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No More Kodak Moments?

6 01 2012

Kodak considers the possibility of Chapter 11 filings.

The struggle for film and film technology in the motion picture industry has been slowly giving way to the digital spectrum for nearly 20 years.  Actually, video formats were said to be the way of the future as far back as 40 years ago.  But, like a faithful canine companion, film has managed to stay its ground in the industry much longer than anyone expected, and we are just now seeing the “new kid in town” gaining the reigns.

In regards to still photography, I think it is safe to say that the battle between digital and film has been over for some time.  Even up until 10 years ago, I could remember bringing my film to a processor more often than using a digital format.  However, the business of photo processing has all but disappeared over the past decade.  A once booming industry now only caters to the nostalgic interest of hobbyists and diehard enthusiasts.  However, in the motion picture realm, though the cost efficiencies of shooting on a digital format are generally cheaper, the quality had always been the point of contention and the largest reason to opt for 35mm motion picture film in a production.  With the development of cameras like the RED One, ARRI Alexa, Sony F65 and other large format, high resolution digital cinema cameras however, the motion picture industry too is finally giving way to the digital takeover.

Undoubtedly. the consumer still photography market collapse is likely the largest culprit, but the compound effects of loosing out on motion picture stock and printing as well, might be the death knell for the longtime champion of the celluloid image.  According to an article released this past Wednesday from The Wall Street Journal, Kodak is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection as it continues to struggle with finding buyers for parts of its patent portfolio.

With the recent appointment of Laura Quatela as co-president, it seems that the company is trying to do its best to stay above water.  Yet, even with the possibility of major restructuring, the long gold standard for what Kodak produced, still and moving image film, will likely not continue to be the focus from a corporate standpoint.

It hurts to see an industry giant die, especially when it is one that gave us as many memories as Kodak.  We all were given the medium to capture our family and life moments, see places we may never have the opportunity to travel or images of people long dead before we were born because of this company.  Furthermore, many of the movies over the past 100 years that have brought us laughter, joy, romance, anger, excitement and tears were captured because of the product that this company built as its foundation.  Long on lists of companies that will likely soon become insolvent, I guess it was only a matter of time before these drastic measures were on the table.  I will say, however, that I feel the world will be a little less bright without the magic of a “Kodak Moment.”

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Gear Review: Panasonic AG-AF100

18 08 2011

Panasonic AF-100 stock photo

Make: Panasonic

Model: AG-AF100

My use: We ordered one of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  Before I left, we used it to film several marketing campaigns.  In addition, I have also had the opportunity to shoot one short film on this model camera.

Average Price: $4,795 (body only)

My thoughts: Having owned an HVX-200 since 2006, the menu system and generalized area of where various buttons are on the AF-100 are familiar.  They are not exact replicas, but if  you know one, it won’t take long to learn your way around the other.  The AF-100 shoots onto SDHC cards in the AVCHD format at up to 1920×1080 resolution and contains a micro 4/3 CMOS sensor.  In relation to size, the micro 4/3 sensor is very similar to the size of a 35mm motion picture film frame.  Because of this, the depth of field is quite comparable.  However, in relation to lenses, the AF-100 is more like a 16mm camera.  A 50mm relative 35mm full frame lens will crop to the approximate equivalence of a 100mm lens field of view on this camera.  The ACVHD compression is definitely more compressed than the DVCPRO HD format of the HVX, so this is one point of contention considering how much newer the release is from its predecessor.  Another thing I was not happy about is that the max Mbs onto your SDHC card is 24Mbs, which is a fairly low bit-rate considering the 5d and 7d will capture footage at around 35Mbs.  However, I have to admit, that the image itself is quite appealing.  There are several HDR modes, but at a normal setting, you do have to watch your highlights very closely.  I personally own a Lumix GH2 (which is a DSLR), also micro 4/3,  and was surprised that the sensor on it holds highlights better than the much more expensive AF-100!  The AF-100, in turn, though has the functions of a camcorder that are sorely missed on DSLRs, such as: multiple XLR mic inputs, multiple IN/OUTs, built-in ND filters and a more ergonomic and friendly design.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Image Device 4/3-type MOS Fixed Pickup
Picture Elements Approx. 12.4MP (Effective) (16:9)
Video Recording System NTSC/PAL
4:2:0 Color Space
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Horizontal Resolution 800 TV Lines
Built-in Filters Neutral Density 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 or OFF (rotary switch)
Gain Selection VIDEO CAM mode: −6dB to 18dB (3dB step)
FILM CAM mode: ISO200 to ISO3200
Color Temperature Control ATW, ATW LOCK, preset 3200K, preset 5600K, preset VAR, Ach, Bch
Sensitivity F8.0 normal (2000lx, 3200K, 89.9% reflex, 1080 59.94i)
Recording Format AVCHD Compliant (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) @21Mbps (max)
Recording Modes PH:
1920 x 1080 / 1280 x 720
21Mbps (average), 24Mbps (max)
LPCM/2ch or Dolby Digital/2chHA:
1920 x 1080
17Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

