EOSHD.com has a piece that compares the “cinematic” look of a variety of DSLRs, and the new Panasonic AG-AF100..
The AF100 and GH2 do have a technically better image – hardly any noticeable moire, less aliasing, excellent noise control – true 1080p not some awful soft 720p-esq stuff like on the Canons! On the negative side I believe there ARE small issues with colour, the compression in AVCHD is still too high and it is harder to get the same extreme shallow DOF which you can get on the 5D and even 60D – you need a very fast lens at quite a long focal length to mimic it. The GH2 and AF100 are weak for fast primes too, at the wide end you can get to 11mm F2.8 – it looks nothing like the shallow DOF cinematic look you get from a Canon 24mm F1.4L on a full frame sensor, it just isn’t as aesthetically nice and you couldn’t shoot something like Undercity on the AF100 and have it look identical to the 5D Mark II, purely because of sensor size and available optics.
Danfung Dennis, whose work Kurt Lancaster chronicled on this site in October 2009, has taken the Sundance World Documentary Prize, for a film shot completely on a Canon EOS 5D Mk II.
DSLR News Shooter notes that,
Huge congratulations to photojournalist turned filmmaker Danfung Dennis for winning the top prize in the Documentary Filmmaking category of the Sundance festival awards. He also scooped the World Cinema Cinematography Award for Documentary Filmmaking. His film “Hell and Back Again” was shot on the 5DmkII and follows the story of a Marine fighting in the Afghan war and his subsequent rehabilitation.
The award is certainly a breakthrough not only for Dennis but for the notion of shooting with DSLRs. While serious cinematographers first scoffed at these cameras (and perhaps feared that they would open to work to many more people, which is exactly what happened), the DSLR has taken hold and the success at Sundance shows that it will only continue.
Dennis told Kurt in the interview in 2009,
“The camera allowed me to apply the same aesthetics and method from stills to video. The image quality is stunning, the low light capabilities outstanding and it is light enough to mount onto a hand held steadicam.”
After shooting some HD video in the field, Dennis discovered “that there are more similarities between video and stills than there are differences. I can apply everything that I’ve learned from stills to video, so I feel that I’m still doing the same thing, just adding the complex layers of motion and sound.” However, he doesn’t switch up lenses “in combat and dusty situations,” he adds, sticking to a handy 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
His steadicam is a modified Glidecam 2000 HD (http://www.glidecam.com/product-hd-series.php). His modifications include two “wings” where he mounts a XLR audio adapter (DXA-2s shown below, but now uses the Juiced Link CX231). and a Sennheiser shotgun mic (ME-66) and wireless lav mic (Sennheiser G2 system). He also adapted the Glidecam bodypod device (http://www.glidecam.com/product-body-pod.php), cutting it up some “to make it fit with my body armor and used it to rest my arm when I was not shooting” and he added “custom rubber pads on the mount and a foam ear plug to suppress the vibration of the lens.”
“How To Die in Oregon” has taken the top documentary prize at Sundance, and with that, perhaps, a pushing of the boundaries of what documentaries must do to succeed in a reality-TV world.
The film, which tracks people who, because of Oregon’s “Death With Dignity” law, choose to end their own lives. The filmmakers show lethal injections on screen, and the death of the subjects.
Opening the film with a scene of cancer patient Roger Sagner drinking a deadly dose of Seconal surrounded by loving friends and family sets the context for a sometimes harrowing journey into the lives of these brave individuals.
While the filmmaker, Peter D. Richardson, chose a powerful topic sure to get response, at least one reviewer , Chris Campbell at Cinematical, had this to say:
‘How to Die in Oregon’ features no bells and whistles or big narrative surprises or interesting camerawork that gets most docs notice these days (though the excellent final shot/moment is a distinct and unexpected way to end). All it has, and all it needs, is a controversial topic addressed sufficiently and respectably. It does raise awareness and inspires a conversation.
To do so involves, of course, a necessary intrusion. Documentary filmmakers struggle with that line all the time. And the people they approach struggle with it as well.The questions become, always, how the presence of a documentary filmmaker affects, influences and changes the story. It also means that the experiences of the people being chronicled change: They’re not just having their experiences, they’re having their experience as “cast” in a film. According to The New York Times, the son of the main subject of the film had objections to his mother’s death being part of a film.
Thomas Curtis, 30, said on Sunday that he was extremely reluctant to share his mother’s remaining time with Mr. Richardson’s camera. “In the beginning none of us wanted to do it except Mom,” he said in an interview.
Of course the film does what “documentary” purports to do – it documents. But the question of how the inclusion of death scenes tilts the proceedings is a question that came around with the graphic bridge-jumping suicide footage of “The Bridge” (widely availalabe on YouTube, now riped from its context and simply a voyeuristic artifact by virtue of that) or the dolphin killings of “The Cove.” Despite the framework of serious debate, the films really appeal in a way to the prurience of seeing death, for real.
