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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
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Using the 5D or 7D was frustrating when working with the former drug sales rep turned medical anthropologist Michael Oldani, who talked a million miles a minute and was very physically active in his environment, or with the historian Robert Helms, who was often on a lot of Adderall, a go-fast drug. They took us on whirlwind tours of zoos, doctor’s clinics, libraries and graveyards. This more often than not required the trusty HVX-200 and a big zoom lens again. I could accurately capture their natural mania visually without encroaching on their physical space too much:

Michael Oldani in a rare moment of pause. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 zoom.
Mike Palmieri Michael Oldani in a rare moment of pause. Canon 5D with the Zeiss 28-85 f3.3 zoom.
Robert Helms, revealing the ghosts of the past in West Philly. Panasonic HVX200
Mike Palmieri Robert Helms, revealing the ghosts of the past in West Philly. Panasonic HVX200

About halfway through shooting “Off Label” Panasonic released the AG-AF100, a micro 4/3 camera system that to me represented the best compromise between the three cameras I was currently using. The AF100 was light and unobtrusive, it begged to be used handheld, it had a decent tonal range, and it had XLR inputs on it so I could stop worrying about sound as a separate item as you have to consider when shooting with a DSLR. I fell in love with this camera, and the latter half of the film was shot almost exclusively on it. It was particularly adept at rendering what I like to call the “ethereal” scenes that crop up towards the latter half of the film. I was trying to get at a sense of the spiritual and translucent through the imagery as the film at this stage is trying to draw a parallel between faith in pharmaceuticals and religious faith.

Mary Weiss looking at pictures of her son Dan Markingson, who lost his life to a drug marketing study. Panasonic AF-100 and a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime.
Mike Palmieri Mary Weiss looking at pictures of her son Dan Markingson, who lost his life to a drug marketing study. Panasonic AF-100 and a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime.


A mannequin at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Panasonic AF-100 and a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime.
Mike Palmieri A mannequin at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Panasonic AF-100 and a Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime.


Paul Clough in Las Vegas. Panasonic AF-100 and a Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 prime.
Mike Palmieri Paul Clough in Las Vegas. Panasonic AF-100 and a Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 prime.
The Take-Back Initiative in Portland Oregon. Panasonic AF-100 and a CKBK 18mm t/1.2 prime
Mike Palmieri The Take-Back Initiative in Portland Oregon. Panasonic AF-100 and a CKBK 18mm t/1.2 prime


An elderly woman gambling in Vegas. Panasonic AF-100 and the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime
Mike Palmieri An elderly woman gambling in Vegas. Panasonic AF-100 and the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.9 prime








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