Nostalgic Shooting and Martin Scorsese

Now that we have digital cameras producing amazing quality, people are often digitally converting them into polaroid style, old-film-look, toy camera, cross processed*.

Now that we have rich, deep blacks on television sets, people are shortening the dynamic range and effectively lightening the shadows.

These may be “fad” styles and techniques, but they are ubiquitous at the moment. It might be down to nostalgia and romantacising styles from different eras but it isn’t confined to teens on their iPhones.

In The Aviator, Martin Scorsese decided to shoot the film digitally then grade half of it to look like two-strip technicolor and the other half in three-strip. Despite my reservations of the saturation of the media with this stylistic choice, Scorsese gets away with it because a) it is a narrative-led choice and b) he has a vast knowledge of cinema and the colour processes used, when and by who. Most people can cover the how, but Scorsese can cover the why.

There were different processes around back then,” Scorsese says. “Each process was different, and therefore, each film was different. That period of filmmaking and film viewing was formative for me, in a very primal way, and those images remain imprinted in my mind.

Read more about Scorsese’s homage to early colour processes.

Also: read about colour and digital production during The Departed.

These might be a bit technical and another league from what some of us are shooting, but it serves as good inspiration in areas that may affect us and we can also apply some of the theory to our own decisions. These are Scorsese’s first two features he shot digitally and he speaks openly and honestly about the switch.

*I’d like to point out that I have been known to use these “fad” styles, from time to time..

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Increasing Dynamic Range on 5DMKii / 7D

Depending on the project, I still like to bring out my 5DMKii once in a while, especially if there is little use for dialogue. I’ve come to modifying the look and colour of projects in After Effects and relevant plug-ins and have learned that, to get the most from the camera, you need to shoot ‘flat’.

The camera is designed to shoot nice footage out of the box, as opposed to the grey flatness required, and, as such, loses picture detail due to its smaller dynamic range. Luckily, some nice people have already made picture profiles that you can download and Luka has created a video going through the relatively simple procedure, step-by-step:

Visit the video’s page for associated download links.

I’m not too sure about some of his colour grading choices (although I do like one against a leafy wall), but that’s down to you in post.

Also, you will see a Marvels Cine picture style if you download the picture styles pack. A new version has recently been released and will be the one I am working with next. Click for information and download of Marvel Cine Picture Style 3.X.

Alternatives to SxS in Sony EX1 and EX3

It’s well known how expensive SxS cards are for the EX series of video cameras and filmmakers quickly found ways to get cheaper storage. The most widely accepted way to do this was to get an expresscard adapter, such as the MxM adapter, and use SDHC cards. This is what I have in my EX3: the SxS card that came with the camera and 2x MxM adapters, with one 16gb SDHC and one 32gb SDHC. Those are the dedicated cards, but as we have several SDHC cards, we can just swap them out of the adapters where needed.

But now you can also get adapters where, instead of having an SDHC slot, you have a USB 2.0 port. This means you can plug in external hard drives or flash drives and store increasing amounts of media. These cards are similarly priced, see this MxM USB 2.0 adapter, but now cards are being made available at much more reasonable prices. Take, for instance ,this USB 2.0 expresscard for £5.03.

See the video below for this set-up in action (it’s not in English, but you get the picture):

He also has a video for an 8gb Sandisk Cruzer flash drive.

Matte Paintings as a Solution to 5D MKii (and other DSLR) Moire Issues

This isn’t going to work on every occasion and will require more time and precision during the shoot and in post, but it is really quite impressive and opens up further possibilities with shooting on DSLRs.

In this video, Robino Films use still images to create matte paintings and effectively relight parts of the scene as they see fit. At the end there are further examples where elements are changed to their needs and there is no reason why this technique cannot be used to combat moire issues on things that new moire filters and plug-ins are not good for, like brick walls and roofs (as long as subjects don’t cross the area in question).

And a couple of free anti-moire filters for Final Cut Pro:

DSLR anti-moire filter for FCP

Moire filter plug-in

I’ve downloaded these but have not had a chance to use them (fortunately I’ve not encountered moire issues very much, although I have been shooting on other cameras recently).

Safe Editing Practices

One major trap of video production happens near the end. After all the planning of a project, shooting it superbly, capturing perfect audio and editing it into something special, it is all too easy to forget about some of the little things – which seem inconsequential, but can devalue a project. They are the things that other people might notice right away or maybe just you notice and once you do, it’s all that you can see.

A few of the important considerations are covered in this very helpful and clear guide: How to keep your job as an editor by Jon Chappell. He covers broadcast-safe images with luma levels, broadcast-safe audio with peaks marking and field dominance with field shifting. I, for one, have encountered all of the issues/mistakes covered in this guide.

I’m currently looking at making a quick guide to create mobile phone-style video, to be composited into a video for a “contemporary” effect. I am facing the challenge of devising different and new styles for many of the videos I make, which suits me as it keeps me on my toes and allows me to learn and use different techniques in post. Hopefully the guide will be available within the next week.

Vimeo now available as an iPhone app

The “filmmaker’s YouTube” finally gets its own iPhone app. You find a higher quality of work over on Vimeo, but it still pays off to use both sites, depending on the project and client, of course.

I hope the site doesn’t get flooded with iPhone videos though (I don’t think it will, those will probably go on Facebook).

The RED ONE and The Cinematography of Winter’s Bones

If I was shooting a drama feature, a television pilot or really anything I could take my time over (soon enough), I would love to have a RED ONE. I was looking at the trailer for the upcoming film Source Code and found myself wondering what it was shot on. Turns out that they shot mainly on 35mm, with one segment using the RED – a technique that we are seeing a lot of now (this was also the case for Black Swan, albeit 16mm and Canon 5DMKiis and 7Ds). The director of Source Code, Duncan Jones, says in an interview that it was down to him seeing David Fincher’s test of Leonardo DiCaprio lit with a single match:

And Winter’s Bone: this is one that I kept hearing about but never managed to catch until the DVD release. Shot on a Red camera, with a partially inexperienced cast, this film is different and refreshing.

Here we have an interview with Michael McDonough, the cinematographer of Winter’s Bone, discussing the film.

The main benefits of the new large-sensor cameras, for me anyway, is the shallow depth of field, the ability to shoot amazing footage at low light levels and the price tag. That, along with the top-end systems available to consumers, levels the playing field and democratises filmmaking – but the content will always be king and hopefully it will result in a better range of entertainment.

UPDATE: More videos of remarkable things being done on RED cameras.

Adidas All In – Advertising Video

Sometimes ads are closer to what we, as video producers, create, than feature films. It’s nice to look at the full spectrum of media for inspiration but finding the top-level of material in our area can sometimes allow us to directly apply techniques and ideas.

Adidas have just launched their biggest campaign to date, it’s called All In and focuses on sport and music in this fast-paced 2-minute ad.

More information available at Design Taxi.

Free DSLR and Adobe CS eBook

Having shot a few productions on loaned equipment, I am excitedly awaiting the delivery of our own kit today. Deadlines and another short shoot this afternoon prevent me spending too long pretending it’s Christmas morning.

In the meantime, Richard Harrington has written afree eBook, which is available from a link on his blog. It covers some of the tools you can use in the Adobe Suite, which I am using more and more of – and considering trying out Premiere Pro to edit an upcoming production, when I have time to sink my teeth in to it.