One reality TV show, “The Deadliest Catch,” built most of its season around the death of Capt. Phil Harris, after a stroke. Salon.com notes that “Reality TV’s first on-screen death,”
Even a sensitive documentarian might look at the “Deadliest Catch” camera crew’s post-stroke footage and think, “This is a motherlode,” then set about repackaging pain as entertainment. The task was daunting: In a genre that has captured endless humiliation, violence and other human suffering, here was reality TV’s first death… “Deadliest Catch” has brought old-school documentary sobriety to a genre more often known for shamelessness. I can think of few areas in which the show has made a misstep.
“The Deadliest Catch,” as a vehicle, did and did not go looking for that material – it did recognize, even in its title, it might well capture death, and indeed drew viewers by promising to see life-risking moments, but it did not in the way it expected to. In “How to Die,” there seems little doubt Richardson knew what he was after. The question is whether that is a good thing, and whether that footage either tilts or compensates for other weaknesses.
At Collider.com, Matt Goldberg notes,
How to Die in Oregon makes a case for “death with dignity” but that case is weakened by Richardson’s over-reliance on the emotional impact and conducting unnecessary interviews. If the film wants to sell me on legalizing euthanasia, then I want to know more facts. I want to know about other options for end-of-life care. I want to know if the doctor-prescribed death drink ever fails to kill the patient and instead sends them into a persistent vegetative state. At one point, a title card tells us that Cody is improving under “palliative care”, but it doesn’t tell us what that means or entails. Rather than take the time to show a broader view of end-of-life care, Richardson shows tangential scenes which don’t benefit the emotional or intellectual impact of the movie. For example, in one scene he meets with the founder of the “Hemlock Society” (a name I found dreadfully glib), an organization dedicated to legalizing euthanasia. After the scene, we never see the society’s founder again.
On an emotional level, How to Die in Oregon is a triumph. It pulls at your heartstrings without feeling manipulative and when we look at Cody, we see our own loved ones, and the thought of losing them slowly and painfully is absolutely gut-wrenching. But on an intellectual level, the film is unsatisfying.
Which brings to a question of where the documentary art is headed. In some ways, it seems “emotional level” is trumping deep investigation, good camera work, narrative art and other foundations. Indeed, Sundance lavished attention on the bestaility film “Zoo” a few years back, and that film seems to have moved forward mainly, if not completely on shock value.
Does this mean that succeeding in a field that is both choked with product and competing in many ways with the hyper-emotional content of reality shows pushing filmmakers too far? And is the value of the emotional moment – the “you are there” of witnessing a death – overshadowing the more detailed, and often less emotional debate that documentaries traditionally have afforded?
The Panasonic AG-AF100/101 has barely gotten to market before the work is on to squeeze out even more performance.
He says it is unencrypted, and shares a similar CPU with the GH2 (MN103)
He also reveals that the firmware source code contains a good deal of information about what the functions do, in the form of debug messages, comments and assertion messages, making it easier for Vitaliy to find his way and to give testers some useful experiments to try out.
An interesting aside here, is that Vitaliy Kiselev shares a platform at DVXUser with the Panasonic AF100’s US product planner Jan Crittenden Livingston. They will most probably be totally at odds over this.
Although what Vitaliy is not illegal, and the Russian hacker takes great pains to stay on the right side of the law, I hardly think Panasonic will welcome the hack with open arms!
Even without a hack, the camcorder seems promising. HDWarrior has been doing a series of tests and reports, and says,
The camera grows on you the more you use it and it’s far from an easy option in fact I would consider it a thinking mans camcorder, you have to think about your next shot and decide how you are going to light it and what lens to use.
Second Chair Video has a good tutorial by Nick Holmes on converting DSLR footage for use in Final Cut.
MPEG Streamclip is an awesome program that you can get for free, and SCV gives you step-by-step on conversion.
Sometimes we get clients that turn up with something that absolutely must be in their project. The problem is, all they have is a DVD and there’s no chance of getting the original footage. Well, that’s clients for you. Welcome to the world of video post production.
The question of what to convert it into is always interesting. AIC, ProRes, or a codec that you use with other cameras – say XDCam EX.
Here’s a tutorial video:
The New York Times reports today on the flurry of acquisitions happening at Sundance, and one of the most interesting is “Life In A Day.” The Times reports:
The most unusual purchase went to National Geographic Films, which acquired the United States rights to “Life in a Day,” the project produced by Ridley Scott in which people from around the world were asked to record their activities on July 24 of last year and submit the footage. Nat Geo plans to release the film in theaters on July 24 of this year, the same day as it goes up on YouTube.
The obvious answer to “Why would I pay $10 to see it in a theater when I can watch it on my computer?” is that of quality and dimension. It seems a move indicative of the shifting perceptions on documentary distribution. This film, as a crowdsourced work, not only has power of the filmmakers but a host of people who will drive audiences toward it. UPI reports:
Worldwide YouTube users responded with more than 80,000 submissions from 192 countries, totaling more than 4,500 hours of footage. More than 1,000 clips from YouTube users around the world were woven into the film, which is to premiere Thursday at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
When John Scheinfeld set out in 2004 to make a documentary on the 1970s music icon Harry Nilsson, he did so with a small budget and high hopes for a good film. When the film was finally released six years later, it was (as we covered in Part 1 and Part 2), a star-packed cast reminsicing about a somewhat forgotten friend.
