NEWPORT, RI - Each year the organizers of the Newport International Film Festival conduct a town meeting with Newport citizens to discuss how they'll go about producing their annual homage to filmmaking and this fair city. The ground rules for the resulting short film are unusual: It's about the festival and about Newport; it's conceived with the input of residents; it's scripted, cast, shot and edited all in five days; it's screened on the last day of the festival; and the film uses no film. The short, known as 5 Days to Sunday, also gets a go-along "making of" film shot simultaneously on DV, so there's lots of running and gunning.
Self expression: An "artiste" discovers the McGuffin - a canister of real film.
Last year the people at Eran Lobel's production company, Boston-based Element Productions, took over both the main film's production and the "making of." And last year's 5 Days gave Element a taste of producing a short film in 24p high definition for theatrical display. They cut the short in Sony's Xpri NLE - a rarity at the time that could handle 24p.
This year, editing was different. The breathless pace of 5 Days to Sunday lends itself to the ease and speed of shooting in Sony's 24p HD format, and because there was simply no time for traditional film processing and tape transfer. But the time crunch of shooting 50 or more set-ups each day had to be answered with swift editing. That service was provided by Element editor David Bigelow, working on the new version of Avid's DS|HD. (The "making of" video was edited by Neal Duffy.)
Avid produced a 24p version of its DS editing and effects system in March of 2001 using the SMPTE 292 standard interface and HD/SDI pipe. But this year Avid released version 6 of DS (officially available last month). This version offers editors like Bigelow the familiarity of the Avid Media Composer interface along with the sophistication of DS. DS can perform sophisticated compositing, but its RGB color correction proved invaluable on 5 Days, as was DS's easy integration of Adobe Photoshop files. Also, its transparent Web integration feature allowed Bigelow to "take enormous amounts of media" directly into the DS over the Internet.
DS's friendliness to the Photoshop file format is key, Bigelow says, because "we are all seasoned pros who rely on Photoshop" for still images and graphics. He credits Kristen Agrell with the short's graphic Photoshop work. She, along with John DiThomas, created the graphics on a Power Mac.
DS's friendliness to Photoshop files was a big help to editor David Bigelow.
SHOOTING AND DIRECTING
Element's Rudi Schwab and Leif Husted-Jensen were both co-directors and 24p cinematographers on this shoot, and they would typically provide Bigelow with one complete 40-minute HD cassette at lunch time and another in the evening. As the directors were often too pressed to make their own selects of takes, Bigelow had the creative leeway to review all the footage as he was feeding it realtime into the DS and make his selects from his notes of the best takes and the best performances. "We worked at 1/4-resolution," Bigelow says, "so it was important to watch an uncompressed source the first time."
Bigelow says that, due to the film's production constraints, once or twice reaction shots were unavailable. This resulted in one hilariously over-the-top sequence in which a professional comic, portraying the "corrupt mayor," chases a group of skateboarding teenagers away from the festival's theater area. Bigelow's solution was traditional jump cuts showing the irate mayor, in full bellow, coming closer and closer to the camera. "Editors want intuitive tools," Bigelow says, adding that they should not have to "think" about the interface and that now, "the difference between Avid and DS is more transparent."
Schwab and Husted-Jensen divvied up the film's many scenes and shot them back to back. They also pieced together the film's storyline - a big part of this exercise is to salute the City of Newport's unique locals and locales, including its maritime flavor.
The story follows a McGuffin: a film canister headed for the Newport Festival that falls into the wrong hands. Characters include a pink-haired "artiste" who discovers the film canister in a dumpster, a homeless man who communicates with aliens and a mobster who provides a fence for stolen jewelry.
Bigelow says that Antoniotti's ability to perform color correction in the DS was invaluable. When it came time to segue to the climax, he used DS to create a "day for night" look for a street scene that would match up with the evening finale.
Schwab says this year's effort was improved from the start because "this time we have all these Zeiss Primes, which go with this Sony HD camera," and he salutes Boston's Rule Broadcast Systems for their loan of the camera and accessories. One challenge was the director's dependence on the HD monitor. "We got a great monitor," Schwab says of the shoot, "but sometimes you have to cover yourself when you're looking [at] it to make sure that you're not getting any glare because you don't have the latitude that you do with film. A big downfall," he adds, "is getting used to looking through an eyepiece that's just black and white." So Schwab and Husted-Jensen "constantly" checked the monitor for proper lighting and to guard against overexposure.
However, Bigelow says shooting 24p can easily provide intimacy in a close proximity shot, like an interior of a man driving a van. "Both directors are sold on 24p now," he says, adding that, with the smaller budget it allows, and the freedom it provides actors, they'd shoot 24p again "at the drop of a hat."