Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Things that make me go WTF....then LOL hard...

I know I haven't bitched much in this blog the last few posts, even though it's my "Bitchin'" blog. A phone call form my maternal uncle (or mama, as we bengalis call it) got my blood boiling though and I couldn't help but write this up.

My mama is a rockstar. He's a big celebrity here in Dhaka, as well as Kolkata, since his a big name in the food industry. He has countless TV shows, hundreds of publications and most importantly, he's one of the coolest people I know of. A true inspirational figure, something this country seriously lacks. I should point out that this post isn't about him.

It all started when my mama hired me to DP/Edit a music video he was directing, starring his friend Iman Chakraborty, another celeb, from Kolkata, who was touring Dhaka at the time. She had just released her album which was a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore. I must admit, unlike many Bengalis, I don't have a "thing" for Tagore. One of the few fights I had with "big time celebs" here in Dhaka was when I told a prominent actor/TV host, how I felt Tagore was boring and in terms of music, guys like Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane were far superior. To him it was almost blasphemous, that resulted in diatribes about everything from me being a snob to how inferior my upbringing was. Anyways, thats for another post.

So after a month or so of talking over the video and the feel of it, we finally got into shooting it. No crew, no lights. Just me, my (now stolen) 7D camera, the director and the artist. Since we were in a time frame, it had to be done quick. No time for tripods and elaborate lighting. So I thought I'd go the Bruno Aveillan way, since almost everyone is doing it these days. Long lens, handheld shots, something in front of the lens blocking the scene. The shoot was done in about 2-3 hours. Then I went home, edited and color corrected the material and brought it back to my uncle. He saw it, along with Miss Chakraborty and my cousin, who is a photographer. They all liked it and my mama was very happy with his first directorial debut. The finished material was then put on a DV tape and sent back to India to premiere.

That was 2 months ago. Today I got a call from my mama and he said that the "TV" peeps over in Kolkata said the video was too dark and way too jerky. Too jerky I can live with, since thats the effect I was going with and its a hit or miss with most people. It wasn't like murder/thriller jerky, but you can definitely tell it wasn't put on a tripod. Clearly, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky and Bruno Aveillan himself can't make a living in Kolkata.

Now, this is where I got really pissed. The lighting was apparently too dark. ROFLMAO. Here are the color corrected screen grabs that made their way to Kolkata. Please feel free to comment.

The funny thing is I actually wanted to grade the shots so they were at least a little more on the darker side. But this was a love song, so bright saturated tones were necessary. I couldn't go the Fincher route and make the next Judith. 

The song got rejected for the "darkness" and the "jerkiness" and a disappointed phone call from my mama followed. I was at a loss for words when he said those thing, so I really didn't have anything to say after.

Clearly, this level of bad production is not fit for the glorious Kolkata scene. They'd rather see videos like the rock remakes of Tagore, where chicks are "trying" to sing and play instruments on stage, with smoke coming out from the background and some HMI lighting that and some christmas lights hanging on the background. Oh wait, it's handheld too. Well played Kolkata, well played.... 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

CSRs, Super Markets, Milburn and Olivia

Sorry for the long wait since my last post. Lets just say, hectic doesn't even begin to describe my life right now. Even my mom told me the other day I should take a vacation, something that is unheard of in the Khan household.

The last few months since the Panther Condoms shoot I was busy shooting and editing 4 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commercials for Square Group. Since Square is the biggest company in Bangladesh, maybe SE Asia, and pretty much owns everything starting from production companies to advertising agencies, I wasn't gonna let these babies slide.

The problem with CSRs are that they need to be cheap, short and somewhat poignant. That's the anti-MK attitude. The director for these CSRs, NI Razoo had done a few before, but those were well, mediocre. For these TVCs, I wanted something drastic - WTF Camera angles, minimal/almost no lighting and finally handheld/steadicam movements in the tightest of spaces. The director liked my ideas, but as always there was the "well, show me what ya got" look when I brought up some of those.

The biggest thing was that I was working with my new 5D Mark III and after spending a few days tinkering with her, I was quite amazed at the footage and the camera itself. Some vast improvements over the 5D Mark II and the 7D, had to be the new I-Frame 90mbps codec and the internal cooling of the camera. The 5Dmk2 and 7D's old 35mbps codec was really difficult to grade. It would never hold up in Resolve or any other color grading suite. Heavy grading usually ending up looking silly. The Mark III video however, can be pushed and keying for flesh tones and blown out sources are way better. The old sensors could only be pushed upto 1600-2000 ISO on the 5D and 1250 on the 7D without getting blocky grotesque noise on the footage. On the CSR shoot, I pushed the Mark III to 3200 ISO without getting any of that. Finally, all the commercials were either shot outside in destructive Dhaka summer heat or indoors in small spaces with Tunsgten lighting.....i.e. crazy hot temperatures. The number of times I had to turn off the camera because of the heat sensor warning = 0. Simply amazing. Oh yeah, where's the aliasing issues?? Its still kinda there, but vastly improved. Overall, the 5D Mark III made me again think about digital camera technology and the direction where the companies are headed. Personally, I think Canon, with their DSLRs and the new EOS C300/C500 is headed the right way by listening to what their customers (i.e us DPs) are saying and making cameras that don't need a backup or don't cost a fortune. Apart from the Rode Video Mic, this is the only piece of equipment that I would put my reputation at stake due to its price, performance, reliability and finally, form factor.

The other toy I recently got was the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Prime. What can I say....its worth the arm and leg you're gonna be spending on it. I love it so much, I shot about 80% of the "Reckless Driving" CSR with it, something I've almost never done, but played to my idea of using odd angles, like barreling a face on closeups and also, lighting an entire wide shot by ambient (and natural) moonlight and a small oil lantern (affectionately known as a "hurricane") with an ISO setting of 1600. WTF indeed.

In a shoot where the budget was tight, I saved the production from spending anything on lights. All of the outdoors stuff was shot without any artificial lighting. One outdoor part was shot in gloomy weather, again with no lights and the director and client were worried about the footage. Once they saw it back at the editor's desk, big sighs of relief were head. Most of the indoor lighting, especially inside the bus consisted of a KinoFlo 2 bank as a fill.

Here are some snaps from the first 2 CSR shoots, "Reckless Driving" and "Poisonous Fruits". Notice the dynamic range, which I measured to be around 11 stops, about a good full stop above the old 5D/7D. The good thing that Canon's been working on with this camera (and from Vince Laforet's Mobius, shot on the C300) seems to be the sensors' handling of the highlights. While it doesn't roll off like an Alexa, it still looks way better than the old DSLRs and REDs. No nuclear blow outs.

I'll post the other 2 CSRs once they've gone on air. They are almost done, just awaiting approval. The other ad we finished was a Radhuni Spice commercial, where I did get proper lighting and a dream set....a real supermarket. We went in after they had closed down and it was an awesome experience. The first air conditioned set in Dhaka I've ever been in. My friend Dave is visiting from Texas, so he also got a taste of the Bangladeshi Media and the "local talent" (as well as her twin sister). The young actress seemed real happy the Texan was around and vice versa. Every once in a while I'd turn around to talk to people in my crew, only to find them having fun with Dave and teaching him Bengali. I should also add that the shoot was six hours after Dave's 27 hour flight across the Pacific. I'm such a good friend.

So all in all, I'm a happy boy again. Sure I miss my ol 7D. But, 5Dmk3 and the Zeiss primes are an awesome combo. Better skin tones, better bokehs, less (almost no) moire, less time worrying about lighting. I'll be sure to put up the spice commercial to show you exactly what I'm talking about.