HE:
1440 x 1080
6Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

Audio Sampling 48kHz (16-bit Encoding)
Maximum Recording Time Using Two 64GB SDXC Cards
PH Mode: approx. 720 mins
HA Mode: approx. 960 mins
HE Mode: approx. 2880 mins
Video Formats 1080:
1080/60i, 1080/50i
Only in PH mode: 1080/30p (over 60i), 1080/25p (over 50i), 1080/24p (native)720 (only in PH mode):
720/60p, 720/50p, 720/24p (native), 720/25p (over 50i), 720/30p (over 60i)
Frame Rates 12p, 15p, 18p, 20p, 21p, 22p, 24p,
25p, 26p, 27p, 28p, 30p, 32p, 34p,
36p, 40p, 44p, 48p, 54p, 60p
Inputs/Outputs HD-SDI: BNC (x1 Output)
HDMI: HDMI Type A (x1 Output)
Composite: RCA (x1 Output)
Line/Mic: XLR +48V (x2 Input)
Audio L/R: RCAx2 (x1 Output)
Headphone: 3.5mm Mini Jack (x1 Output)
USB: Type B Mini v2.0 (x1)
Remote: Super Mini Jack (x1 Input)
Memory Card Slot (2) SD/SDHC/SDXC Slots
LCD Monitor 3.45″ Wide LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Viewfinder Wide 0.45″ LCD (approx. 1,226,000 dots equivalent)
Power Requirements 7.2VDC
Power Consumption 12.4W
Dimensions (WxHxD) 6.4 x 7.7 x 11.4″ (16.3 x 19.5 x 29 cm)
Weight 2.9 lbs (1.3kg)


Bottom Line
: There are some wonderful things about this camera and it can produce a very admirable image, especially for the price range.  However, it is not a DSLR killer and there are definitely attributes that Panasonic could improve on to make this an even better model in years to come.  Also, don’t be too fooled by the price!  To take full advantage of this camera, you definitely need a good lens set and that makes this camera much more expensive package-wise than it originally appears.





5 Silent Films You Must See

3 04 2011

I love silent films, I really do.  Honestly, I feel like we lost an artform in and of itself when sound came in and totally redirected the entire process of filmmaking.  Unfortunately, many didn’t realize that silent filmmaking and sound filmmaking, though both forms of cinema, were very different in their execution and style.  It’s a shame that both couldn’t co-exist; but as with anything, when something new comes along, the predecessor usually disappears over time.

Many of my friends and colleagues hate silent films (which amazes me how we are still friends/colleagues).  They can’t stand the black and white or the fact you have to read title cards or the jerky motion (which is not due to the films themselves but the haphazard projection and transfer rates we have shown them at in recent years), melodramatics of some of the dramas or slapstick silliness of some of the comedies.

Yet, there are many, many wonderful silent films.  Films that many people won’t even give a chance because of some strange discrimination against them.  So, I’m here to give a starter kit, so to speak; films I can see as being fairly available and enjoyable to the mass audience.  If you watch these five recommendations and still can’t stand silent films, then I can at least give you the “e” for effort.  I still might not understand it, but it will appease my unrest.  Anyway, gear up your netflix queue or drop by the local video store and start here:

5.  Battleship Potemkin dir. Sergei Eisenstein (1925) – If you have ever read a book on film or taken a film class in college, then I’m sure the name Eisenstein is somewhat familiar to you regarding his landmark theories on movie montage.  Eisenstein, outside of his work as a theorist, was even more so a renowned Russian filmmaker.  Wait, what?  You are not only recommending silent films, but foreign ones at that!  Yes, but remember, we are in the silent realm, so the foreign part doesn’t really matter much.

So, what’s this film about?  Well, it’s a propaganda film that dramatizes the mutiny that took place aboard the battleship Potemkin in 1905, during the Russian revolution.  Sounds a little heavy handed from the description, I know.  However, if you can give this film a chance, I don’t think you would regret it.  The style, form and use of his much theorized montage theory creates an exciting and entrancing film.  It will shock you that this film is nearly 90 years old because it will be completed and satisfying before you even realize you just watched a silent film.  Furthermore, once you watch this film, let me know all the movies you can think of who have directly ripped off the Odessa Steps sequence.

4. The General dir. Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton (1926) – I’m sure most of you have heard of Charlie Chaplin, he’s been pretty ingrained in pop culture even to this day.  Well, Chaplin was one of three comedians who dominated silent comedies.  The other two were Harold Lloyd (none of his films on this list, but try Speedy or Safety Last for a good taste of his style) and our star of this film, Buster Keaton.  Keaton was referred to as “Old Stone Face,” and if you give this film a chance, you will see why.

This film is set during the American Civil War and has a fairly simple premise.  Keaton, who plays railroad engineer Johnny Gray, has two loves in life – one is his train, The General (title cue), and the other is Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack).  When the Civil War breaks out, he goes to sign up for the Confederate Army, but is rejected because of his critical role in working for the railroad.  Annabelle and her father are let down immensely and feel he is a coward, not understanding the true reason he was rejected.  A year into the war, Annabelle’s father is wounded.  On a trip to see him aboard the General, Union spies sabotage the passengers and steal the General and take Annabelle Lee hostage.  The rest of the film is Gray proving himself as an unsuspecting hero, a feat that no one does as expertly as Keaton.

