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November 2014
Issue: December 1, 2009

SWOT: SHOOTING DIGITAL

By: Randi Altman
As more and more productions go digital, workflows are becoming increasingly stable, making jittery producers and directors a bit more relaxed about the process — but there are still too many formats to work with.
The speed and flexibility that digital allows is certainly one of the reasons that digital shoots are becoming commonplace, but one large concern is how to archive all the data that comes with these productions.

Obin Olson
Partner
DV3 Productions
Wilmington, NC
(www.dv3productions.com)
(www.mobijokes.tv)

The Brothers Olson, Obin and Amariah Olson, are the founders of www.dv3productions.com. They have most recently been working with the new Red camera and some of the emerging DSLR formats for film, commercials and the Web. Their most recent project is Nevermore (www.nevermorethefilm.com).
STRENGTHS: “The downfall of tape and the upswing to all media being based on solid state or drives — random access has really changed the workflow process. And really changed it from the low end to the high end in a lot of different ways. The biggest change is the idea that no matter what you are shooting on or what your project is, you can finish it on a plane if you need to, including making a master and FTP-ing that master off to a network or station or dub house with no hardware conversion.
“Essentially getting the freedom that still photographers have had for years, in terms of getting rid of all the clutter and getting down to what it’s all about, which is making content and all the creative stuff. And getting rid of all the middle men, in terms of equipment that has been there for years, has really freed the process for us.”
WEAKNESSES: “You have to start thinking about archiving and what you are doing with your stuff when your done with it. It’s scary. We have terabytes and terabytes of footage now. What are we going to do?
“One thing we came up with that actually makes our lives easy now that everything is digital, is at the end of the day, the client has the option to buy a standard off-the-shelf 300GB or 400GB hard drive that they can treat it as a tape, but instead of it being a tape it’s got all the assets, all the project files, file structures, every piece of creative that went into that project, so later on they can send it back to us and I can completely re-edit.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “There is a huge technical opportunity for somebody to come out with something that is similar to tape in its longevity and shelf life but is random access. There is nothing out there in the marketplace right now like that. There are some promising technologies once they mature, but like all things hardware related, it takes a long time to develop them. We are in a transition stage, where we are all digital, but still need a way to physically have it in our hands where it will last a 100 years and be random access and formatted like a hard drive where all your assets and files are on that piece of media.”
THREATS: “This is kind of a threat: I went out the other day with a Canon 5D and two gyros on the bottom of it and I shot stuff that looks 90 percent as good as having a full film crew with my Red camera and dolly and crane — which is a very expensive shooting day. It was a low-end project, so I wanted to keep it low end in terms of personnel and equipment on site, but at the same time my brother Amariah and I are working on an action movie concept and we wanted to see it if were possible to take a Canon 5D with still lenses and two gyros and basically be a human Steadicam with nothing else, just the two of us, because that is how we want to do this movie. And indeed it is possible, and it looks absolutely beautiful. There are huge crane and dolly moves; the tracking and pivot shots are just awesome. But I think it could be a little bit threatening to traditional production, but, it’s not RAW, it’s compressed and the ability to work with color correction after shooting has a severe limit... that’s the downside.
“I grabbed the 5D on a Red shoot last week and I got 300 percent more shots that are really cool with a 1.4 lens — I couldn’t have done that with a camera that weighs 50 pounds. We are complete believers of the Red RAW workflow and that 4K image is un-comparable, but when you are in the real world working, sometimes it’s almost worth taking a hit for the mobility and different kinds of shots you could never get otherwise.
“I imagine the Scarlet and the Epic will be the most ultimate cameras ever because they are convertible. I’ll be putting gyros on them and building camera mounts, putting them on radio control cars, flying them with helicopters, and I won’t have to compromise.”
OUTLOOK 2010: “Everything is going to go 100 percent digital, everything is going to be solid state, and there will be a lot more online collaboration.
“When you have a card that can record for two hours and it’s the size of a postage stamp and you put it in your laptop and start editing away… that’s just not going to go away. It’s too easy and too good, too wonderful.
“Picture quality is going to ramp up because of the pixel pushing ability of the graphics cards. The GPUs are there. The images will get better and better and closer to a still camera’s image. Why compromise when you don’t need to, and Red is really pushing that envelop, and everyone else will follow along. There will be different flavors and different quality levels, but essentially when we [have] pixel accurate mostly uncompressed images, even if they are natively 1080p, you are pretty much there.
“Also, everything is going to realtime — all the apps.”

