At a recent preview screening of Donal Mosher and Mike Palmieri's "Off Label" (which makes its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival), Palmieri was lurking through the audience taking close-up footage of people's hands with his DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex, cameras which, crudely put, are digital adaptations of 35mm cameras). When you hear about "Off Label," you're not expecting the images to be captivating: it's a film about people who, for various reasons, take copious amounts of prescription drugs. Some have been prescribed to a panoply of anti-psychotics; others test drugs for money. While most assume it's an issue film, it, like their last film "October Country," is actually much more. While contemporary DSLR cameras have been called out for democratizing high definition filmmaking, "Off Label" has stylistic flourishes that distinguish it from the pack. After seeing the team's images, Indiewire asked Palmieri, who is the primary cinematographer of the team, to talk about his experience with DSLR filmmaking. -- Bryce J. Renninger
I never set out to make “Off Label” on four camera systems, but the technology was changing so rapidly that I ended up trying a lot of things out over the course of shooting it. It was shot on a Panasonic HVX-200, a Canon 5D and 7D, and the Panasonic AF-100. I always ask myself the same questions when faced with a new camera. What unique kind of image does it produce that I can best exploit, and how easily can I disappear into the room with it?
A camera really alters my physical and psychological relationship to the world when I’m using it. It makes me behave and interact with subjects differently, yielding different results, so choosing the right tool is especially important for me not just for visual reasons, but for psychological considerations as well with respect to the subject. I have a strong cinematic visual style that probably transfers across any video or film camera I use, and I would say it’s the same for my filmmaking partner, Donal Mosher, who is first and foremost a still photographer. His sensibility is a continuous source of inspiration – he always sees the world so differently than I do! – regardless of what camera he’s shooting his photographs on.
Our last film collaboration, “October Country” was shot on the HVX200, a small-sensor HD camera. There was something about that camera that allowed me to transfer the feeling of Donal's photographic work; the film moved onto a more cinematic realm that remained both true to his work and to my own sensibility. The camera could shoot slow motion, which I like to use stylistically, and it had a zoom lens with an incredible range on it. Using the zoom was actually less stylistic than practical: it gave me the widest range of options later when I was editing the film. A zoom lens was an especially important tool when I was following around a precocious 12-year-old girl who wasn’t going to do something for me twice. It was also critical in allowing me to be close to family members at an especially intense emotional moment without being right in their face.