ICGMAGAZINE.COM brings back the goods from the 2010 NAB and Cine Gear events

Forward Thinking: Local 600 panel puts the future front and center

As is often the case with the world’s leading gear expo, NAB 2010 offered a wide variety of new technology that will heavily influence the future of film and television production. The importance of these changes on those charged with image capture helped to pack the North Hall space at the Las Vegas Convention Center for Local 600’s special panel, aptly titled: The 21st Century Camera Crew. It was standing room only for the mid-week panel – the busiest time at NAB – as ICG Magazine editor David Geffner moderated a lively and intense discussion between diverse panel members, including: Local 600 President Steven Poster ASC, Producer Jason Clark, former Panavision mainstay Andy Romanoff, New York-based National Vice President (and Digital Imaging Technician) Lewis Rothenberg and 24’s cinematographer Rodney Charters, ASC. Although the conversation covered a wide section of technological turf, the main thrust was simply that changes are coming and the industry not only has to be open, but trained for them.

The hot topic seemed to be how new technologies from 3D to DSLR shooting impacts a production. Does this radically change how crews are formed? Does it eliminate traditional jobs or create new ones?

According to producer Jason Clark, whose credits include the 3D animated film, Monster House, and the upcoming Act of Valor (nearly 80 percent of which was shot by Shane Hurlbut, ASC with Canon 5D DSLR hybrid cameras) nothing has changed. “I will always determine, first, who is shooting that picture,” Clark insisted. “And then find out the needs of that cinematographer.” Whether it is a comedy that requires freedom for improv or a project that requires a lot of green screen, “you rely on the cinematographer for the creative look and then you bring the entire team (including visual effects to stereoscopic conversion if needed) to the table to think through the entire workflow.” He called it “reverse engineering”, looking at “what we want to end up with, this is what we want in post, this is the look and style.”

President Poster called Clark (the pair worked together on Stuart Little 2) an “enlightened producer” bemoaning the fact that “these days we often see producers saying to a DP ‘you are going to use this camera’. That’s not born out of any knowledge but is born out of what’s hot this week. That’s not a good way to start.”

Clark’s Act of Valor was held up as a prime example of the changing times, given that the DSLR workflow was untested and hard to manage. The producer said that “building 16 5D cameras every day” supported the vision of the movie, allowing Hurlbut and his team to get in with real Navy Seals as they did their jobs.

Charters took this process a step further by showing footage from a DSLR camera rig he used for a late season green screen sequence in 24. “It’s only the beginning,” Charters stated. “These cameras are a ‘game changer’, they are no-brainers for plate work. It’s not an easy camera to work with. But the number of people shooting this way is astounding.”

Both Clark and Poster were quick to dispel the notion there is less crew or lighting requirements with the DSLR workflow. “The idea that because this chip is faster does not eliminate the idea of taste and design for telling the story with lighting,” Poster commented. “The cameras have a very shallow focus, depth-of-field,” Clark added. “We needed the best focus pullers to manage the equipment. Ultimately, it was the same people doing the jobs but we were giving them new tools.”

From A – Z

Romanoff reflected that tradition remains integral during each new major shift in technology. “The reason that a crew can function at all is that 100 people can show up on the first day of the movie, having never met one another, and each can trust their assumptions of how the other is going to work. It’s a completely remarkable thing,” he marveled. “Later he said that, “there once was a structure – shoot film, send it to the lab, and if there was a problem there would be a 5:30 AM call before dailies. That doesn’t exist in the digital world and Local 600 providing it on-set is definitely to our advantage.”

Those thoughts led to a discussion on the roll of the Digital Imaging Technician, with Rothenberg calling that person the “glue” between production and post-production on a digital show. “Production (not post production) should drive a show,” Rothenberg insisted. “D.I.T.s can advise their director on what can or can’t be done, work with the DP, and still interface with other departments when necessary. But there is a protocol.”