The fact that it took so long to release “Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)”was mostly do to the hurdles of getting rights to archival materials, more often than not the most budget-burning aspect of a documentary film project.
While the trend toward live-action narratives has allowed many filmmakers to avoid that issue altogether, for classic interview-based docs, the rights chase can be heaven or hell, depending on you look at it. Scheinfeld says he’s of the former persuasion: “It’s the part of making a documentary I love most,” he says. “I call it ‘The Treasure Hunt.’ You’re on a hunt for the best audio-visual material to help you tell your story.”
As a highly prominent singer and songwriter, Nilsson was often in the public eye, but he was also a man who did no concerts.
With Harry, I had a very different set of challenges going on than I’d ever had before. First and foremost, “How do you make a movie about a guy who never performed live?” I didn’t have concert footage to work with. Any time you see biographies of musicians they’re always going back to the concert footage. I didn’t have that. At best, I had a handful of TV appearances. So I needed all of those.
We went after all the material we knew about and then tried to find material we didn’t know about. We were very lucky that people like Mickey Dolenz and record producer Chip Douglas gave us home movies. Sony was extremely generous and opened up the photo archive – thousands of photos to choose from of Harry, but mostly professional stuff. They didn’t charge us for that. Then we had family who had a lot of photos.
So I’d say in terms of licensing photos, we licensed maybe 20. Four of them were about the incident at The Troubadour (when Nilsson and John Lennon were ejected from that nightclub for drunkenly heckling The Smothers Brothers), because there was actually a photographer there that night. I had to have those.
Photo archives tend to be more experienced in such matters. They also seem to understand that working with a filmmaker’s budget can lead to some, instead of no revenue those archives are supposed to generate. With photo agencies and archives struggling to monetize in the free-for-all of the web, they seem to have flexed in this way.
But, Scheinfeld says,
Video was another matter. Harry only did about seven or eight TV things. Two were special performances for the BBC, so it was more than just one performance. He did The Tonight Show a couple of times but those were gone, he did Dick Cavett once but that was gone, did a couple of other talk shows but those were gone. So the BBC stuff was important – we had to pay for those, and big dollars. They didn’t care. I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing how much we paid, but we paid close to rate card, what they charge per second for material.
The hunt led to some old television shows.
One of the shows Harry did was “Playboy After Dark.” It turned out he had sung three different songs on that show. I called up the licensing people for Playboy and told them who I was and what we were doing. I got this woman with attitude. It was like, “Well, even if we would license this to you, it would be $12,000 to $13,000 per minute, and you can’t afford it, so just forget about it. And I’m the wrong person to say that to.
So I wrote a very passionate letter to Hugh Hefner, who I did not know, about what we were doing and why it was important and why we really needed this material. We Fed Exed it to The Mansion, and three days later we got a call from the number-two guy in the Playboy empire. He said, “Hef got your letter… loved Harry…thought he was a great artist… you can have whatever you want, no charge.
That’s really a lot of the help we got from people. Some material we paid for because they were owned by archives that really didn’t have a reason one way or another to help. But all of them other than the BBC were gracious and made deals with us based on our budget.
The film wouldn’t work without lots of Nilsson music, so much of it creates instant recognition. People who’ve not heard of Nilsson remember “Jump Into The Fire,” “Put De Lime in De Coconut,” “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Without You.” To get representative music into the film was make or break, as photos and video were not. Scheinfeld notes,
For the music, that’s a jungle unto itself, trying to license music. Part of it was that Harry’s estate owns most of the publishing (rights). It’s administered by publishers, but the estate controls it. The estate said we could use it, so we were able to do that for virtually no money. There were a few songs that Harry didn’t write, so we had to do some deals on that. And again, they were quite gracious and gave us fees based on our budget.
Where we ran into issues was with Sony, who owned most of the master recordings. BMG had bought out RCA, which was Harry’s company, then BMG had merged with Sony.
They were wonderful to us during the making of the film, but once it was done and I said I wanted all these songs gratis, they said “…Gratis? What does that word mean?” It was the lawyers talking now. The creative people understood what we were doing. The lawyers said, “We don’t know if we can do that; we don’t know if we can set that precedent.”
We never got a yes, and we never got a no. Then two presidents came and went, and then they shed BMG. It was company in transition. It was a company in chaos. And we couldn’t get an answer.
This was why the film was delayed in release. Years went by. Finally a new president came in, understood what we were doing, and said, “You can have what you need.” That’s rare.
In the end, Sony even let Scheinfeld’s crew bring master recordings into a studio to strip songs of lyrics and use that music as underscore for the talking parts of the film.
As Scheinfeld notes, with more documentary filmmakers and more ability to make low-budget documentaries, part of the task is helping sources understand who you are, what you need, and why they should care.
My feeling is you treat each film as a different animal. You find a reason why people should help you. Many will; a few won’t. At some point you have to decide either, “OK, I’ll suck it up and pay it,” or, if you can’t help us work to the budget, it just won’t be in the film.” Some won’t care, and some will.