Archive for the ‘Production’ Category

DSLR and Low Light

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Not so long ago I was the acting soundman on the production of a short. What was particularily interesting to me was that this “film” was being shot on a DSLR camera. That’s D like Digital and SLR like Single Lens Reflex. Even though DSLR cameras - as far as I can tell - have no need for a reflex device, the name remains.

I know, I’m a little late to the party on posting about the wonders of DSLR video innovations but I hadn’t actually seen the short film until recently. Two years ago, this kind of “filmic” video quality was not widely available. Now it’s the consumer norm for parents-to-be looking to upgrade from their old point-and-shoot digital which has suddenly been rendered unworthy to photograph their impending offspring. The quality is actually pretty damn awesome.

I would encourage everybody getting geared up to shoot their next no-budget indie, not to buy one. “Not” because surely, 18 months from now, an even better technology will be built into wristwatches or something and we’ll all want to shoot our next short on that.

What’s particularly remarkable about the DSLR technology is the response to low-light levels. Now, I’m not terribly well versed in anything photographic since 35mm film but it’s always surprised me how crappy video is in low light. You’d think, I don’t know, my digital camera could print to the flash card what I see on the LCD viewfinder instead of stopping it down by five points… But I digress. I guess camera manufacturers wanted to preserve the authenticity of traditional photography by including those most irritating aspects of film technology such as crappy low light response. Regardless, it doesn’t matter any more, because finally these DSLR badboys are finding the light in those dark places. This short I was working on was lit with nothing but a flashlight and my radiant smile.

What was my point with all this? Oh, right. I’ve got some nighttime shots to coordinate for an upcoming project and I was thinking about low-light. Being that we’re not all expectant parents looking to upgrade our point-and-shoot digitals for the latest space technology optics, I’ve been thinking about shooting day for night. Never done that before. I usually hate it when I can spot it in a film but who knows how many times I haven’t spotted it, so yeah, I’ll be sure to report back.

This has been a pretty slipshod post. Sorry about that. It’s a long weekend. Which means substantially less when you don’t actually have a 9 to 5, but oddly enough, it seems to affect my brain in the same way.

Conclusion, if you’re looking at cameras, look at the new DLSRs. If you’re stuck with an aging two year old buick, maybe day for night will work better?

The Way It Was Meant To Be

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The other day I was listening to some podcast jibjab about Oscar best picture winner The Hurt Locker and its current re-release woes. As has been trendy in recent years, big Oscar winners often get a second theatrical life. It seems however that major US exhibitors are reticent to give Kathryn Bigelow’s flick another shot at the big screen as it has already been released on DVD.

But this isn’t an essay on the closing release window gap that’s going to spell the inevitable destruction of the old way of doing things. *Sob*. Boring. What made my ears perk up during this discourse was when one commentator lamented that it was a shame that without a re-release few people will ever have seen Bigelow’s film on a big screen; “the way it was meant to be seen.”

This was interesting to me because with the cinemascape changing so much lately I wonder how many filmmakers still actually envision their movie on a big screen.

I used to design websites and one thing I learned very early on in this type of media design is that you can’t control everything. You do your best to cover all platforms, browsers, plug-ins, etc but when it comes down to it, your immaculate design doesn’t stand a chance against a computer user with his own control over his screen colour calibration, resolution and aspect ratio. So you do your best to control what you can and learn to accept what you can’t.

When I produce something I do think about the final destination. An obvious example would be where titling comes into play. A small font size on a big screen looks great - not so much when it is downgraded to a smudge on the web version. But titling can be altered for varied exports in post. Shot footage, less so. The notion of a close up or an extreme wide is going to change drastically depending on whether you’re shooting for a theater display or a cell phone. So, like, website design you sort of have to control what you can and accept that your brilliant cinematography and sound mix may not translate too well to, say, the LCD display and previously-loved headsets of an in-flight movie.

I’m not advocating mediocrity or settling for less than what your project deserves. I’m just thinking about the fact that the more the technologies advance - the more multifarious the media become - the more finesse it is going to take to bring out the best in your project wherever and however it is seen.

So will most people lamentably not see The Hurt Locker the way it was intended? That depends on what Kathryn Bigelow intended, I guess.

Don’t Forget The Sound, man

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Continuing in my do anything once for free just for the experience manifesto I took the opportunity to play soundman on a small but ambitious production this past week.

The soundman’s job, like many positions on a film crew, is a pretty unsung responsibility. Sound really is fifty percent of your film and bad sound will pull an audience right out of the moment faster than anything on the screen. Yet the director of photography’s title still seems to come with a little more prestige than that of the soundman.

So I donned my headphones and hoisted my boom pole and did my thing. The experience was a great one. My back is still a little sore and my sleep schedule will be screwed for another few days but that’s par for the course. What was really great was not being the guy in charge. I felt like I was on vacation. Or at least, maybe, visiting a dominatrix of some kind.

Just thinking about a shooting location in strictly sonic terms was a great eye-opener. Being in the vicinity of an airport is a fairly obvious no-no but scouting locations previously I wouldn’t have immediately thought about the perils of situating your set near an open intersection. On straight bits of road cars roll at an even clip but at intersections you have to consider the volume of accelerating engines. Also, if you’re in a low-income housing area you may want to consider that a lot of those cars may have noisier mufflers than elsewhere. The neighbourhood garbage pickup rotation is also something that’s worth factoring in to your schedule.

This of course assumes that you have a pick of several locations. And anybody who’s ever tried to put together a small but ambitious shoot will tell you that this is a pretty rare luxury. But anything I can do to help out my soundman will be on my mind the next time I go into a production.