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GreenCine Tech Talk
Filmmaker
For the aspiring filmmaker. Director, actor, writer, producer? Share the knowledge.
20

DV Cams & The Cine Look
Topic by: Lowkus
Posted: March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST
Last Reply: August 15, 2005 - 10:11 PM PDT

page  1  2      prev | next
author topic: DV Cams & The Cine Look
Lowkus
post #1  on March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST  
Anyone managed to produce a film-like look using a sub-$10k video camera? Any sample videos available that show the some of the final product?
oldkingcole
post #2  on March 7, 2004 - 3:55 AM PST  
> On March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST Lowkus wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Anyone managed to produce a film-like look using a sub-$10k video camera? Any sample videos available that show the some of the final product?
> ---------------------------------

I took a videography class last semester, and the instructor showed us a newsletter that someone else forwarded to her with an article entitled "The Seven Secrets of Shooting Video to Look Like Film." Unfortunately, I can't find an electronic copy anywhere, even with the help of Google.

But for what it's worth, the seven "secrets" were (highly paraphrased by me):

#7: Fog -- use a fog machine (or real fog here in SF!). It does two film-like things: it allows shafts of light to be visible for dramatic lighting effects, and it aids in creating a shallow depth of field effect, because objects further away have more fog between them and the camera lens, making them less distinct than objects closer to the camera.

#6: Use Frame-Mode: If you have a camera that will shoot in a non-interlaced mode, use it, especially if your camera will do 30 fps in this mode. (24 fps can sometimes look a bit "stroby" in frame-mode)

#5: Add depth with smooth moving camera shots: In lots of camera moves -- pans, tilts, and even zooms -- the camera stays put. So these "moves" only change the edges of the screen image, but not the spatial relationships between items in the scene. If you let the camera actually move, the sense of depth is increased because the relationship between foreground and background objects is made clear as the camera moves through space.

#4: Use shallow depth of field: Video cameras generally have a deeper depth of field than film cameras. So to get that film look on your video camera, it helps to use a shallow depth of field. This puts your foreground subject in focus, and puts the background out of focus. This can also help you tell your story, since it guides the viewers' eyes to the important part of the screen -- your foreground subject.

#3: Shoot with a difussion filter: Diffusion filters help counter the automatic edge-enhancement that most video cameras apply to the images they record, giving the final image a more film-like look.

#2: Use a professional light kit (when feasable): Controling your lighting is a key element of getting a film-like look, and can also be helpful in realizing some of the other tips in this list, like controlling your depth of field (lower light levels make it easier to achieve a shallow depth of field, for instance).

#1: Sharpen your cinematography skills: Kind of self-evident, I guess, but a good tip nevertheless.

For a slightly different list of suggestions (with a lot of overlap), there's also some good advice here: http://www.videouniversity.com/filmtovi.htm
stypee
post #3  on April 29, 2004 - 6:47 PM PDT  
> On March 7, 2004 - 3:55 AM PST oldkingcole wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> > On March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST Lowkus wrote:
> > ---------------------------------
> > Anyone managed to produce a film-like look using a sub-$10k video camera? Any sample videos available that show the some of the final product?
> > ---------------------------------
>
> I took a videography class last semester, and the instructor showed us a newsletter that someone else forwarded to her with an article entitled "The Seven Secrets of Shooting Video to Look Like Film." Unfortunately, I can't find an electronic copy anywhere, even with the help of Google.
>
> But for what it's worth, the seven "secrets" were (highly paraphrased by me):
>
> #7: Fog -- use a fog machine (or real fog here in SF!). It does two film-like things: it allows shafts of light to be visible for dramatic lighting effects, and it aids in creating a shallow depth of field effect, because objects further away have more fog between them and the camera lens, making them less distinct than objects closer to the camera.
>
> #6: Use Frame-Mode: If you have a camera that will shoot in a non-interlaced mode, use it, especially if your camera will do 30 fps in this mode. (24 fps can sometimes look a bit "stroby" in frame-mode)
>
> #5: Add depth with smooth moving camera shots: In lots of camera moves -- pans, tilts, and even zooms -- the camera stays put. So these "moves" only change the edges of the screen image, but not the spatial relationships between items in the scene. If you let the camera actually move, the sense of depth is increased because the relationship between foreground and background objects is made clear as the camera moves through space.
>
> #4: Use shallow depth of field: Video cameras generally have a deeper depth of field than film cameras. So to get that film look on your video camera, it helps to use a shallow depth of field. This puts your foreground subject in focus, and puts the background out of focus. This can also help you tell your story, since it guides the viewers' eyes to the important part of the screen -- your foreground subject.
>
> #3: Shoot with a difussion filter: Diffusion filters help counter the automatic edge-enhancement that most video cameras apply to the images they record, giving the final image a more film-like look.
>
> #2: Use a professional light kit (when feasable): Controling your lighting is a key element of getting a film-like look, and can also be helpful in realizing some of the other tips in this list, like controlling your depth of field (lower light levels make it easier to achieve a shallow depth of field, for instance).
>
> #1: Sharpen your cinematography skills: Kind of self-evident, I guess, but a good tip nevertheless.
>
> For a slightly different list of suggestions (with a lot of overlap), there's also some good advice here: http://www.videouniversity.com/filmtovi.htm
>
> ---------------------------------


