Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Frayed in Traverse City and Sutton's Bay, MI

It was a fine late summer day in Dhaka. Sara Baumann decided she was going back home for Thanksgiving. I decided I was going to buy a RED when I was gong back to LA during that same time. As most film ideas happen, the director just had a random thought: "Why don't we shoot a short film in Traverse City?".
"Sure", I said, thinking it was just her wanting to shoot like a music video or like a touristy thing.
What transpired shortly after was a 20 page short film, which was originally going to be shot on my new RED Epic. Thus "The Frayed Ends" was born.

Everything fell apart shortly after. No real producers and finally no real RED, cause the buyer of my old camera backed out at the last possible minute. Yeah, life sucked back then.
We finally decided to shoot with DSLRs and try our best to come up with something that would show the awesomeness that is Traverse City.
After the entire Yogi show in LA, I was mentally and physically exhausted, knowing fully that I had more late nights ahead, shooting this short film. I flew up to Michigan. What happened after was truly one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.

The entire community of Suttons Bay/Traverse City sort of rallied around one of their own, Sara Baumann, to get this project rolled out. A big shout-out goes to Mr Scott Tompkins, a school teacher who teaches media/TV production to high school kids. He got a group of kids together, who were all crying out for some practical experiences in the field. They all shared a common thing: a love for making films. These kids were awesome. They weren't payed anything. They didn't have any proper experience. They worked their asses off. They never threw hissy fits. They never even thought twice about anything that was told to them. Dhaka, Hollywood are you reading??

Everyone in TC/SB welcomed the film. We shot in the winery and the owner gave us access to everything, even his 1970s Ford Truck. We shot in a Lighthouse and the caretakers let us do whatever we wanted. THIS NEVER HAPPENS!! Usually its people being "okay" with shooting and then once the shoot is done, you're greeted with frowns and pissed off peeps looking to score money. Like I said....amazing.
Another awesome experience was getting to meet the Baumanns. Mr Warren Baumann aka "The Mayor" makes the best food, ever. Sorry mom, he wins that battle. I usually don't eat when it comes to shooting, apart from the usual caffeinated beverages, but holy cow was his food amazing. At one point I ate a quarter of a big aluminum pan of chicken pot pie and then licked it too.....spotless.
Ms Baumann and I drove up and down Michigan as well, going to Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids for casting and of course hitting up Zingerman's Deli while I was there. So I think I got more Michigan than I hoped for.

Sidetracking before the filming itself, while we were location scouting, Sara's sis in law, Jetty Rae (aka Britney Stewart) decided she wanted us to film a cover of Pumped Up Kicks. Her husband Jason, a really cool guy, came up with the concept of a sped of slow motion of the video, ala Coldplay's Yellow. One shot, one scene. The video was done in 3 hours....thats shooting, editing and color grading. Here's a look:

The shooting itself was good. I had recently purchased a Steadicam Merlin. Its a thing of beauty. Awesome shots, everytime, well most of the time. I brought my Zeiss primes as well and put them on the 7D. Brilliant images. I'm gonna start not recommending Canon glass to people, as the Zeiss glass is so much more cinematic, better contrast, better sharpness. But then again, they are about 5000 dollars more. Some of the shots don't even look as if they were shot with a DSLR, might I dare say, CineAlta-ish.

We shot for 5 days straight. The weather was ridonculous. I shot a segment among sleet that hit me square on the face. Oh yeah, that was with a steadicam too. Next time, I'm getting an operator while I'm cozying up with the rest of the crew. Yeah, like thats gonna happen. I only had one light kit. 4 Lowe Totes and 2 small fresnels. The dolly was made by the Mayor, but it worked fine. No jibs. But its when you have absolutely nothing, that the best stuff comes out from you. This being a prime example. My camera crew were awesome. Micah, Jeff and Curtis. They were carved of wood once they passed MK's school of hard knock DP-ing and they never bitched about it either. The art dept. was kick ass, the costume designer was straight (yeah, you heard me) and the make up was freakin awesome. All for free, unless you count smiles, hugs and Mr Baumann's cooking, which is payment enough in my book.