Peter Collister, ASC
Cinematographer
Los Angeles
Mr. Deeds, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union

Peter Collister has been splitting his time between shooting digital and film acquired movies. As an early adopter of Red, he tends to shoot most of his digital films that way, although he has worked with the Phantom and Genesis and wants to use the Sony F35. He just completed the feature Furry Vengeance for Summit Entertainment on Red and is currently second unit DP on Green Hornet, which is shooting 35mm Panavision Anamorphic.
STRENGTHS: “I have a history of doing features with either animated animals or real animals. One I did recently was Furry Vengeance with Brooke Shields and Brendan Fraser, and the decision was to go digital so we didn’t have to worry about the budget concerns of just letting the cameras just roll and roll when we were trying to get performances out of real animals. That was a huge plus for us. It’s also the same with actors. Directors’ don’t have to worry about cutting performances when shooting digital, and from my experience that is the biggest plus so far — being able to shoot and shoot and shoot. There is also a negative related to this, but more on that later
“The other plus is you are seeing the image the way it will really look, so the director, the producer, the agency, they can all see what it’s really going to look like while on set. I can show them look-up tables and make sure everybody is happy on Day 1.”
WEAKNESSES: “I do miss a little bit of the texture of film in some of the [digital] images that I see. I was just doing a DI on digital effects plates on a film I shot on Red over the summer and there were some shots where I thought, oh, that probably would have looked a little better on film.
“Another weaknesses I see is because you can just roll the cameras endlessly, it puts such a burden on post production editorial in that they have such a large amount of footage coming through the pipeline that just the organizational skills and equipment necessary is more than when it’s just film. We used to be shooting 800,000 feet of negative, which was a lot, and now in the digital world we are shooting twice that.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “From an economic standpoint, as a film student or someone just starting out, if you wanted to make a short film or low-budget feature on film there were still some very hard costs — film stock processing, dealing with editorial, post production workflow, answer printing, etc. — that couldn’t be avoided, so it was very hard to make your own film without raising a lot of money. Now I see the opportunity that the high def world has offered for people who want to make their own films. That is very much a positive, but on the negative side, just because there are more people making movies, doesn’t mean they are making good movies.”
THREATS: “Most of the studios are archiving by making separation negatives from the original material, whether it’s digital or film. They are making YCM separations and vaulting them in Kansas salt mines. That is still the only accepted archival method accepted by the major studios now. So there is no real archival method for digital.
“Also, because we are in the beginning stages, every single system for high def or digital acquisition has a different workflow for post, so it would be nice if there was more standardization on the acquisition/post workflows on these digitally-shot films.”
OUTLOOK 2010: “I am fascinated by what the future of 3D is for the feature and television world in terms of dramatic offerings. 3D was invented back in ‘50s as a gimmick to get people in the theatres. Disney is going to do every one of their films in 3D, so I am curious to see if this is a permanent trend or a fad.
“Looking further down the road, I think tape is going to die a very fast death in the next five years, replaced by solid state storage.”

Mark L. Pederson
CTO/Co-Founder
Offhollywood
New York
(www.offhollywoodny.com)

