PARK CITY 2000: Shoot Digital, Get Naked
by Mike Jones
While the digital filmmaking revolution is still in its infancy, so are the resources available to filmmakers interested in DV. Until recently, there wasn't much experience behind the advice compiled in various resource guides except that which was gleaned second-hand through Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration."
The recent sell of Miguel Arteta's "Chuck and Buck" to Artisan demonstrates yet again that the medium is economically viable, so, likewise, panels mentioning anything digital are overflowing in Park City. It is a comforting relief to the filmmaker that advice is now being backed up with actual production experience such as that from the Sundance panel "Producing in Digital," moderated by Blow Up Picture's Sharan Sklar, whose company produced "Chuck and Buck."
"I wouldn't recommend shooting just anything in digital," began Sean Furst, producer of the digitally shot "Everything Put Together." "I think we're all tuned into video as more a home-movie thing. The eye perceives it that way. If you're telling an intimate story, digital really lends itself to that. But I would caution you to not try to force a script into digital."
"It's an opportunity to get closer to characters," added Jud Cremata, who just produced "Big Thing" on DV. "35mm Cinemascope is great for 'Lawrence of Arabia' but in DV you couldn't pull it off."
Dolly Hall, from Greene Street's new digital division disagreed: "Technology is changing so fast," she stated before elaborating on a recent partnership Greene Street had made with digital post company, Orphanage, comprised of ex-execs from Industrial Light and Magic. "What these guys can do with digital video will literally blow your mind. They are trying to turn the switch off in people's mind that makes them aware of the format. We have a big WWII script that we're thinking about doing." However, though DV wasn't an option when Hall produced "High Art," she admitted that they still would have taken advantage of 35mm film's luminous cinematic feel.
"I think the intimacy point is about shooting a lot of tape," she continued, "so in that way digital is an actor's medium. That's how you can get actors to work in digital video because you can just keep going. They can explore a character in a way they can never do on 35mm. You can shoot the scene over and over again. Of course you'll have to watch endless hours of dailies, but you got the actor to be in the movie that way. Some of the tangents they go on aren't so great, but some of them are."
On Sklar's question of how DV changes a shoot, Cremata explained that "with some 35mm shoots you have a big clunky crew and a big cranky crew. More people and more problems. You can do video with one Kino set and move quickly and your crew is feeling
good because you're making your day. And they begin to contribute to the creative energy. Now when George Lucas shoots his next 'Star Wars' on digital he'll probably have a big clunky crew but they won't be cranky because they'll be paid a whole lot of money."
Added Hall, "We had one cube truck that held grip, electric, sound, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and unit. Everything except craft services. It speeds everything up, but sometimes it goes so fast things do slip through the cracks."
All panelists stressed that filmmakers have to know as much about their post-production as possible. The ease in shooting DV easily masks many potential problems in post like time-code, country format issues (PAL, NTSC, etc.), and color. "I think it's imperative
to sit down with whoever is doing the transfer and make a list of everything you need to know to complete the film," said Furst.
"For instance, one of the biggest problems we had at the transfer stage was that we colored timed our movie as it would look on video. The contrast ratio on video is way smaller. The whites get blown out and the blacks get crushed." Furst had to take "Together" through another costly stage at the lab that perhaps could have been avoided.
Budget comparisons to standard film shoots weren't easy to pin down as numbers change with each new technological advance. While Hall took advantage of various collaborations with Apple to complete their first film, "Famous," she said they turned down a free Hi-definition camera because the cost associated with taking it to completion. The story of "Famous," described as a verite-styled mock-umentary, also didn't fit the feel of hi-def. Ultimately, the aesthetic should fit the medium. "You can shoot a film for sixteen bucks if you have a Mac and a camera," quipped Cremata. "You can do everything and it can star yourself. Shoot it with mirrors." "Yeah," added Hall, "naked!"