Leica may not have ever dominated the photojournalism market, but the estimable German brand did, at one time, dominate the imaginations of those who fancied themselves “serious” photographers. Everybody wanted a Leica and few could afford one.
Leica’s front end cameras are still expensive (the M9 titanium body only runs $29,000) and Leica has not included HD video in its offerings – until now.
But maybe not really.
The newly launched Leica V-Lux 2 has 1080/30i video, but Dan Sung at Pocket-Lint is on the case:
Look familiar? It should, because it appears to be the identical twin of the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 that we saw back in July.
The curious part is that not only do they look exactly the same, the have the identical parts as well. Both come with the same high-performance LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT 4.5 – 108 mm f/2.8 – 5.2 ASPH. zoom lens, the same 14.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, the same 3-inch swivel screen with 460k dots and the very same chassis all over with all the buttons in the same place. So, they are indeed, the same. They are one – just with different badges. In fact, if there is anything else that separates these two, then it must be incredibly well hidden.
There are worse things than being compared to a Panasonic Lumix, but the big question is whether the prices will be identical (not!). What, indeed, is the price premium for the word “Leica” on your camera? The one list price we saw on the Leica is £675, or more than $1,000. The Panasonic lists at $499.
Alexander Holz writes in a piece in Mashable that social media is changing filmmaking in several ways, and that includes changing the notion of the work as a self-contained media object. The “film” can be an ongoing development. In the project Vaquita.tv by Chris Johnson, which was in seven parts and released on the web,
“Social media is a great ally during the production of a project, the marketing of it, and potentially keeping the issues addressed in your film in the media for a long time after someone has watched it,” Johnson said. “I believe that you never finish making a documentary film.”
Indeed, the way social media can extend a project is something that requires getting out of the traditional mindset about what “film” is. If a seven-part video on the web a “film”? In a way, it doesn’t matter if it achieves purposes.
Further, this sort of film/web work can lead to something not unlike a planet with its satellites, the way “bonus material” on a DVD expands the offering. Outside of the primary “film,” can there be footage broken off as its own piece? The answer, obviously, is yes, as more filmmakers explore how to build that.
Social media also changes the way we interact with the communities of both audience and film. Sheri Candler has a guest column on Truly Free Film that posits the idea of “tribes,” a word that makes a nice fit with the notion of smaller but more appreciative audiences as well as a greater network of filmmakers sharing perspectives and support.
The selection of the word “tribe” does indeed come from Seth Godin. The word “tribe” – as the anthropologists use it – means a society or organized group largely based on kinship that looks to a leader for guidance. This is not to be confused with a “crowd,” a non-organized group with no leader. There are lots of crowds in indie film, very few leaders. Filmmakers must create and cultivate an identity around themselves as artists. This identity will serve as leadership in forming a tribe of passionate supporters who will sustain their artist in order for this person to live and keep making the art the tribe enjoys.
Videography.com has an interview with the Cliff Charles, cinematographer for Spike lee’s HBO documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.” and notes Canon’s EOS 7D and EOS 1D Mk IV got heavy use.
“We captured as much of the Gulf Coast area and New Orleans as we could because the city itself is a ‘character’ in the film,” he said. “Ricardo Sarmiento, one of our main camera operators, did a lot of the landscape shooting with the 1D Mark IV in particular.”
“The relatively small size of the Canon digital SLRs enables one person to carry multiple cameras, which was another advantage,” Charles added. “These cameras were used for different shots, because of their different weights and sensor sizes.”
The article indicates these cameras were used to augment more traditional (and costly) HD cameras, but does not specify what those might have been. But an earlier piece on the film’s color correction in Digital Producer says this:
All told, seven different formats including HDCAM SR, DVCPro HD, HDV, 35mm, 16mm, Super 8 and DSLR footage were incorporated into the film. Both Lee and Charles wanted each source to have its own rich look.
The camcorder in the photo here is a Sony SRW-9000, which shoots HDCam format. For a filmmaker as well-funded as Lee, it would seem too risky to go all-DSLR; he used some pretty heavy-duty formats to give HBO the video specs it wants. But if in the film it’s hard to tell the difference between footage from the $100,000 camcorder and the $1,600 DSLR, that will certainly advance the legitimacy of the format.
The Videography piece also says,
Another benefit, Charles cited, to shooting with an SLR-style camera is that many people know how to use them. Even if they are completely camera-illiterate, the learning curve is far simpler than that for a broadcast-grade HD camcorder or film camera. This enabled Charles to give Canon 1D Mark IV and 7D cameras to other members of the crew and obtain a greater variety of coverage at little-to-no cost. This additional-cameraman method is becoming a popular DSLR technique employed by cinematographers to quickly and simply capture an additional angle or perspective on an established shot.