All in all, a great shoot with great people in a great place. I wish most of the "film communities" I've been in are more like Sutton's Bay/Traverse City. It would make my life much easier. With guys like Mr Tompkins and all those involved helping the young kids out there, I'm sure its gonna go places. Maybe I can even help setup (shameless plugin from the movie) the Jericho Swanson School for Kids Who Wanna Make Good Films and Do Other Cinematic Things Also. Food for thought. Oh and if anyone from Sutton's Bay is actually reading guys need more coffee shops (aka Starbucks) to get us film folk out there.

Here are some snaps:

The Merlin kickin ass

 Its cold, see how everyone leaves the DP to freeze
 Marisa, my beautiful
 Cam crew....FIGHT ON!

Wrap! The Director is happy she doesn't have to argue with me about epic wides

 Grilling the kids
 Yeah, I'm Steadicam approved
When it came to cutting people, it was my job.....thanks Sara


So I finally boarded a plane and left Dhaka, from what seems ages ago to visit LA after almost forever. I was looking for some RnR, some good food and finally some surf. I was greeted by an (almost) wired Lance Hobbie. After the initial chit chat, I found out that Lancelot was shooting a reality TV show about yoga divas living in Venice Beach (aka yoga world central).

Since Lance was so jazzed about the show and it really seemed like an awesome concept, I volunteered myself to shoot part of the remaining stuff and "oversee" the editing part. If I had only knew......

Official quote: Yogis are craaaaazzzzyyy.

I'd heard some of the most ridiculous things ever while I was shooting. Most of them made it to the "sizzle" reel. When I first heard "sizzle" reel, I thought it was a porno thing, but later found out it was only an extended promo, supposed to "sizzle" the viewer to watch some more, or some shit like that. So LA.

Little did I know that I was going to have to give up almost everything I had come to LA for. Late nights, loads of caffeine (no nicotine though, which I started again btw, due to a moment of sheer stupidity and anger, only to regret quitting it in the first place) and finally hours upon hours of looking through crappy footage taken by the DP used before me and arguing with Lance over what needs to go where. The final result, with some help from the awesome Shane, turned out to be actually something a lot of people in Hollywood are "sizzled" with.

I got to meet Rainbeau Mars, a former Adidas yoga model and a larger than life character. Rainbeau is quite simply.....awesome. She said I had the light of Budda in my eye, which I think is a good thing. She also loved my shots, which is always a good thing. Also got the opportunity to show the stuff to Lon Rosen, who is the VP of Magic Johnson Enterprises and the manager of Alex Rodriguez, amongst others. What a man...(oh yeah he loved it too)

Overall, this being my first stint into reality TV land, I was really happy for Lance, who finally had a great thing going. With peeps like Rainbeau and Lon backing up the show, watch for it when it gets picked up soon.

Here's a rough demo of the "sizzle" reel:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seaplanes, speedboats, soccer, chinese food, earthquakes and malnutrition'd children (and director)

While the Red One MX/Epic/Alexa/F3 battles in my head were finally put to rest, thanks to some input from Ms Sara Liza Baumann, she did convince me to help her go shoot part of her Save the Children documentary in Barisal, a small town south of the capital.

I have never been there before, so I really I had no idea what was in store for me. Firstly, I was thrilled to get on a seaplane again, since Barisal only has an abandoned airport and amphibious air transport is currently the safest option to get there. Its been ages since I got on a Cessna airplane (as my faded PPL would indicate). But within 20 mins after taking off in Dhaka, Capt. Emille got us down on Barisal waters. Then came the speedboat that picked us up from the plane. Now these aren't the Scarabs you LA peeps see up by Santa Monica pier either. Think of them as Kawasaki superbike engines put on rickety ass (locally built) mini SUVs, i.e they pack a punch but are unstable as hell.

We got to the jetty, met the Save the Children peeps and were down in the mud and rain shooting within an hour. This was Ms Baumann's new 5D Mk II's first gig. She decided to name him Max. Along with Marisa (my 7D) we began shooting the doc. The 5D was pretty much the A Cam used for the interviews armed with a Rode VideoMic, on a tripod and the 7D was handheld, shouldermounted by yours truly as the B cam. I came up with a way of making my own steadicam, handheld and shouldermount all-in-one system using a Noga Israeli Arm and a RedRock shouldermount. Change the arm settings to 90 degrees vertical and you have a steadicam with the shoulderpad acting as a balance for the 7D, or the 180 degree horizontal and you have a shoulder mount and finally a V shaped arm making a chest support that helps in unwanted shakes when taking handheld shots. Yeah, ingenious....I know.

