Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Adventures in DSLR Filmmaking: Using 4 Different Cameras to Shoot 'Off Label'

By Mike Palmieri | Indiewire April 18, 2012 at 12:19PM

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
0
Desi on Halloween in “October Country”, shot on the Panasonic HVX-200
Mike Palmieri Desi on Halloween in “October Country”, shot on the Panasonic HVX-200

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


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 Paul selling balloons on Valentine’s day. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85mm f3.3 zoom.


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 Mary Weiss in her home in Cottage Grove, MN. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 zoom.
Paula Yarr asleep in the back of the Bigfoot museum Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 prime.
Mike Palmieri Paula Yarr asleep in the back of the Bigfoot museum Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 prime.




Win The Complete Twin Peaks on Blu-ray from Indiewire! in Indiewire's Hangs on LockerDome


SnagFilms

Watch Over 10,000 Free Movies!

We the Economy: Supply and Dance, Man!

Why is the law of supply and demand so powerful? In this whimsical tale, our friendly narrator guides bored students Jonathan and Kristin through a microeconomic musical extravaganza.

More