“This is a great advantage in situations where you need to acquire a lot of footage very quickly,” he said. “Everyone got an opportunity to work with the cameras, including Spike, who shot some footage with the 7D. He would not have been able to shoot and direct if he was using anything larger than a DSLR camera.”
Documentaries keep trying to look like fiction films, and fiction films keep trying look like documentaries – at least fiction filmmakers’ view of what documentaries should look like.
In a review of “Catfish,” the not-really-a-documentary, the Huffington Post’s Marshall Fine notes certain low-quality qualities:
Most of those have to do with the low-rez imagery, produced by grab-what’s-at-hand equipment used to shoot this funny, spooky documentary. Filmed on the fly with everything from high-priced digital equipment to Flip cameras (or the equivalent), Catfish has an in-the-moment feel, like a story whose tellers weren’t sure where it was going or what they had while they were shooting it. You get the sense that they didn’t necessarily know they were making a movie, so much as simply recording bits of their daily life.
In other words, shot like a cheap documentary. The kind most documentary makers would never get caught dead shooting. But films like “Catfish” and “Exit Through The Gift Shop” lower audience expectations of what a documentary should look like.
Faux-documentary documentaries usually consciously play up the elements that say “real,” by saying “cheap,” including such old saws as the interviewers voice coming from beyond the frame (usually tinny and distant, as if no one thought to mike the interviewer), boom mikes “accidentally” dropping into view, exposed wires, bad lighting, grainy low-light shots buzzing with noise, and low-grade video quality, as if shot on Hi-8. That creates the “raw” feel the filmmakers believe create the documentary look. Editing is usually choppy, sloppy and amateurish, again in the name of authenticity.
For actual documentary makers, that might be a good or bad thing. One view is that beautifully shot docs will surprise and please the audience; the other is that the faux-look allows less-funded documentarians to be in the game.
But the Flip camera thing is something any self-respecting documentary filmmaker would go to great lengths to avoid; handheld, jarring shots complete the look.
If it looks “real,” that’s how you know it’s not real.
The film already has provoked controversy over just how truthful the film itself is. Some have lumped it together with Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here, as examples of films that appear to be documentaries but which, in fact, may be something else altogether.
Schneider uses the word to describe the process not of “revisions,” but of new versions. McGuire says,
An iterative approach to editing allows one to re-order scenes and experiment with different openings and various endings. Luck comes into play, serendipity, when you try butting two shots together that yields an unexpectedly exciting result. The word also connotes the possibility that sheer chance plays a role. Sometimes whole scenes can be re-ordered easily, more often than not a new order requires multiple small tweaks – like when a variable change in a spreadsheet has an unforeseen cascading effect that completely alters the filmmaker’s perception of the material.
McGuire notes that,
Editing is the only aspect of filmmaking that has no similarity to earlier art forms. Writing a screenplay is similar to writing a play. Directing on a set is comparable to directing for the stage. Editing a film, and in this case, editing a documentary, isn’t like anything else that ever came before in human history. In a sense you are writing, or creating a narrative, a story, but from images and sounds of real events. You can cut a scene many different ways, and get a completely different effect. But the individual scenes serve a larger narrative that must have coherence. It needs to be more than the sum of its parts. It is also a temporal experience, like music, but with images, like a mosaic that you view one tile at a time. When it is over, you stand back, and see the entire picture as a thing, in your memory.
The final thought is simple, but true especially of skills such as editing: “Whatever your personality as an editor, success will probably come down to what it has always come down to – what carpenters call ‘time on tools’.”
NPR has a blog piece on “News21,” the Knight Foundation initiative that funds eight “incubator” university programs in multimedia journalism.
And if you didn’t think that there’s a bit of a revolution going on, look at the video “Spilling Over,” from students at the University of North Carolina, to see how lower-cost equipment and laptop editing has created the ability to do very good work.
Such effects as shallow depth of field and rich color were, only a few years ago, what separated the pros from the wannabes – not necessarily because the pros had superlative talent, but rather because they had equipment that could do that stuff was prohibitively expensive.
Now, the equipment allows everyone to be in the game, and to be less concerned about technical stuff and more about subject.
According to NPR,
Their documentary takes viewers deep into the heart of a community, showing how the national disaster has deeply affected people on a local level. Kindra Arnesen and her husband, David, are presented grappling with a decision about sending their children away from Venice to escape possible health risks from the spill. The scene is played out on a split screen as they talk on the phone, and the emotional impact of the moment is punctuated when Kindra and the kids leave David behind to work for BP cleaning up the oil.
“The biggest thing I learned was not just how to be a photographer or a videographer on a story, but how to be a reporter,” said producer Lauren Frohne. “We were worried that some people would end up pushing us away. But for the most part, because of the rapport we built with people, a lot of them were OK with it, and that was a new experience for all of us.”