I like your suggestions but wouldn't that give the film more of that annoying "Barbara Walters" look... I hate watching her do interviews because she insists on that ugly and sachrine "soft lighting"..
nunquam
post #4  on June 4, 2004 - 2:13 PM PDT  
"Hall of Mirrors" is a feature-length movie someone made with a sub $1K camera...a Sony Digital8! I purchased the DVD out of curiosity and it's not bad...well, not bad-looking, anyway! It'd probably wouldn't transfer to film/big screen very well, but it looks fine on a TV screen.

He explains some of his techniques at his website, and they include some clips. Here's the link:

http://innuendofilms.com/hallofmirrors.html

Also, in the DVD "extras" you can catch a few glimpses of how he rigged the camera and set-up his lights, using some of the techniques mentioned above.

> On March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST Lowkus wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Anyone managed to produce a film-like look using a sub-$10k video camera? Any sample videos available that show the some of the final product?
> ---------------------------------

amit
post #5  on July 26, 2004 - 1:20 PM PDT  
> On March 5, 2004 - 3:35 PM PST Lowkus wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Anyone managed to produce a film-like look using a sub-$10k video camera? Any sample videos available that show the some of the final product?
> ---------------------------------
Steven Soderbergh used DV and film when creating the movie "Full frontal". Some details a DV magazine article titled Steven Soderbergh's Return to Roots, it needs free registration and the movie website has clips.

Amit
nunquam
post #6  on August 2, 2004 - 3:31 PM PDT  
This weekend I was goofing around with my Sony Digital8 and decided to see if I could make a "film look." I put on a Tiffen neutral density filter (.6) and a Tiffen Black Pro Mist filter, and tried shooting with the "slow shutter" effect and the "flash" effect that Sony includes with many of its camcorders.

The "slow shutter" effect didn't do much, but the "flash" effect, set at the first setting actually made for a pretty convincing "film look" when I viewed it later on the TV (25" screen)! Forget using auto-focus, though...it was all over the place.
Eoliano
post #7  on August 8, 2004 - 4:59 PM PDT  
Michael Mann's new film Collateral is probably the best example of high-definition digital filmmaking that I have seen thus far on the big screen. Mann's cinematic visual style is everywhere and he captures nocturnal Los Angeles at its most chillingly atmospheric, much as he did in Heat.
scotch
post #8  on September 9, 2004 - 10:14 AM PDT  
> On August 8, 2004 - 4:59 PM PDT Eoliano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Michael Mann's new film Collateral is probably the best example of high-definition digital filmmaking that I have seen thus far on the big screen. Mann's cinematic visual style is everywhere and he captures nocturnal Los Angeles at its most chillingly atmospheric, much as he did in Heat.
> ---------------------------------