We sometimes shot in the pouring rain and sometimes in extreme heat and humid conditions. Max and Marisa never dropped a beat or frame for that matter. These DSLRs are beasts. Good job Canon. Also, Baumann only had one spare battery and I had none. Only 3 16GB CF Cards were used. We shot for 3 days and ended up with about 200GB worth of data getting every shot that was needed and sometimes even more. Shooting conditions weren't ideal. Lots of mud making movement kinda hard. The indoors were dark, since these houses can only have one 50-100W bulb on at any given time. Having a blonde director made the locals flock over and ruin almost all my steadicam shots. At one time I even had to get on the hood of a moving minivan since we didn't have a dolly. Improvise, implement and execute.

Then there were the other stuff. You see these UNICEF ads on TV all the time. They show these little kids, suffering from diseases and malnutrition. You feel for them and then move on and do your daily thing. Maybe sometimes you even donate. But when you're 3 feet away from a near dead baby and visibly feel the situation, boy is it different. I try to keep this blog about film related posts (most of the time) but to all those who are reading this, please donate whatever you can to your nearest health organization. I personally guarantee you that: a) it'll be put to great use b) these people really need it and c) you owe it to the world you live in d) I promise to dance in your wedding (which, if you know me, is not an easy thing to get me to do)

There were some other stuff that happened too. We found a great Chinese restaurant and the waiter was awesome and even served us beer, risking his job (cause local restaurants can't serve alcohol without a license). There was a minor earthquake that freaked out my director. The director herself became anaemic and had me freaked out, so I had to force her to take iron pills (thanks Pops). We took an evening walk through a village neighborhood and the local kids forced me to play soccer with em after I dazzled them with some Ronaldo-like moves on the street. They might have not gotten the chance to see Messi, but they sure got to see some MK. Btw, the tea in Barisal sucks.

All in all, another shoot done. I was really happy with the results, depressed with the many problems infants face in these remote areas, glad for organizations like Save the Children caring for these kids and with so much time without any internet, without my favorite TV channels on TV and a semi-lonely hotel room, got some insights on the foreseeable future. And thanks to my mom for suggesting a name for the new camera I plan to buy. What is it you ask? Thats a another post for another day.......

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New camera woes.....even before I get one

Hello, my name is Mehran and I'm a cameraholic.

Its been a week. A week since I've last slept properly and yes, I'm on vacation. Given my line of work RnR is something that I really look forward to. More than 4 hours of sleep is a luxury I can only afford when I'm on vacation. I just quit nicotine too, so that doesn't help. Why do I keep tossing and turning in my sleep? Its easy.....a new camera system I'm about to purchase.

I've lived on one general principal so far: don't worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow takes care of itself. It has gotten me through relationship issues, exams, numerous "life changing" injuries and any other thing that has been thrown at me. My "code" made me snore off any such challenges. Sleep it off and start again tomorrow and carpe diem baby. Now I can't even do that.

The good thing is, if you're a digital filmmaker, life cannot be any better. RED has the EPIC and the RED ONE MX, ARRI has the ALEXA, Sony just came up with the F3 and the list goes on. Remember the days you were just happy shooting an HVX? Seems so long ago. Now your camera is a joke unless it has 13 stops of Dynamic Range, 2K-4K-5K, 100+fps.....the list goes on. The bad thing is, when you have about a $100K saved up and all the above are options, which one do you get?

Two years ago when I bought "Nicole", my CineAlta, the choice was kinda obvious. The EX-1R with an external recorder, Zeiss lenses and a RedRock Micro lens converter. It wasn't crazy expensive and it got the job done, done extremely well. Unlike the RED that was available at the time, it didn't shut down when it overheated in the crazy weather in Bangladesh, or produce "plastic-y" images. It gave a more organic look than the Panasonics and it carried the "CineAlta" name (read my earlier post about the intro of "Nicole" into the Bangladeshi industry against 35mm).