The conversation turned to 3D and not only the technical changes, but also the demands the medium on the placed camera crew. Poster immediately signaled out the Union’s training committee, who are working hard to train members in the language of 3D. “It’s a different style and language,” he explained. “A director can’t shoot the same way in 2D. The assistant’s work is augmented by the convergence puller and interaxial adjustment. The DP and director now talk to a stereographer and a rig technician. New labor divisions that no one is arguing about because they are necessary to accomplishing the job.”

Poster went on to add that he envisions the current 3D workflow trend evolving into a blended system where productions go out and choose elements to shoot in 3D and elements to shoot in 2D. “It’s not going to be a black and white world. It’s going to be hybrid and everyone is going to have to understand the language of both.”

Audience questions revolved around changing roles and costs. One of the most interesting interchanges addressed the hard facts on the financial side for shifting from film-base to digital. Clark, who clearly hefted the most experience of anyone on the panel in vetting production budgets, weighed in with his experiences in shooting digital. He said he found the camera system might be “slightly more expensive and there are several new people in the department,” however, eliminating film stock eliminates an enormous amount of output. “For comedies, where it is possible to shoot millions of feet of film,” Clark pointed out, “that savings is tremendous: no lab, telecine, streamlining the pipeline, digital dailies – all that overhead built into the budget for a per-hour basis.”

Although the panelists sometime parted ways on the relative strengths and advantages of competing digital workflows, the consensus came through loud and clear: the “flavor of the week” fever will subside as new technologies mature, and capture will be based primarily on what is the best creative fit for production. And the 21st Century Union Camera Crew needs to be ready for anything thrown in their direction.

Building a New House

Cinematographer Gale Tattersall Takes DSLR Shooting Prime Time

Pulled out of the audience at the NAB 21st Century Camera Crew Seminar, cinematographer Gale Tattersall addressed his decision to shoot an episode of House entirely with Canon 5D Mark II DSLRs. “It was a terrifying but very necessary experience,” he smiled, “because we were really looking to visualize a very special experience in House’s world.” Tattersall noted that shooting on the 5D is like “shooting in VistaVision. The extremely shallow depth-of-field allowed us to turn off the distraction of the geometric hospital and get into their heads.”

Or perhaps into the heads of the camera crew! “I swear my first AC was about to stick pins in an effigy of me,” Tattersall laughed. “If anyone thought pulling focus on the RED was hard, you could do it blind after the 5D.” He cited the Canon lenses, designed for still photographers, with a lens barrel that has a few inches to go from three feet to infinity as only one of the problems. “The reason I hated camcorders was the tiny chip,” he added. “They seem fine after this.”

All that being said, Tattersall did emphasize that the House camera team captured something the show had (and its audience) had never seen before. “I also think we showed it is possible to ‘democratize’ filmmaking,” the DP explained. “There are a lot of great talented people out there that can’t afford the (professional) tools. But, once they meet these cameras and lenses, it will enable them to use what they can afford. The files are easy to use.”

Quizzed about the major changes in the 5D workflow, Tattersall said his camera crew, while challenged, remained the same. “They never worked harder,” he marveled. “We were shooting in small sets, working on our stomachs all the time. What we did was impossible to do with ‘regular’ cameras – like getting three people with three cameras in the same path. Shooting with the 5D (and DSLRs in general) allowed us to get shots we couldn’t get before – a shot that we couldn’t get without the 5D – and that’s what creativity is all about. For me, it’s an incredible system. But people have to understand it’s not for all things.”

Cine Gear

Hot summer days (and nights) on Paramount’s New York Street

Setting aside the long parking lines and the scorching California sun bouncing off the blacktop of Paramount Studio’s New York City street set, Cine Gear 2010 was a big success. While some who had attended NAB came in with a “nothing new here” blasé approach, those who had missed the trek to Las Vegas marveled at what the Los Angeles-based show had to offer. It was also a chance to meet the “tool-makers” (usually just an email on your Smartphone), and connect, or reconnect, with colleagues often missed in this fast-paced global industry.