Interesting you should say that as I was distracted by the "videoness" of the film, especially the way the noise and definition of image would change from dark to light scenes. There was one shot in particular when jaimie fox is jumping away from the cab after the man has fallen on it that scremed digital video image. Looked like something off my VX100 seen on a TV screen. For the most part I dont like the skin tones in low lighting... or the glaring cripness and DOF in high lighting, but I wonder if the main problem is the linear response the CCD. You cant get the image of a face partially blacked out and partially in high light/high definition with rich colors. Or at least ive never seen anyone do it well.
scotch
post #9  on September 9, 2004 - 10:17 AM PDT  
> On September 9, 2004 - 10:14 AM PDT scotch wrote:
>
> Interesting you should say that as I was distracted by the "videoness" of the film, especially the way the noise and definition of image would change from dark to light scenes. There was one shot in particular when jaimie fox is jumping away from the cab after the man has fallen on it that screamed digital video image. Looked like something off my VX1000 seen on a TV screen. For the most part I dont like the skin tones in low lighting... or the glaring crispness and DOF in high lighting, but I wonder if the main problem is the linear response the CCD. You can't get the image of a face partially blacked out and partially in high light/high definition with rich colors. Or at least ive never seen anyone do it well.
> ---------------------------------

OK i need a better editor and spell check... sorry about that.
Shaky
post #10  on September 10, 2004 - 5:02 PM PDT  
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I shoot for a living and have shot 16mm, 35mm, MiniDV, Beta SP, Beta SX, DVCPro, DVCPro HD and HDCam. I know something about formats and what's possible with them.

I also know that there is nothing you can do that will make Mini DV, DVCam or DVCPro look like film. You can fog up the set and light it beautifully, shoot 24P and treat it with all sorts of digital mumbo jumbo in the post house, and it will still not look like film. These formats simply do not have the resolution to look like film, meaning the video image will never be as sharp as film. They also do not have the latitude of film, meaning that they don't have the same range of light and dark. They will always lose detail in the shadows and highlights. Once the video is shot, nothing you can do in post will make it sharper or increase the detail.

The professional high definition cameras have become very good and approach the image quality of 16mm. But these are cameras with an entry-level cost of $60,000 for the body alone, and the less expensive HD zoom lenses will start you around $30K on top of that. Then there are the necessary accessories. To have a decent entry-level HD documentary or teevee news rig, you need an investment of about $120,000. If you want a film-style HD package, you can at least double that. And even then, you STILL won't have something as crisp and clean as 35mm.

But forget even coming close to that quality with a cheap Mini DV camera. This is not pessimism, but realism. If you want to make a movie with Mini DV, you have to simply accept that it will not look like film. That doesn't mean it won't be a good movie, and it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make it look as good as you can within the limits of the format. There have been a number of digital video "films" that have received distribution, and audiences are becoming increasingly accepting of the inferior image quality. (The ones that do well are generally the ones with superior storytelling and/or acting performances.)

As for Collateral, I have heard from a couple of folks who worked on it that some of the scenes were shot on 35mm and mixed with the HD footage. It was, in fact, a stylistic choice Mann made to use HD to get the noise that results in the video when you pump up the gain, giving that "gritty" look he experimented with in that recent HD teevee show he did. That kind of look is right up his alley and goes with his style quite well.

Personally, if I were going to make a movie with video, I would skip the standard definition (DV, DVCPro) formats altogether and rent an HD rig, then edit on Final Cut Pro. If you know how to make deals, you can get a basic HD package for $2500 per week, possibly less. It won't have many bells and whistles for that price, but the end product will put you in a different class from all the kids running around with PD170s and XL1s. Your willingness to use the higher grade gear will also attract a higher caliber of DP to your project willing to work for nothing, because the DP will know you're a little more serious about the look of the project.
brack28
post #11  on September 12, 2004 - 6:35 PM PDT  
But now, here are Nicolas Rey's 12 good reasons for using super-8:

"1. First of all, "DV" doesn't exist. I mean, DV doesn't exist as a new medium. Digital is just a technical development of something called video, that has been around for a number of years, and been used by artists since its inception.