Now, two years later, "Nicole" is on the verge of being sold, just awaiting on her payment. Once she gets adopted, her new owner will be on his way to renting her out and making bank. While her old owner will have about a month to decide on his next camera that is going to debut in a short being shot in Traverse City, Michigan before coming back with me and residing as the new digital powerhouse in Bangladesh.

But I digress. The reason I'm writing this blog is because of the anxiousness of the question I'm facing everyday.....what the hell do I buy??? My choice has narrowed down to one of these 4 cameras.
The RED EPIC, the RED ONE MX, the ARRI ALEXA and the Sony F3 with S-Log/444 enabled.

As a Fincher fan, you'd probably think I was swaying RED all the way. I kinda am. I saw the Social Network (shot on the MX) on the big screen, it looked awesome. I just saw The Winter's Bone and Beginners (thanks Rikhia!!) on DVD, both shot on MX and both looked awesome. Its the closest to 35mm I'd seen in quite some time. Truly, RED finally put a camera out there that I didn't laugh at (not a good thing btw) when I saw the images. So its easy to say that the RED ONE MX is really high on my list. Then RED drops a bombshell by coming up with the new EPIC. It has the same sensor as the MX but, it produces a cleaner image with less noise, Dynamic Range increased by a stop and of course 5K instead of the MX's 4.5K. Plus it can go to 300fps, is only 5lbs, about the size of a DSLR, doesn't chew up the battery like the MX and loads up in 10 seconds, whereas the MX loads up in nearly 2mins. Even Fincher is shooting with em. He's got 5 and along with the MX, he's finished up Dragon Tattoo. So I scratch my plan for the MX and now I'm thinking EPIC. But wait.....further reading.....the EPIC has its own problems. Firstly, it has no playback. Right, no playback, on camera. So to view your last take, you gotta get some external recorder, just for freakin playback. They say that they are working on it and "its right around the corner" and "no hardware will be required", but RED's motto has been "everything we say can change, anytime". So that scares me. Then I think about the first generation of Red Ones (non MXs). They used to have so many problems until RED finally addressed them and finally after 2 years came up with the MX, which truly had better images. Is this gonna happen again with the EPIC? Initial reports say no. The RED ONE MX has made movies (that I love and adore) but the EPIC is currently making movies (Spiderman, Hobbit) that I haven't seen. The EPIC is new. Bugs will appear as it does with anything new. The MX however is tried and tested. As far as image goes, the only thing I can go by are indie shorts on Vimeo that look marginally better than the MX, so not really worth about double the price tag. I'm thinking MX again.

Then there is the ARRI ALEXA. The camera 35mm enthusiast and Coen Bros. DP Roger Deakins swears by as the celluloid killer. For $80K+ it better kill something, apart from your mortgages. But price isn't the only issue here. In a world where RED is throwing K's at you like Roy Halladay in October (sorry non baseball fans), the Alexa is still 1080p. Good enough for my world but down the line when I'm making (God willing) a movie to put up on a theater? Of course you may argue many 1080p movies have been on cinemas so far (Avatar, nuff said). However, I read more again and find out that for the best possible results, the ALEXA needs to record ARRIRAW on an external recorder, which costs $50K itself. Ouch. This doesn't affect the Dynamic Range of this baby, which btw is ridonculous (its 14 stops, no wonder Mr Deakins loves it so much), but it records (compressed) Pro Res (444 or 422) onto SxS cards. But raw images are so much fun to work with, fun enough for an extra $50K, don't think so. You do get the ARRI name with it though. In this country thats worth its weight in gold (which is kinda high now, as my mom keeps reminding us). In Bangladesh, the name ARRI produces what I like to call, a filmmaker's boner.

Last, but not least, there is the lil beast from Sony called the F3. Continuing the love I have for the CineAlta series, this baby caught my eye. The "big-daddy" F35 is still one of my favorite cameras. The F3 with the new upgrade that enables S-Log and the 444 output puts it right up there with the F35. At about 1/4th the price. Which means more new furniture for my soon-to-be apartment and possibly more money in my Audi/Porsche fund. The F3 is being hailed by many as the baby ALEXA. It has more Dynamic Range than the EPIC (without the HDRx, which is another story, but from what I've seen HDRx on the EPIC is something I'd stay away from as it makes the final image look kinda bad) and second only to the ALEXA. The F3 is actually more low light sensitive than the ALEXA. I'll need to get an external recorder though, but Convergent Design has the Gemini 444 coming out (interesting story, I got a text from a local camera rental company in Dhaka saying that they already have one, which is weird since the thing is not even out yet....hmmmm.....) which will record uncompressed S-Log/444 from the F3 onto SSDs. All Sonys come with one thing for sure. It'll be bug-less and reliable. Wont shut down even in extreme heat/humidity. But at the end of the day it still is 1080p, just like the ALEXA. Not future-proof.

