposites. In film you can have expose for the darks and let the brights go. Or you can expose in the mid-range and have latitude but up and down the EI with bright highlights and dark shadows. In SD video everything has to be really close in exposure or you get lots of noise in the picture. With HD exposure has to be to the brightest element in the frame. Although newer technologies are changing I still find the practice to be much the same.

Lighting a TV Pilot Bumper
I think that in a few years (how long I hate to guess,) film will be reserved for only the big budget Hollywood films. We are already seeing less and less in the Indie world. The current film I'm involved with the director wanted to shoot on 16mm but the tiny budget wouldn't allow for it. In reality I haven't shot a commercial project on film in almost seven years now. Clients just don't want to spend the money.

Sony PMW-F3
Also as larger format sensors have come on line the ability to achieve short depth of field has become much easier. Sony just announced a new affordable ($16,000.00) camera to fight the HDSLR craze of 35MM sensors for video. I am waiting anxiously or the camera to come to market.

Film is still the gold standard of quality. What is it most always say when they see a video where lots of hard work has gone into the image quality. "Oh, it looks so much like...," or, "I wish it looked more like... film".

Producer's don't understand, or care, except for the bottom line, quality is secondary. In Hollywood when a project is shot on video the rate of a DP is less than with film, good for the bottom line. The original reason was that SD video didn't require the same workload as film, so the pay was less. No changes in the pay scale were made as HD came into existence, because it's still considered video and not its own new format, which it is. But the workload for a DP went up. One has to work harder to make HD video look like film than one does to make film look like film. But the producer's still want it to look like film... the gold standard... but it's only video so why should they pay a higher rate. Just a little rub of mine and many shooters in the business.

Another thing that I can say about video over film is that for years and years DP's were a requested and important production partner. They were the only ones who knew what it would look like, a video tap doesn't have the same look as the final processed film does and everyone had respect for the Director of Photography. Even with SD video there was still respect for the knowledge base of the Cinematographer. Now with HD video and the WYSIWYG of a HD monitor there is less respect, new DP's don't have the same skill level or knowledge base. Everyone including the client, producer, and director question choices made by the DP in lighting. They all think they know... better! No respect! And many cinematographers are tied to the the monitor, and have lost the skills and confidence to make decisions without it. The skill of understanding exposure and latitude is slipping away. The ability of many to use a light meter correctly is going away.

Technology is a good thing. I really like the images that some of the newer HD cameras are making. And I love the solid-state memory work-flow over both film and tape based work-flows. I really want to work with some of the new Arriflex cameras that have optical viewfinders and mechanical shutters. There is even one that all you have to do is switch out a magazine and "poof" it shoots digital or film. The footage I have seen from these cameras is so much better than the all electronic cameras that are "hot".

However, technology is also producing a generation of filmmakers who don't understand the basics of photography. Am I biased because of how I had to learn? Does it really matter if a DP understands how to really use a light meter or not?

I believe so but.... Time will tell.

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