2. Why do I use super-8? Because it is unreliable, restricting and somewhat expensive.

3. I'm like everybody else: when things are made simple for me, I tend to be lazy.

4. Hurrah for Digital Video, because it means we can get good old film equipment for peanuts.

5. Hurrah for Digital Video, the chance for film to become different, just like painting found its own way once it had been liberated from representation by the invention of photography.

6. I spent too much time in front of a computer when I was 17, and I spend too much time in front of a computer now.

7. I like the smell of chemicals and holding the 5-liter bleach basin better.

8. Limitations can be inspiring.

9. I'll use a DV camera when I can build one myself. (I hate to feel like a consumer.)

10. Maybe I'll make film in DV some day. Really.

11. Kodak can stop manfacturing film. We'll paint emulsion over the abandoned prints of past blockbusters and refilm over them.

12. There's nothing more futile than those film-against-video debates. "Faut-il tourner en film, en video, ou en Patagonie?" the old Swiss crook used to say. Distribution is the question."


I admit I have no idea who Rey is (I know Nick Ray... not Rey). And I admit I'm a bit of a Video/Digital hater. But I like this little list anyhow.

Josh M.
Shaky
post #12  on September 12, 2004 - 11:57 PM PDT  
That's a great list. I love the smell of film. That alone makes it worth shooting.

Look here. A while back I was pricing out HD gear for a shoot, and I found my notes. Without exerting any pressure on the guy, a sales rep was ready to set me up with a Panasonic Varicam, Panasonic's HD camera that can shoot multiple frame rates (including 24P), with a very sharp Canon HD zoom, for $850 per day on a three day week. For those unfamiliar with rental terms, that means I would pay for three days but get to keep it for seven. That's $2550 per week. (Most rental houses will discount a weekly rental.) Included in that package was a Sachtler tripod, batteries and an HD monitor, the basic package I needed to do the job.

But as I mentioned, I didn't need to push too hard on the price, because the company had the money. If I had pushed, I would have asked for a one day week. Rental companies don't like to reduce their day rate, but they'll reduce the rental week instead. The result for you is the same as dropping the rate, but with a wink and a nod they aren't admitting to undercutting their competition. A one day week would have given me the entire package for $850 (it was a one week shoot).

Another thing I might do is ask for travel days. Travel days are days you're not using the gear (wink, wink), so you don't pay for it. In our camera scenario, suppose I asked for a one day week, but the guy gave me a two day week instead. Then suppose I got seven travel days tacked on to it. Now I've got the gear for two weeks, but I'm paying for two days. Of course, I'm not really using it all that time (wink, wink), but need all those extra days for "traveling."

If you learn to deal this way, you can get real equipment for your movie for not much more than the cost of a DV camera. Some real life examples:

I once worked a deal on a Nike crane for a one day week with unlimited travel days. "How many is unlimited?" I asked. "However many you need," was the answer.

I once worked a deal for an Arri BLIII 35mm camera package for a three week shoot for $500 a day with one day weeks. That was $1500. Then I got the guy to "throw in" a small lighting package.

I once convinced a sales tech to give me a small cube truck (14 foot) full of lighting and grip equipment for a six week shoot in another state for less than $1000. That one was something like a two day week with a "50% independent film discount" with some other number crunching going on.

This all assumes that you're an independent producer trying to make a movie on a shoestring budget. What I am NOT advocating here is trying to take advantage of these people. They're in business to make money, and if you can pay a reasonable rate for the equipment, you should; you should not be resorting to this kind of begging and borrowing just to make more money for yourself on some commercial production. However, the rental companies are often willing to help out an eager young independent, so long as you don't try to screw them over. If you come back again asking for ridiculous discounts without bringing them some legitimate business to make the relationship worth something to them, they'll send you packing.

That's what I meant earlier when I mentioned skipping the DV thing. It's just not worth it, when I know I could get so much better stuff for not much more money.
nunquam
post #13  on September 13, 2004 - 5:00 PM PDT  
If you can afford that $500/day for camera rental you quoted, can afford 35mm film and its processing costs, have the money to rent lighting and sound equipment, have access to editing equipment, etc., and have the training and experience to use all of that efficiently and effectively, then great, more power to you. Not everyone can.