Joey Daoud at Coffee and Celluloid writes about his experience trying to raise funds on Kickstarter, with the basic thought being “People don’t want to pledge money on something that isn’t a sure thing.”
He was planning a documentary on high-school students making robots for a competition, and set a goal amount of $9,000. He didn’t get the money.
His post lays out some wise advice: Build a fan base first through social media, create a high-profile blog and (most importantly) set a reasonable goal amount.
It’s also harder to build a fan base and raise money in the early stages of a project, before you have something to show and spread. That’s why there’s so many finishing grants – they want to put their money on something that has a high chance of seeing completion.
But he doesn’t address what is probably the key to trying to crowdfund: Have an absolutely brilliant idea that someone else can’t steal.
That’s nearly impossible. Imagine putting out into the ether an idea that is so obviously good that funders can’t help but want to put money toward it. Now imagine someone out there seeing that and thinking, “That’s something I could probably do better than this person.”
When you lay out your idea on Kickstarter, you’re depending on someone saying “that project could really work!” in all the right ways. Ideas aren’t copyrightable, nor should they be. So here are some added observations on approaching Kickstarter.
1) I have an idea that is sufficiently broad that it will attract both funders and a wide audience. Funders mathematically represent a very tiny subgroup of all the people who’d want to see this film. Projects that involve a very narrow topic might attract a smaller, deeper cohort, but now you need luck working for you. For Joey’s project, I’d guess not that many people are that interested in robot building – or at least think they’d be that interested - but if you can get the idea to that rich tech guy who remembers fondly building his own robot in high school… but then you’re probably back to looking for individual backers.
2) I have a project in which I am the only person who can do it properly. What gives you, the filmmaker, a monopoly on this idea? Why can’t someone else do it better? Hollywood is in the idea-stealing business, to a large degree, and we assume documentary filmmakers are more… pure. Ask Regina Kimbell about that. So to crowdfund without giving away the store, it can either be that you’re in a highly unusual position (“I’m living in the Amazon with an indigenous group of natives who have never before seen an outsider and have come to trust me”), or it can be that you’re a unique talent with a serious track record (“I’ve won major awards for my uniquely insightful approach to stories and my tireless work to realize it on film”). Roko Belic crowdfunded $36,000 for his new documentary “Happy,” which is a great idea. He also was an Academy Award nominee for his film “Genghis Blues,” in which he traveled to Mongolia to document a blind American participating in a Tuvan throatsinging competition, shot on Hi-8, and lived over an auto repair shop to afford to make the film. That’s a fundable guy.
3) This idea fills a gap that people want to see filled. As much as it seems like there is no stone unturned in the current documentary climate, there are always gaps in topic areas you’d think would have been done. Don’t try to crowdfund a documentary about the environment, the current darling topic of film festivals everywhere, try to find something where when you say, “No one’s ever done a film on this,” the response is “Really? You’re kidding.” That kind of film may not appeal to Sundance and The Academy, but it will appeal to the audience who’d like to see that as-yet-nonexistent film.
4) I will finish this film no matter what, but your money will help make it better. Kickstarter has no way of knowing how many people, when they don’t reach their funding goal, just give up, but that’s the last person I’d want to fund. Show me no one can stop you. Show me you already figured out how you’ll sacrifice and fight through adversity before you ask me to give money to a stranger. Make me, in essence, part of a cause, a story of triumph over adversity – not only in the film, but in the story of making of the film. A trailer will help a lot in showing this.
5) I’m not greedy. Remember “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when there’s a bank run, and everyone’s trying to cash out? George Bailey asks people, “what will it take to get you by for now?” Meek little Miss Davis says, “Can I have $17.50?” When you’re crowdfunding, you’re Miss Davis. You will get by on the least amount possible. You will ask for nothing more than you need. And how much do you really need? I once met a couple of guys who wanted to do a documentary on gerrymandering in Texas politics. They lived in Boston. So their funding needs involved airfare, hotels and so on. With Joey, I presume the high school where they’re doing the robot building is very close by (so he can be there all the time at no expense), that he’ll work the project after his regular job he uses to afford his own living expenses, and that he’ll choose equipment that is the minimum to do his project correctly – REDs need not apply. But a crowdfunder, IMHO, is wise not to let me presume that, but to be clear on that. With grants, you’re obligated to report back your expenditures and sign a legal document saying you’re telling the truth. Crowdfunding is all about trust.
Finally, and most importantly, some of the best documentaries ever would not have been crowdfundable. “Grey Gardens,” “Hoop Dreams” and “The Thin Blue Line” were likely too dependent on luck and serendipity to have drawn donations. So for Joey and other unsuccessful crowdfunders, what may happen in that outcome that you can’t guarantee may be the very thing that makes the film wonderful…
The New York Women in Film & Television are offering a $7,500 grant for a film by a woman with a disability, or by a woman on the subject of disability. The Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant deadline is September 8.