So I take into account all these factors and I'm still sleepless and scratching my head. Just talking about the RED (EPIC or MX) made one director start jumping up in joy and start posting on Facebook about shooting on RED. A recent client pushed back my shoot to accommodate the RED, with a nice grin on his face. The guy buying my "old" camera had this to say, "RED!! WOW!! Isn't that camera like ten million taka (or $150K)?" That's what Jim Jannard's company has done. RED now means "business". Fincher, Pirates 4, Soderberg shoots on it, so it must be good. It really is. People here are still mystified by the RED. There are a couple of non-MX Red Ones around here. People have used it and rightly haven't been satisfied. So unless its not an EPIC, they won't understand that its a "new" camera. Then I'm spending 20 mins more just replaying the damn footage as it has no playback. I could get the F3 but there are some non S-Log F3s around as well. Some clients won't even care about the extra features. From a business perspective they'll think about the F3 and the RED ONE MX as its already been here for a while, why pay more (ala the CineAlta syndrome I previously had)? So, I could get the ALEXA and have clients slob all over it and charge ridiculous rates, only knowing that option and the 1080p might also be possible with a camera worth $60K less, so it'll hurt me on the inside. So it comes down to business vs Fincher vs functionality/reliability. As of right now, there are no clear winners. So if you're reading this, please make one for me. Which one would you buy? Oh yeah, I'll need a name for the new cam, whatever it is, got any??

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The "Fincher" Cam and the pouring rain

As all of you probably know by now, I pretty much have a man crush on David Fincher. The man is just well, awesome. Fincher's movies always have some sort of camera tracks that make me go WTF. Most of my tracking shots are pretty much trying to emulate those. Sadly, Dhaka doesn't have the luxury of electric cranes (actually we do have 1 of those, but no "real" operator) as well as a proper steadicam that can mount a 35mm/Digital Cinema cam and have a wireless follow focus unit.

So, I took in upon myself to build a system that part steadicam/part jib arm and can mount a Canon 7D with a follow focus. The idea is to balance the camera via a counterweight and add handles to it so you can hold the rig with one hand and maneuver the camera (while focusing) with another. It may sound like rocket science, but actually its a semi-easy rig that can allow me to get those Fincher-esqe shots. All you need is balance, just like you'll need for operating a traditional steadicam (heel-toe steps, pivoted on your hip and bent knees).

Its been raining cats n dogs non stop here, so I could only take it outside for one shoot for about 15 mins, without drenching myself and the 7D. I also tried it inside my parents' living room, so you can check out how to handle the rig in small spaces as well (although the room's kinda big, there are a lot of obstacles and the ambient lighting is more to my liking).

Here's the vid:

The Fincher Cam

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Iron Man shoot for RFL Pipes

Since I got my CineAlta, I always wanted to shoot something that required a lot of CGI, pushing the limits of the 4:4:4 footage. The only problem was the lack of support for almost everything required for such a shoot. No proper green screens, no proper lighting for green screens and more importantly no proper animators. I've seen some stuff that the so called animators have conjured up, but the final product was almost always.......mediocre.

Recently however, I met a free lance animator, Miss Moushumi, who has since changed my views on Bengali animators. She does what she is told and does it well. A real oddity in the local market.

Old friend and director Zonayed (aka the "Z-Man" as a good friend nicknamed him) came up with the idea. Basically, just a smaller version of the Iron Man 2 "JARVIS" interface, kinda borrowed from Spielberg's Minority Report, where RDJ and Tom Cruise respectively end up using a 3D Holographic Interface. Given a multi-camera environment this is kinda easy to do, leaving it all up to the VFX peeps to take care off. But with a single camera, a one woman VFX crew and limited materials, it was gonna be a challenge. Then again, why else wouldn't I undertake such a risk??