Personally, I think if you shoot video, then shoot video and don't be ashamed about it and try to make it look like something it's not (unless it's a stylistic choice for the project). Video is video, it's not film, and vice versa.
brack28
post #14  on September 13, 2004 - 7:18 PM PDT  
> On September 13, 2004 - 5:00 PM PDT nunquam wrote:
Video is video, it's not film, and vice versa.
> ---------------------------------

Amen. Film purists would never feel the need to nit-pick if people understood this. Mix and Match, do as you please... but understand, or at least recognize, the REAL differences.
nunquam
post #15  on September 13, 2004 - 9:43 PM PDT  
Nah...that "need to nitpick" (actually to condescend and demean) comes from somewhere else, and that place ain't pretty. Just read the recent responses and then read the initial post in this thread...those responses hardly seem appropriate. You'll find that attitude in just about any discussion about film and video.
Shaky
post #16  on September 14, 2004 - 1:40 AM PDT  
> On September 13, 2004 - 5:00 PM PDT nunquam wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> If you can afford that $500/day for camera rental you quoted, can afford 35mm film and its processing costs, have the money to rent lighting and sound equipment, have access to editing equipment, etc., and have the training and experience to use all of that efficiently and effectively, then great, more power to you. Not everyone can.


Perhaps you didn't understand what I wrote. I didn't suggest that someone considering DV shoot 35mm instead. I only mentioned 35mm in the context of an example of how you can negotiate for something better than what you think you can afford. Don't try to misrepresent my words to make excuses for producing an inferior product.

What I did suggest was renting HD gear instead of buying DV. After you buy a camera and tripod, you will have spent $4K to $5K. For the same money, it's possible to work out a deal to have an HD package for two, maybe three weeks. If you can afford DV, you CAN afford HD with a little effort. A project finished in HD is going to be more attractive than something shot on Mini DV and will have an edge, however slight it may be, in the struggle to get it seen and distributed.

And as for having the expertise to use the equipment, what you wrote is ridiculous. If you don't have the technical ability to make HD look good, you won't have the skill to make the inferior DV look good either. Inferior equipment requires MORE skill, not less. Putting everything on auto and shooting it as it comes will not result in a very good product. Despite the handful of atrociously shot videos that get distributed, most of these things go nowhere because they're just too amateurish.

And besides, if you don't have the necessary skill to make it look good, the solution is simple. Go get it. Isn't that why all these film schools and workshops are around? Why would you jump into something without learning how to do it first?

Finally, consider this: What does your project deserve? If your project is not worth the extra effort necessary to learn the craft and acquire the proper tools, is it worth making at all? Personally, I've always felt the films on which I've worked are good enough projects that they deserve the best I can give them. Otherwise I wouldn't be working on them. If your film doesn't deserve the best you can muster, it's probably not worth being screened by an audience, either.
nunquam
post #17  on September 14, 2004 - 10:09 AM PDT  
You didn't respond to the original question, but bragged about yourself and belittled others, as you've just done again. That's a personal beef of mine, so I pointed it out. Lowkus never came back, so go ahead and keep typing. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading everything you've written.
Shaky
post #18  on September 14, 2004 - 12:17 PM PDT  
I did answer the original question in my first post. I'm sorry your third grade reading comprehension skills don't allow you to see it.
nunquam
post #19  on September 14, 2004 - 7:34 PM PDT  
Look, I'm willing to admit I may have misinterpreted your posts. A lot of people seem to go out of their way to disparage the video format and that's what it looked like you were doing. I like Greencine and their message boards and I don't want there to be bad feelings here.
Shaky
post #20  on September 15, 2004 - 3:54 PM PDT  
It's okay. I know that video has its place, even in the "film" world. I was simply doing my part to educate Lowkus and anyone else who might be thinking along these lines what is possible with the formats and what NOT to expect from them, as well as what can be done with the same money to raise the production value of their projects with a little negotiation. The point of my examples was that if I can get a 35mm package plus lighting for $1500 for a three week shoot, you can certainly work a deal for an HD package instead of Mini DV to give your project a fighting chance.
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