Grants have never been as numerous for documentary filmmakers, and even more scarce for makers of fiction/feature films. The reasons have always been simple: Even a decade ago, $7,500 was a drop in the bucket given the costs and challenges of making a film that would ever see the light of day.
Grantsmakers always needed to justify their disbursements, and films were always a bad bet. The number of $1 million-budget films (most fictional features) I know that were made in the 1990s that are still sitting on dusty shelves is staggering; the filmmakers (and some of these films are very good) not only had to contend with the costs of film and equipment, of expensive editing facilities, and of pricey delivery formats, but then they hit the bottlenecks of both the traditional forms of getting visibility – film festivals – and of indifferent distributors. Investing in a film was a longshot wager, and grant agencies tend not to be reckless gamblers.
What would the Arbus grant get you ten years ago? Some 35mm film and processing? (Note Albert Maysles comparison of film vs. video here.) Some time at a postproduction facility that bills $300 an hour? The expensive prospect of paying for DVDs to be authored from glass masters at a replication facility?
Now it can fund a good deal of your film. Shooting on a DSLR and editing on a MacBook Pro, you could do something good. And more importantly, with digital platforms for delivery, the film festivals have become more of a vehicle for publicity (and fun) than to ensure your film gets to a larger audience.
That’s especially true for documentaries, which find their audiences in ways that fiction films never will. Your doc may not go to Sundance and be up for an Oscar, but well-chosen topics have audiences, and distributors aren’t really about connecting to them in the way DIY does now, be it Facebook, a website, or getting the right coverage in sometimes not-so-obvious places. (My own current project already has 30 paid theatrical and university screenings set up for 2010 and 2011, largely based on publicity we got on a variety of blogs and from one article on the project in Publisher’s Weekly, all this before we even sent the completed film to a festival. We’ll make all our money back, and a good deal more, before even selling DVDs or determining digital distribution. Being in a festival doesn’t really seem that important at this point, although it would be enjoyable. I’ll post more on that process later this year. And of course, all this will be made known to the granting agency who helped fund the film when we apply for another grant from them).
I suspect that grantmaking agencies that see their funds result in a definable outcome, and who see it done mostly on their money, are going to start feeling good. Whomever gets the Arbus grant has a better chance to complete a film that goes to a meaningful audience than ever before. While it’s my opinion that fictional films remain the longshot bet they always were, documentaries may find more funding with organizations that traditionally avoided funding films.
Nicholas Chee at Alive Not Dead has an interview with Singapore-born, award-winning film composer Tay Chee Wai.
Most of the time as I’m watching the rough cuts of the film without music, I already hear the finished score playing in my head, and all I have to do is to remember it, and then write it down or record it right away! Now, that sounds really simple, but in reality, it’s seldom that straightforward because the worst thing that can happen at that point (and it usually happens!) is that I get interrupted by a phone call or the door bell… And after that I cannot recall what I ‘heard’ in my mind, and that really drives me up the wall!
For most low-budget films, getting workable music is a dilemma. Chee Wai laments the need for emerging composers to “shoot themselves in the foot” by agreeing to do music at too low a cost, but also that most smaller projects use licensed music from libraries, not giving composers their shot.
Just for the record, I’m not against the use of music libraries. I do feel that they are useful in many ways. But, in order for the music industry to grow at all, a scheme should be initiated to encourage producers to use locally composed music, and of course, local composers should also try not to put too much financial burden on the producers. Perhaps a workable scheme would be to ‘reimburse’ the production company a percentage of the difference between the cost of already licensed music and that of hiring a local composer.
In this way, local musicians can get more involvement within the local film and television industry.
Truly Free Film has a first-person account of the making of “The Way We Get By,” a film by Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet. The account, written by Gita, will be in five short parts.
A synopsis of the film: “The Way We Get By” is an intimate look at three of these greeters as they confront the universal losses that come with aging and rediscover their reason for living. Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet find the strength to overcome their personal battles and transform their lives through service. This inspirational and surprising story shatters the stereotypes of today’s senior citizens as the greeters redefine the meaning of community.
Gita notes that while the filmmakers thought they had a good project, getting support early on nearly made them thing they were wrong.
We wanted to make a quality film and get it in front of an audience, but we also wanted to establish our careers as filmmakers. This meant some of our choices would be made because it was the best move for our film, and some would be made to help our careers.
But all of it was a moot point if no one else thought our film had potential. We knew we had to find someone to help champion our film. So for three years, we had applied to grants and fellowships and we were rejected from everything. Our confidence in us—and the film—were starting to diminish.
They did eventually get selected at “filmmakers in residence” at WGBH, and the project moved forward. Part 2 continues the story…