As always, it started up with the set. We wanted it simple. A desk and a chair. The props were just lab stuff like petri dishes, beakers and other apparatus I forgot the names of. There was only one actor. Everything else would be animated. When we shot the footage without the CG, it looked like the most ridiculous thing ever and the grips were quick to crack jokes. Even amongst the fun, I had to make sure about the positioning of certain shots and the "interaction" with the "interface". So if the actor was pulling up a screen that was blue, I needed a blue key/fill light on his face, so on and so forth. I also wanted the camera moving on every single axis available, since static shots would just be boring. That meant that tracking would be a big issue since the actor was pulling out holographic screens from thin air. All this meant, a lil bit more hard work for lil ol' me.

In the end though, I was happy with the results. Check it yourself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grading the 7D footage

If you've read the previous posts about me raving about the Canon 7D, (and I know you have) then you'll probably enjoy this little short I put together with color graded B-Roll footages from various projects I was busy with during the last few months.
2 different Picture Profiles were used for the short. The streets of Dhaka was shot with Marvel Film's gamma setting, while the "latrine" shoot (ie shots of the blue uniform garbed school children) were done with my own custom gamma settings. Both ended up being pretty good.
The last post I put up had the ungraded screen caps from the school shoot. How do the graded cuts hold up?
Notes on the grade itself. I wanted a saturated, gritty and cool tone. Sorta like Fincher meets saturation land. Some of the shots were graded with a yellow diffusion (I kinda wanted an angelic warm glow) over the street children. The wide shots had some sort of gradient applied to them, like a grad filter added in post, mostly for a stylistic effect and somewhat for a way of taking down blown out highlights.
The shots are all jerky run n' gun, no time for checking focus marks, no time for steady cams. Capture the moment as they come, all improvised. So for all you Michael Mann fans.......cheers.

I do apologize for the low quality. But thats the only way I could get the short to upload on YouTube, without eating into my monthly download/upload cap of 12GB, thanks to my ISP.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shooting Shit (no....literally) with the 7D

Calm down, get your mind out of the gutter, this is Bangladesh. Shooting latrines for NGOs, for Dr Richard Cash is commonplace here. Especially when its free work during a free day (those are hard to come by). Sara Liza Baumann was upto her MPH ways when she decided to shoot some promos about the latrine systems that local NGO BRAC decided to put in public schools across rural areas. Although I was promised a home cooked meal (which I didn't get) for doing this, I decided to do this since I wanted to try out a new picture profile for the 7D and new ingenious idea of using a DIY webcam mic to record interviews.

Firstly, the ingenious idea of the mic. I hate to toot my own horn but I think I'm gonna make a lot of indie HDSLR filmmakers happy and a lot of mic makers angry. I got a Chinese made Logitech copy of a goose-neck webcam mic, about $5, from a local computer store. Then I stripped the entire mic from the base and cut off the wire. I searched my tool shed and found some old Creative Sound Blaster AWE 32 speaker connectors (same as the stereo 1/8" jack as the mic) and attached those to the mic. Thus I ended up with a goose-neck directional stereo mic with a 10m long jack. Attaching it to the camera, perfecto. Clear sound, perfect for interviews. I didn't know my director didn't want the mic to be in the shots, so for future projects I'd hang the mic from a DIY boom pole. I know, I know, I'm awesome and you're welcome.

Next, the new Picture Profile. This one was built for maximum latitude with minimum lighting. The skin tones (mids) were also bumped to give more of a yellowish tone off even in overtly green/blue settings. Since the school where we were shooting did not have electricity, ie lights, we had to shoot with ISO's upto 3200. The results?? Here are some screencaps.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Capturing Slow Motion with the 7D

I've had the EOS 7D for a while now, but rarely did I get to play with the DSLRs video. I only shot the World Concern promo (using it mainly as a B cam during interviews and for capturing the city streets of Dhaka) with it, but I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the images I got.

