Monday, September 26, 2011

Atomos Ninja... after 2 weeks on set.

A few weeks ago, i bought the Sony FS100 and an Atomos Ninja Pro Res recorder. I decided on the Ninja after months of reading up, testing and research.

One of the first things i did was update the software to Version 2...this gives you full quality playback which is vital in the field.

I meant to buy a pair of spinning drives and an SSD for all the action shots we would be shooting. As it turned out, we never got an the whole shoot was done on regular spinning drives...and only 5400rpm ones too. There was lots of running around with the FS100 and Ninja on a shoulder rig... and only twice in 2 weeks did the drive not cope. Both times the rig was being really shaken about. All the other times it performed perfectly. I think this proves that Atomos are right... for 99% of the applications, the regular spinning drives cope well enough.

It was so nice to be able to whack the drives into the docking station and check the rushes back on my MacBook Pro. We could see instantly what was working and what wasn't. Things like strobing... which often didn't show up too clearly on the monitor were all too evident once the footage was viewed full size on the Mac. This kind of flexibility is what makes the Ninja system so perfect for feature shooting.

The dual battery system meant we never lost power...and they lasted for ages!

Problems? Well...not really. The only slight issue i have with it, is that you can't erase a take you know isn't needed... you can only format the whole drive. (on the unit itself) And... sometimes the take numbering goes a little astray... but if you're good at keeping logs, you won't get lost.

The more full the drives get, the slower they access the files for playback... this can slow you up a bit when you're checking back takes on the Ninja itself. But it takes no time at all to whip out the drive and replace it with a fresh one... so it's no biggy.

There's been a lot of talk on Vimeo and other sites that the Pro Res files on the Ninja don't look any better than the FS100's native AVCHD files... and to some extent, that is true.... right up until you try to grade or colour correct in anyway. The Pro Res files let you really go to town... you can pull and twist the colours and it really takes a lot before the footage breaks up. The original AVCHD files do not behave this way at all. You can whack a Magic Bullet preset on them, sure... but you try and do anything more adventurous and you'll come unstuck. We're shooting everything really bright and well lit and then darkening the whole thing down in post.... this only works without adding noise and banding using a high bandwidth codec like Pro Res. AVCHD is fine for weddings or event video stuff...but for indie features? It's not good enough.

If you're looking to shoot something great with one of the new large sensor cameras, you'd be mad not to try and capture as much information as possible before you start messing with it in post.

Other stuff?  Well, it comes in a seriously good quality case...with 2 batteries, a dual charger, a really nice docking station with 2 x FW800 and USB2... and all the cables you need. I used 2 x 160GB HDs in it... i know there are bigger... but 160GB was perfect for one days's shooting and it meant i didn't have hours and hours of footage living precariously on the Ninja drives before the nightly back ups were made.

So... there it is. The Ninja rocks. Oh and one more thing. I really needed a short HDMI cable... and the only one i could find cost £5 in Tesco. I could have spent 10 times that... but the cheap one worked perfectly. It does my head in that Hi Fi nerds say you need expensive cables... as long as you're not constantly plugging and unplugging... cables are cables as far as digital data is concerned. They work, or they don't...   and my £5 cable worked fine...and it's still going.

I'm looking forward to shooting on the Ninja again this week and on future productions. It will be interesting to see what other functionality Atomos add to it next.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Addicted. End of main location shoot.

Wow... it's been 14 days of solid, hard work in our primary location...which was a large, damp and creepy ex-factory.  The cast and crew really pulled together to get the required shots done in a very small amount of time and i'm really pleased with the footage.

Amy, our Camera Op. got some great footage and combined with Ian Holmes' excellent lighting...we've got a fantastic look which will grade perfectly. I must mention that the Pro Res 422 footage from the Ninja is infinitely more pliable in post than the AVCHD captured on the FS100 itself. We only used the camera's own codec for the slo-mo shots which were captured at 50fps in full HD....awesome. Anyone not sure if the Atomos Ninja is worth me, it is. Easy capture...easy to import into your NLE and very very solid build quality. Also, anyone who was unsure if Pro Tools works on location? It does... ok, maybe not ideal if you're moving locations all the time...but we were in one building for 2 weeks and it worked fine. Jon very quickly got the lav mic placement sorted and we got some great audio.

Ian contemplates the load-out.

One wing of the was huge...

Those nasty toilets.... they were fine for a couple of days...but then...not.

