Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Mike Palmieri
April 18, 2012 12:19 PM
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Adventures in DSLR Filmmaking: Using 4 Different Cameras to Shoot 'Off Label'

Desi on Halloween in “October Country”, shot on the Panasonic HVX-200 Mike Palmieri

It would have been much harder to shoot “October Country” on a DSLR camera because of my reliance on the zoom lens for that project. This is actually a function of optics and the physics of design: the smaller the sensor your camera has, the bigger the range the zoom lens you can put on it. As much as I loved using that camera for that reason, I had a hunch that a lot of the characters in our new film could benefit from the richer, more pictorially still images that a larger-sensor camera produces. I was getting the feeling that my approach had to be calmer and more intimate. So I chose the Canon 5D on our first trip to Austin, TX, where we began filming with Paul Clough.

Paul Clough in his motel room in Austin, TX. Canon 5D with a Zeiss 28mm distagon f/2 prime. Mike Palmieri

The interesting and lucky thing about Paul is he didn’t move around a lot, which made my filming him with the 5D easier as I was still learning the ins and outs of how to shoot with it. But I was also able to film him roaming the streets late at night without much trouble, and without drawing any attention to my own presence. This was extremely important, as I wanted to convey the extent to which people were quietly ignoring him. Capturing a mood like that is different from filming a war or a boxing match, where the images are inherently dramatic and in-your-face. The quietness of these scenes were for me best rendered by the Canon 5D.
Paul selling balloons on Valentine’s day. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85mm f3.3 zoom. Mike Palmieri

The 5D and occasionally the 7D for slow motion turned out to be the right tool for Paula Yarr, a woman on severe disability living in a tiny room in the back of a Bigfoot museum in Santa Cruz. We were attempting to link her bipolar schizophrenic mind to the insanity of her surroundings and it required some real intimacy with her to make it work, so we stuck with the DSLRs through most of her scenes. This camera choice also proved critical for Mary Weiss, who wanted to tell her story in a more traditional, sit-down way. The DSLR lacked the intimidation of a larger camera and I think this definitely contributed to Mary giving us the tragic details of her son's death that she had never divulged to anyone before in an interview. It was a harrowing moment to capture, as Mary’s agony so clearly registers through the small gestures she makes, communicating a deep sorrow at the loss of her son. An important story is always more important than the tool used to capture it, but I’m certainly glad Mary’s story was honored by my use of that particular camera.

Mary Weiss in her home in Cottage Grove, MN. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 zoom. Mike Palmieri

Paula Yarr asleep in the back of the Bigfoot museum Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 prime. Mike Palmieri
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