It made my job easier, since I didn't have to lug the ginormous CineAlta rig around with me, serving as a great "run-n-gun" option. Recently, since I've had some time off, I've been using a custom picture profile setting with the camera that a good friend of mine had cooked up. On closer look, the setting, based on the Canon Neutral setting, provides a slightly altered curve, made to preserve luminance linearity in the 65-75% (skin tone) range. So I get a good latitude (highlights and shadows) and some great skin tones (mids)   from the camera. The next thing I got was the new Twixtor plugin so I could use it for the 60fps stuff from both the 7D (720p) and the CineAlta (1080p) modes. 

So I decided to try em all out. The 7D @ 720p60, 1/1000 and 1/1250 shutter speed, variable ISOs (ranging 100-320) and recorded some friends of mine playing cricket. Then I took the footage and used the ol method of conforming to 24fps via Cinema Tools from Apple's Final Cut Studio 3. Then used the footage on a 720p Pro Res HQ 23.98fps setting. The final timeline was a PAL 25fps, since I wanted to output the stuff to a DVD for some prospective "clients". The Twixtor plugin, was set to reduce speed a further 50% with the "Motion Weighted Blend" and "Smart Blend" settings on (I found out that this gave the least amount of "blurbs" (some artifacts caused by frame blending). I also tried out Motion's "Optical Flow" frame blending, but clearly, the Twixtor plugin for FCP was a winner.

Here's the final result:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shot on 35......the real story

For the last few months I've been getting a few requests to shoot commercials on 35mm. I usually answered in the usual jaded manner....NO.

Rather than getting the expected annoyed response from my clients, most of them seemed amused. However, like most things in my life, I finally said yes to an old director friend of mine. After about what seems like an eternity since my last 35mm experience, (where I spent all night before the last day of a shoot fixing the gate/claw of an ARRI 435 ES) I finally decided to work on a project with celluloid.

Its not that I'm against 35mm (well, maybe a little) but I find it overkill, especially when the final product is an interlaced 720x576 image @ 25fps. Then, I started looking into the finer details. Thats when things got interesting.

35mm is in reality the best scam most media personalities have come up with and it just continues to grow. Celluloid is the best in terms of quality, exposure latitudes, etc. However, for a 30 second commercial that is going to air for about a year max on PAL only channels, is it really required? Most directors here will convince clients that the answer is absolutely yes. The client, who has a pocket that rivals with Donald Trump, will oblige since money is really no object for him and the director would go on shooting on 35mm.

Now lets talk about the reasons why and how the directors choose 35mm.

1) The myth here is all about one thing - Only the best work on 35. Drawing examples from Hollywood and Bollywood counterparts, the Bengali hotshots aren't far behind. It's a way of boosting your showreel (and your paycheck) by proclaiming you don't shoot anything but 35. Local DPs aren't any better. They'll proclaim that 35 requires "a lot of skill and talent", which is true is you're lighting a scene from Amelie, but about 90% of the stuff shot here looks umm......lacking. I'm currently editing a commercial shot on 35mm and the lighting is flat, no real contrast.....dare I say, almost a video look.

2) Digital is good, but we don't have the facilities here. This is true. One particular company here owns a Sony EX1 with a lens converter. However when they rent it out, they call it a "CineAlta" (which it is), the camera used to shoot Hollywood blockbusters where the CineAlta cameras are used (which it is not) ie saying its in the same league as the F35 and the F23. So when the clients, who have know idea about anything really, rent this camera they expect images to look exactly like Tron or the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When they get to the editing stage and see the 8 bit, 4:2:0, 35Mbs XDCAM EX codec in all its glory as opposed to the 4:4:4 Uncompressed 10-bit images, that the big CineAltas churn out, they are appalled. Also, the guy grading the footage to "make it look like film" (which is difficult to do in the first place with a camera having about 8-9 stops of exposure latitude, is made near impossible), is some dude who is really an editor and toys with Apple Color ($1000, bundled with FCP), not having any formal education on color correction. Yet, when you shoot on 35, your footage gets handled in Singapore or Bangkok or Malaysia or India (since Bangladesh has no film transfer stations) and gets graded by a Pandora or a Da Vinci (about a million dollars) by a guy who is well trained in grading. So, you can tell how the graded in Bangladesh "CineAlta" footage will differ from the footage massaged in Singapore. What about shooting a commercial on the EX1 and then taking it abroad to be graded by a pro? Is that possible? Directors here will laugh that option off.