So what issues did we come up against on this budget shoot? Well, although we had enough cash to rent toilets, catering (albeit basic) and a simple green room set-up... it was still a bit grim to be stuck in there for 2 weeks. It's a big ask to get cast and crew to use portaloos and eat ready meals.... although we did have some rather good cups of tea and coffee....and lots of energy drinks and custard creams to keep our energy up in the middle of the night.

We managed to keep to schedule right up until the second week when a failed camera battery charger meant we didn't have any spare batteries...and that cost us half a day's shooting. But... thanks to a slightly less hectic 2nd week and a very dedicated crew...we caught up. But... like with many low budget shoots...we didn't have loads of time to get the required shots. We had to work fast...all the time. It was a case of making decisions quickly and sticking with them. We simply did not have the time for multiple takes and dozens of angles... i had to decide what i wanted and run with it. We usually shot 2 or 3 takes which is plenty if your acting talent is on the case.

Biggest cock up? A really important prop... a syringe with a retractable needle rolled off the gurney we were shooting on...and smashed on the floor. Disaster! But... we managed to fit the needle part onto another syringe which worked ok...but we did have to shoot it slightly differently.

Biggest surprise? How professional everyone was. From the make up girls to the cast...every single person on the set pulled their weight and worked together. Film making is very much a team game...and this team really worked. I will definitely work with all of them again... (if they'll forgive the dodgy toilets..)

We also can't forget our Exec Producer, Lawrie, without whom, none of this would have been possible. 

A couple of days off now...then down to London for the last week of the shoot.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Addicted...shooting now.

It's been a little while since my last post... i've been tied up shooting my second feature, 'The Addicted'. We're about halfway through the shoot now and we've taken a day off so that me and Jon can fly to Berlin to do a show with Kim Wilde. I'm sitting in my hotel room right now. I haven't slept since wednesday night and i'm feeling the strain... but, the shoot is going really well and popping over here to do a gig is kind of a nice break, in a working kind of way. I could actually do with a week of nothing but sleeping and eating nice food...but it ain't gonna happen. Tomorrow we fly back to London and then straight to the set to carry on filming. Hardcore...

So how's it been second time around? Well, it's been very different. I've been actually directing this time, as opposed to reigning in chaos. We found a fantastic new DoP called Amy Wilson and we've struck up a great working relationship. She's really quick to learn and has a natural ability with the camera.  Ian Holmes, our gaffer/special FX guy/rigger/props locator and general all round life safer has been working hard to make the location look amazing all the props work as planned. We've been blowing things up, dragging people around on the floor and filming them being tortured in the most nasty way... it's really quite scary just watching the rushes.

I've got to mention the make-up team of Natalie Burchell-Cherrett and Ange Watson. They've had a tough time of it getting the ghost to look like a ghost and making the 'addicted' look suitably nasty. They've also been adding all the various scrapes, bruises and bloody wounds that the cast pick up. That's all on top of doing the general make-up routine of hair styling and skin de-shining.  We'd be stuffed without them.

The camera package of the Sony FS100 and the Atomos Ninja has been fantastic. Running it in 422 mode has given us some truly jaw-dropping footage. The only issue i've had is the strobing effect of some of the fluorescent  lights in shot. But... clever Ian has sync'ed the generator to the shutter speed to get rid of it... result.  The daily routine of backing up the footage using the Ninja dock and a 2TB external drive has meant it's a perfect time to show the crew what we shot each day. So far, we're all really happy.

What's been tricky? Well, the long hours working through the night is very tough...but you sort of get used to it. Living on ready meals isn't great...  much respect to the whole cast and crew for putting up with the food. It's not cheap or easy to feed that many people on set for this long...  oh, and the battery charger that came with the FS100 stopped working...less than a week old. It cost us a few hours in lost shooting. Luckily i had spare Sony chargers...shame we didn't notice is wasn't charging though.

Jon's been finding the sound recording a little bit of challenge with regards to mic placement, but the lavs have been working great and he's got some really high quality dialogue recorded without a single cable being in view. The Pro Tools rig has been solid as a rock. As ever.

Huge thanks as ever to all the people involved... you're all vital and i wouldn't be able to do this without you. So... Jon, Jenny, Amy, Thea, Dan, Ian, Nat, Ang, Coops all the others who i'm too tired to recall... thank you.

Another special mention to the great Tim Parker who is playing a great part in the film...he's also been on-set taking stills for us... some of them are here:

Me trying to use the force...Amy wondering what i'm on about.

Me looking to see what Amy has got in the shot.

Jos getting ready to die.

Brooke dies impaled on some conduit...

Ian scares the crap out of the kids...then we kill them.