Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Xmas!

Time for a break for a couple of weeks for Xmas. It's been a crazy December and i'm well and truly cooked.. some sofa time with the Kids, some JD and some Xmas TV is just what i need.

I'd like to say a big thanks to everyone that's been involved in helping me this year including Atomos and Red Giant and all the clients that had faith and let me impose my ideas upon them. I'd also like to thank Rob at Digital FilmMaker Magazine.

Put your feet up...try and enjoy some time off and eat as much as you can.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sean x

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The raw and the cooked... it's raw, not RAW.

I decided to have another trawl around the online camera reviews to see if there's better alternative to my FS100 & Atomos Ninja2 combo for my next project. I forgot how arse-lickingly annoying camera test comments are on  You'd think some people were watching the second coming or something. What makes me really laugh is the kids who comment on things that you really can't see. I was watching a comparison between the BMCC in raw mode and the FS100's AVCHD. Clearly, the AVCHD is going to struggle here, but thanks to the compression in the uploaded file and then Vimeo's own compression, they didn't look too dis-similar. Now i've seen raw footage from the BMCC in the flesh and it is good...very good, but some of the comments were pure madness. For example:

"OMG! I have got to get me a BMCC! The RAW is amazing - blows everything else away!"

Right. For starters, you really can't see hardly any difference in the clip. Also, some of these kids think raw is the answer to all their cinematic dreams. It's really not. It's very useful sometimes, but quite often it's a massive pain in the arse. If you don't know what it is.....i shall explain:

Raw (not's not an just means raw - as in, not cooked) means that the footage is captured in such a way that your ISO setting doesn't matter... the full dynamic range of the sensor is used on every shot you shoot in raw. Only your shutter angle, focus and framing matter. There's also no need to white balance.. all the information is there to deal with later. From sensor to data without compression.

I'm not a raw hater, it's very cool and i intend to shoot raw as and when the shot requires it, but in general i prefer to shoot log. Shooting log means capturing a 'flat' image, but with a 'burnt in' white balance and ISO setting. I capture Pro Res 422 HQ, so i have a lot of pliability in post to grade and adjust the temperature and look as i choose, but its not as flexible as raw. The reason i prefer it, is that it's a fraction of the grief and data size to deal with.

Raw footage needs interpreting before you can see any pictures. It's a bit like a 'pre-edit' grading session where you turn the raw files into something you can edit with and set your ISO and white balance as well as maybe some first pass grading. That's a lot of work... it takes a lot of disk space and doubles your post duration. I'm more than happy to decide on my ISO and white balance on location if it means i can avoid that.

Now, before you go all 'semi-pro' on me remember this: raw is just a tool.... it doesn't make better films and in many cases it doesn't even look better ( i know of lot of BMCC shooters who prefer the Pro Res look)... all it does is give you more options in post.  There are some arguments that raw footage is sharper and has less moire, but compared to what? DSLR? Of course... FS100 or FS700? Maybe...maybe not.

Either way, i think if a lot of the indie filmmakers out there spent more of their ready cash on decent lights and better production design, their films would improve way more than they would by upgrading from a DSLR to a raw capable camera which will just suck them dry as they plough more money into batteries, hard drives and lenses to work with the awkward sensor sizes. Why not ask Sean Ellis what he thinks? He's a great filmmaker who just won best Director and Best Picture at the London Independent Film Awards for 'Metro Manila' all shot on 5D Mk2. It's now the UK's Oscar entry for best foreign language film...  shooting compressed H.264 hasn't done his film any harm....

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Develop your style and your voice

I'm always quite stunned when i see other indie filmmakers darting from one style to the next with their projects. I'm not necessarily talking about genre, we can't all keep to one genre all the time... but some filmmakers (and i purposely don't use the term 'directors') are making comedy skits one minute and professing a love of deep, meaningful cinema the next. If you have diverse tastes and you want to work in both comedy and serious drama, that's no bad thing, but if the start of your career is littered with random projects with no common style or 'voice' then it's going to be hard to be taken seriously.

I have just read Chris from Living Spirit's article on holding back on your first film until you are 100% sure it's the absolute best film you can make and is ready for the World to see it. I agree that you should never work on a film you don't believe in, but sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn. I've made 3 features now and i've learned so much on each one, i can't wait to make another one to see what else i learn. If i'd not put out my first film because i was afraid it was a bit shit (and it was), i'd never have got the investment to make the 2nd one...which in turn lead to the 3rd.  We need to be brave and let the World see our efforts...even if they aren't 100% what we want them to be. It does feel like going down to breakfast in a busy hotel restaurant with your balls swaying in the wind, it's very scary and you feel like everyone is going to say something negative... but it's part of the process.

A lot of indie filmmakers are looking to jump into the premiere league of filmmaking and they see a kind of 'hand of God' situation occurring where someone from the industry picks you to direct the next Bond film. It's not going to happen for 99.9% of you. Remember how unlikely it is to get your film picked up for a major festival? It's 100 times less likely than that. So...what to do?  Ignore the nay-sayers and make your films. Make them yourself. Find the money yourself and produce them as best you can. Eventually one of several things will happen:

  1. You make an absolute genius movie that is picked up for major distro and you never look back.
  2. You get a bit of a rep and sell enough copies of each movie you make to live on. No premiere league for you, but a nice little career if subsidised with other work.
  3. You can't get distribution and you don't make any money... you go broke and give up.
  4. You drift into an associated industry - music videos, corporate, training and do ok.
  5. You realise you're pretty good at one aspect of filmmaking and concentrate on that and end up being part of someone else's team. After a time, you might get another bite of the apple.

I've had many meetings with production companies and studios and what they look for is a style and voice that runs through a body of work. Watch any Kubric film and you'll see him and his style all the way through. The same goes for Spielberg, Hitchcock and Darabont. Very diverse films, but very obviously theirs. From the visual style to the narrative content... you can feel their input in each shot.

Trying to develop a style isn't easy. All the big filmic gestures have been done before... but don't think the big Directors didn't steal them from the filmmakers that went before them...of course they did. So pick and choose your favourite bits and mash them up...but add a bit you to the pot. I've got a couple of shots i use a lot and i think (and hope) these are part of my 'style'.  I also have a very definite edit style i'm trying to stick with... it's a bit of a hark back to a style from a long time ago, but i like it and hopefully it subtly becomes associated with my films. 

What about 'your voice'? That's even harder. Look at Hitchcock's career... what was he saying? Where was he going with it? He opened up cinema to a whole new era. He learned to shock audiences in a completely new way and made people wary of certain situations back in reality. He made people look at the World with a slightly more suspicious mind than previously. Spielberg makes films about hope and the human heart... you leave most of his films feeling uplifted and hopeful...and grateful to be part of the human race. Kubric left audiences in awe of the darkness and mistrust his films generated.. he delved into the part of the brain that we prefer to ignore.  That is the voice... that is what these film makers 'say'. What's yours?  When you find it... you'll find either choosing or writing films much easier.... you will have a point of view to work from. It doesn't matter what genre you apply your voice to, but if it's not there...if you ignore it, you'll be working on something that really won't fit with 'you'... and that will be a waste.