Offhollywood offers production and post production services, with a specialty in Red digital cinema and emerging technologies. They are also a rental and service facility for Red cameras.
STRENGTHS: “The speed and the ability for people to collaborate faster. We are seeing trends to process some of the editorial media and dailies on set. Digital is here and now it’s just about evolving it to faster, more efficient pipelines. When producers see how  fast they can work, how easy it is and how many workflows are available, I think it’s a bit of a no-brainer..
“Shooting a production digitally also allows you to utilize and mix different camera systems and acquisition formats, and work with the media in a single pipeline.
“There is such tremendous movement in the development of various tools that are available to work with Red and other formats going all the way to DCP authoring. Smaller companies are now truly empowered.”
WEAKNESSES: “I don’t see any true weakness, but I would say that because there are so many different workflows and they are evolving, it’s easy for an individual or company to do it wrong. It’s a moving target, and if you don’t choose the right tool, and the right person to help you use that tool, you can get into trouble. We spend a lot of time fixing other people’s mistakes and if they would   have just taken the proper steps, that wouldn’t be the case.
“The great thing about film is that it has stayed the same for decades, so once you learn the film post workflow you know it and it’s done. When you shoot digital, even in the concept of working with Red, there are a dozen ways to work with Red files; I see that as an advantage, but it can be a weakness if someone doesn’t have the right amount of information.
“This happens a lot. There is the DEY trend — Do Everything Yourself. For a while we had the producer/editor, now we have the director/screenwriter/aspiring colorist/special effects guy. You see a lot of artists wanting to do more and more themselves. The weakness is so many choices and options on how to go about it, so you can go about it wrong.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “The two that are most exciting for us are 3D and DCP authoring and mastering services. You are already seeing a massive rollout of digital servers. It’s becoming more common, even at the film festival level, to deliver films as DCPs. They offer a lot of protection and versatility, and it is much more efficient than sending reels of film and tape around.
“3D is a monstrous thing at the moment. There is more of a demand right now than infrastructure, so that is a really big opportunity for companies. There is a pretty significant post component and pipeline that most companies are not set up to tackle.”
THREATS: “Many post companies are going to have to adapt and change as the tools become more democratized. You aren’t going to get business as a service company because you own two Flames or Spirits or da Vincis, etc. You are going to service the demand of the market, which will change. Ultimately, the companies with the best talent and technical expertise, and the ability to adapt and change quickly, will succeed. The higher end of the market is always going to pay the premium dollar for the best talent and service turnaround.
“Archiving and security becomes more relevant — ‘Where is my media going and how it being stored and managed?’ As you start to deal with more and more files, producers want to know that their media is properly backed up and there is security in place.”
OUTLOOK 2010: “I expect to see the desktop DI tools become even more powerful and less expensive. I suspect there will another significant NLE contender that will come out of nowhere. And I am incredibly excited about Red’s new cameras. That snowball is just going to keep coming down the mountain. It’s all about adapting and changing as the technology moves. There’s never a dull moment.”

Greg Kiernan
Senior/Supervising Editor
Bond
New York
(www.bondedit.com)

Bond is a complete post house offering editing, graphics and audio services. Kiernan is working increasingly in digital and has become the studio’s guru of sorts.
STRENGTHS: “The strength of digital is its versatility. Depending on which of the digital formats you are using, you have your footage in a file format that can be passed around the facility exactly as your footage was shot. Some are more involved than others, but in general I see that as the big plus.
“Projects that are shot and delivered in digital give you more options because you are not so worried about film costs like developing and transferring dailies. You can just let the camera roll and do what you want to do as opposed to having to stop and start. That is a huge strength as far as creativity is concerned.
“Also, while the back end processes don’t change that much, the strength of going digital delivery is that you have less opportunity for screw ups. You give them the files and off they go.”
WEAKNESSES: “There are way too many formats. Everybody hoped that by going into HD and digital, we’d finally be able to narrow stuff down, but instead of two formats we’ve gone to, what, 10? It changes everyday. So trying to keep up with how you are getting stuff in and out with whatever the format de jour is can be seen as a weakness.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “It goes back to greater creativity and not worrying about films’ related costs. I get 10 times more stuff to go through, so I have an even better selection of images to make a better final product. And some people might see it as a negative because there is so much more footage to go through, but at the same time you don’t have to be limited to ‘this is good enough’ or ‘I wish they’d shot that differently.’ Now you can shoot until you get it right.
“Also, down the road there will be an opportunity for different kinds of businesses. A transcoding/file format business. I have seen a couple of places doing that right now, but it’s going to become bigger.”
THREATS: “The biggest threat I see to digital formats in general is archiving. What do you do with it when you are done? You have tremendous amounts of footage starting off, sometimes in excess of 3 or 4 or more terabytes. What do you do after the fact? Drives fail, and fail way too often, and there are only a couple of options at this point. At some point, this footage is going to disappear; it will be like film that never made it to a vault. The nice thing about film is you could put it back up, retransfer it and go on, but once the 1s and 0s go away and there is nothing there.”
OUTLOOK 2010: “The process of getting stuff in and out going to be easier with Avid and Red. It’s getting easier and more instantaneous. Red is working hard to make their stuff more accessible on the Avid side and the easier it gets and becomes a non-issue, people are going to be more accepting of it. I think it’s a great format and people should be using it.”