“Cine Gear is one of the best equipment shows available,” insisted Local 600 member and incoming Emerging Cinematographer Awards (ECA) Chairman James Matlosz. “It’s more about the nuts and bolts (than NAB), and designed for the film maker. A few things caught my eye, including some new scouting software, LED lighting from Litegear and, of course, new promises from digital capture movie cameras.”

Nancy Schreiber, ASC said her interest was piqued by two new film stocks from Kodak. “And, because I’m always looking for new ways to work with the Canon HDSLRs,” she added, “I’m looking forward to using the HDSLR probe lens from InnoVision Optics as well as HDSLR tools from Zacuto and Red Rock Micro’s accessories. I also saw big crowds around the Tango Steadicam and Litepanels Fresnel LED lights.”

Schneider’s new set of prime lenses caught the eye of cinematographer Brian Reynolds, who observed that, “companies are realizing they need to develop better, faster, and cheaper equipment so we can move more quickly and safely on the set.” The DP singled out Matthews for introducing “new time saving gizmos for mounting flags, scrims and even heavier equipment.”

For long-time Local 600 member Ron Veto, also on-hand as an exhibitor with his new The Slider, Cine Gear’s extended hours allowed more people to attend and gave the lighting companies a window to shine, “no pun intended,” Veto laughed.

And what did other veteran industry exhibitors feel about Cine Gear 2010?

“There were a lot more people this year,” infused OConnor’s Ali Ahmadi. “We saw strong interest in the new products we unveiled for the first time ever, including the 2065 fluid head (the replacement for the 2060HD). Many new filmmakers were also interested in our new Follow Focus and O-Grips Handgrip system.”

Band Pro’s Jeff Cree said, “this year’s Cine Gear really proved no matter who builds the camera, quality glass is still the key to making great pictures.” That is no doubt why the Burbank-based company’s Leica Summilux-C PL Mount primes got plenty of attention from Local 600 members.

Ryan Avery of Schneider Optics said Cine Gear remains important to vendors because “it gives us the opportunity to meet with many DPs as well as other industry professionals that do not generally attend the other shows.”

As for ARRI’s Franz Wieser, he reported that his firm had an, “overwhelming interest in both our lighting products and ALEXA. This year was special for us because Volker Bahnemann – the former president of ARRI – received the Lifetime Achievement award during a presentation by Victor Kemper, ASC.”

Bill Bennett, ASC, described Wally Pfister’s, ASC Inception seminar as the highlight of this year’s show, the ALEXA notwithstanding. “It validated a demo that Kees Van Ostrum, ASC and I shot where we mixed wide shots done in 65mm 5-perf with 35mm close ups,” Bennett shared. “Wally did that for this film and the result was amazing.”

Speaking of seminars – Local 600’s gathered quite a crowd. Moderated by Mark Weingartner, the Riding the Wave: ICG Camera Crews Master Evolving Technology panel included D.I.T. Lewis Rothenberg, assistant Jamie Felz, cinematographer Amy Vincent, ASC and Andy Romanoff, who all expounded on the new world order for camera crews.

“Amy (Vincent) talked about the value she got from attending a Data-handling workshop,” Weingartner relayed. “As she puts it, even though she doesn’t have to do it herself, she feels it is really important that she knows what everyone in her department is doing and is responsible for.

“Andy (Romanoff) gave a great description of how new technology gets to the set,” Weingartner continued. “He described how initially specialists are needed – the ‘High Priests’ of the new technology, who come to the set and make it work. Gradually, the crews learn the nuances of the new equipment and as they take over the responsibilities, the specialists are no longer needed. Jamie (Felz) reminded members they need to avail themselves of training opportunities, as well go to rental houses and learn the gear on their own time.”

Whether it was giving voice to the radical changes our industry is facing today as Local 600 did with its panel, or focusing on how new technology is allowing more talent access to a wider variety of better, faster, cheaper, and more creative tools, Cine Gear 2010 definitely hit the mark. As one veteran attendee concluded: “This show is not a step-sister to NAB. It’s a powerful and growing entity that can clearly stand on its own.”

By Pauline Rogers

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