3) The complexities of digital shooting. When you don't have a professional color grader under you, the best option is to shoot your pictures are best as possible so it doesn't need much love in post. I myself tried introducing Dhaka to the glory of 4:4:4 10-bit production. Some companies have bought a few REDs (not the best in digital cams imo). Still, the business of digital cameras fail to flourish. Why? Most DPs here have no ideas what to do with a digital camera. I saw a DP toy with the Picture Profile settings on an EX1 once. It was sad. One DP turned off the 180 degree shutter "to get more light". If you ask the DPs here about what kind of LUTs they'd like, the usual question is "What's a LUT?" So you can throw as many 4s and Ks and bits/bit rates out there, but the guy using your camera will have no idea what to do with em. My production manager keeps telling me that I should rent out my camera as well. The only problem being what happens when a DP shoots something with the wrong LUT activated? He'll probably shoot something 5 stops overexposed and won't even know about it. Scary isnt it?

When shooting 35mm, there are no LUTs, no picture profile settings and no electronic rolling shutters to worry about. See whats in front via the optical viewfinder, take a few readings with your light meter, figure out your f-stop, shoot. The Kodak film stock and the ARRI camera will take care of everything else. Of course, if you expose incorrectly, someone in Singapore will save your ass. But then again, 35mm requires a "a lot of skill and talent", doesn't it?

So when I looked at all these factors and I was asked to shoot on 35, I said first. Then I looked at the positives again. Fatter paycheck (cause using a film cam automatically means I'm skilled and talented), a professional grading suite abroad (cause you can't do a transfer here), which also means I have a tension free-environment (since I have a pro color grader and I'll be shooting whatever I "see" without making LUTs or a picture profile setting that'll match the look the director wants, eliminating hours of pre production work, that can be applied to perfecting my Madden skills) and hopefully, (if I can persuade the director) a free all expenses paid, 3 star hotel room trip to Singapore (cause my client has deep pockets). Should I still say no?

Robert Rodriguez on the matter

Michael Bay, who stated his disdain of digital cinematography using a Sony F35 for the new transformers movie

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pro bono cave dives, concern for the world and a new director

Right, so....I finally thought I'd get a few days off to go chill in Bali and shoot a small doc. Yet, as all good things in life, this too got cut short. I spent less than 40hrs in Kuta Island. Landed, shot, ate a feast, cave dived, got a massage and got back on a plane back to the homeland. Wish I had some pics, but was too busy freakin shooting to do anything else. I did get some snaps with the ol iPhone. Tryin out the Hipstamatic app.....hey, a camera app thats actually cool.

Now moving on to the business side of things. My friend Sara Liza Baumann, director of the now infamous and critically acclaimed short "Botomul" recently decided to try her hand in directing stuff here. Since she kinda got screwed with her last crew, so I tried my best to make her feel more at home during my first project with her, a promo film for World Concern. This is the first time I had a director not only direct, but edit the footage in FCP and become the first director ever to be the 1st AC and pull focus like a champ (which btw is ridiculously difficult, since I was shoulder mounting a full on HD cam with a 50mm prime and moving around taking closeups of stuff......oh, and this was her first time as well).
Working with talented and lively peeps like Baumann is really something that you don't get to experience here much and it finally pumped some new life into what I thought was slowly becoming a monotonous and "regular" job. I can only hope I find other directors who share her enthusiasm.....and on the other hand, I'm hoping she can hold onto that enthusiasm once she's worked with some of the agencies, clients and the like. The director also felt obliged to take some pics of the set, and me. Sadly, I was to busy to take any of hers, but we forgot to cut the roll on the last shot of the day and we ended up of like a second worth of footage with her in it, so here's a pic.

You can follow Sara on her website:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

First Directing Gig

So, the new year brought some surprises. Lack of nicotine, new clients and oh yeah.....a gig as a director.
I never thought my first paid would include 10 Justin Beiber fans, a CEO and a news anchor all in a kindergarden class.
Nevertheless, the shoot went on kinda smooth. The script wasn't anywhere close to what would be considered good, but worked out in the end. Unlike the multi-million sets I'm accustomed to, this was absolutely nothing. 4 hours, 12 shots, 5 man team. Job done, period.