Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

The Dizzying World of Digital Cinematography: How New Cameras & Software Both Perfect and Complicate the Indie Filmmaking Process

By Max A. Cherney | Indiewire April 8, 2013 at 11:11AM

To select a camera for Scott Waugh's street racing film "Need For Speed," cinematographer Shane Hurlbut pitted nine cameras against one another in dozens of tests simulating every possible shooting condition. Then, Hurlbut had each camera’s footage color graded and presented with a 4K projector on a 42 foot screen.Hurlbut didn’t tell anyone working on the project, including the director, which camera was which. It would be a blind test. Eventually, Hurlbut revealed the details, but the unanimous, final decision was based on the picture alone.Needless to say, Hurlbut’s "Need For Speed" test is a cinematographers’ dream– to have both the budget and time to test nine high-end cameras. This test underscores an unprecedented change in the cinematographer’s job – understanding how a multitude of cameras and post-production workflows function together.
1
camera lens
Flickr User Elliot Bennett

To select a camera for Scott Waugh's street racing film "Need For Speed," cinematographer Shane Hurlbut pitted nine cameras against one another in dozens of tests simulating every possible shooting condition. Then, Hurlbut had each camera’s footage color graded and presented with a 4K projector on a 42 foot screen.

Hurlbut didn’t tell anyone working on the project, including the director, which camera was which.  It would be a blind test.  Eventually, Hurlbut revealed the details, but the unanimous, final decision was based on the picture alone.

Needless to say, Hurlbut’s "Need For Speed" test is a cinematographers’ dream– to have both the budget and time to test nine high-end cameras. This test underscores an unprecedented change in the cinematographer’s job – understanding how a multitude of cameras and post-production workflows function together.

READ MORE: 10 Basic Things Indie Filmmakers Need to Know about Digital Cinematography Before Shooting

The swarm of new technologies – like camera sensors, codecs, and color grading software –  make the job now, more than ever, one that requires immense technical expertise.

It can be rewarding to dig into a camera’s published specs and post production workflows. But, as cinematographer Stéphanie Weber Biron explained to Indiewire, there are often differences between a camera’s published specifications and how it performs in the field. Camera companies aren’t necessarily lying, she said, but camera production is a business. Published specifications don’t tell the whole story about a camera.

Getting the whole team to help decide what camera is worth going with.

Working with an editor and colorist to try out new cameras, if possible, is the best case scenario. Where the editor is relevant, cinematographer Rachel Morrison said, is figuring out if creating dailies is going to be possible given the editor’s system’s processing power. “Are we going to get backed up waiting for the dailies?” Morrison asked.

Cinematographer Karim Hussain said that, “Usually when a new camera comes out that’s radically different, I like to try it out on a short film,” But, even before that camera makes it on set, Hussain runs it through a battery of tests. Hussain told Indiewire that, he does so “because a new camera is now a film stock, a look.”

Film cinematography conventions are still important.

Film isn't completely dead in this process, either.  Cinematographers use film stock and emulsion metaphors to describe the many new digital options.

Hussain’s testing includes close collaboration with his go-to colorist, Jim Fleming. For example, on "Hobo with a Shotgun," Hussain and director Jason Eisener, aimed for a look that took advantage of the Arri Alexa, but required testing to ensure the camera – including post production aspect – was capable of achieving the look Hussain and Eisener agreed on.

“We went for a radical almost 16mm reversal look,” Hussain told Indiewire, “It also meant using photochemical tricks with filters on the cameras, and lighting on set.” Because of the specific look, the colorist, Fleming, was essential during the tests, Hussain said, because post production was integral to achieving the desired picture.

We can fix color now, rather than later, with a new on-set role.

Color grading now also happens, at least to a limited extent, during production on set. A digital imaging technician or DIT, often performs fast, on-set color correction for “dailies” – that way ensuring the director and cinematographer can view something much closer to the final product than with film or tape dailies. “Digital lets us be fearless,” Hurlbut said, “What you see is what you get."

The DIT, a relatively new role, is “still being defined” according to Biron. DITs dump footage from cameras, make backups, review footage, and perform fast color grading.

While it’s tempting to make compromises with shots because of new post-production techniques, cinematographers shy away from the idea. Morrison said that she tries to get everything right because while, “taking down the wall behind my actor by a stop and a half is an option... I don’t like to rely on post for what I can do on set.”

While DITs offer cinematographers fast on-set feedback, there are also tools available to a colorist once a film is shot, and in post production. Tools that cinematographers must now also understand– although not all of them require an entirely new skill set.

“Going back to the original color science, I communicate in terms of color charts,” Morrison said, “The tools and technology changes, but too saturated or not saturated enough, that will be a constant.”

Continue to page 2 for the rest of this story.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the film Hussain talked about on page 1 of this article.  The film is "Hobo with a Shotgun," not "Antiviral."

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, Cinematography






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More