The acrobatics and physical comedy that Keaton performs in this film are absolutely breathtaking.  The entire film is a joy to watch and has as much action, intrigue and suspense as anything created today (much of the time, more so).  The only difference is that all those stunts are actually Keaton himself doing them, not a stuntman or CGI handy work.  This is real filmmaking, real locations, real stunts, and all that, makes one hell of a great film.

3. Intolerance dir. D. W. Griffith (1916) – I’m sure the name David Wark Griffith probably rings a few bells.  Most of you probably know him for creating what is by-and-large considered the first full-length, modern feature (it wasn’t, but hey, the guy did a lot of amazing things for filmmaking, so I don’t mind credit here) with his controversial film The Birth of a Nation.

Well, after The Birth of a Nation received so much negative feedback, D.W. decided to make a film in retaliation that would even outdo himself.  The result was this film, Intolerance. If you adjust inflation into the mix, it is the most expensive and grandest motion picture ever made.  Yes, that’s right, the most extravagant motion picture ever made is a film that was produced just 20 years into cinema’s existence.

The film deals with varying degrees of intolerance by analyzing four main stories in four different eras: The Babylonian Period and the fall of Babel, the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, The French Renaissance and the failure of the Edict of Toleration and a modern day (1914) story concerning workers rights and the oppression of the everyday American.  A common motif, the “Eternal Mother” (Lilian Gish), artistically serves as a seque between the four different stories.  To go much further into the synopsis of this film would get pretty convoluted and probably just be confusing to you.  In other words, watch the film!

When I saw this film for the first time, it shocked and awed me more than any present day movie I’ve ever seen.  The masterful precision that Griffith used to make this film in scope of story, cinematography, direction, set design and editing between the four time periods is mind blowing.  There are few films like this from any era.  Make sure you have a long afternoon for this one though, as it’s the longest of the five recommendations at 197 minutes for the full version.

2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans dir. F. W. Murnau (1927) – Murnau, a native of Germany, was already extremely well-regarded in his homeland before coming to the United States.  He came to Fox Studios in 1926 to make his first American picture, and this was the film he made.

The film follows the story of a man (George O’Brien) and his wife (Janet Gaynor), whom have a young child.  The man (yes, there are no actual names), is having an affair with a Woman of the City.  One night, while frolicking near the river, the Woman of the City insists the man should murder his wife and make it look like an accident, so that they can live together.  The man is reluctant, but ultimately agrees.  The next day, he and his wife prepare for an outing to the city.  He attempts the murder, but can’t actually pull it off.  He and his wife then continue on to the city and renew the pervious glory of their relationship.  On the way home, however, a strong storm hits and fate seems to bring their worlds into disarray on its own terms.

Sunrise is as human as a motion picture can get.  The lead characters have no names other than “the man” and “his wife.”  Yet, the story itself is so deep, moving and real that you really don’t need a specific identity for these characters.  In regards to direction and cinematography, this film was way ahead of its time.  Murnau took liberties in not only shot selection, but even in title transitions, that were experimental and progressive.  Charles Rusher and Karl Struss co-shot the film, ultimately winning the first Academy Award for Best Cinematography for their combined efforts.   The in camera tricks, lighting and complexities of shots still don’t fail to amaze the eye.  Sunrise is, quite simply, a brilliant, moving film that I feel anyone can enjoy on the most basic level.  Every part of this film just works, and for the joint efforts of cast and crew, it was awarded an Oscar for “Unique and Artistic Production” as a special category.

1. City Lights dir. Charles Chaplin (1931) – With the advent of sound in 1928 with The Jazz Singer, silent films started to dwindle.  By the time this film was released in 1931, silent films were generally a thing of the past.  However, Chaplin, one of the greatest stars of the silent era, insisted on keeping this film silent, because he didn’t feel that the world was ready to hear his eternal waif, the Little Tramp, speak.

A master at blended comedy and drama, Chaplin produced a film that continues to bring a world of emotions some 80 years after its release.  The story revolves around Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, who falls in love with a poor, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill).  Through a hap circumstance, she believes that he is a millionaire and can help her and her mother in their desperate time of need.  Determined to help, he befriends a raucous, party-driven millionaire and does everything he can to help the flower girl and her mother.  In the end, he helps them and she is able to get an eye operation that restores her sight.  But, will she be able to accept the Tramp for his true self?

City Lights is, in my opinion, the best Chaplin film.  It combines all the elements that made him so legendary in perfect array, and being someone who has seen all of his features and most of his shorts, I feel like I have a pretty good judgement in Chaplin’s filmography.  This is a beautiful, moving film that I couldn’t see anyone watching and not thoroughly enjoying.  If there is one silent film that you are willing to give even the slightest chance, then this is the film that I think you should see.  It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s Chaplin.





A Trend that Needs to Break

14 03 2011

Is cinematography a dying craft?  No, not yet.  However, I am greatly concerned by certain trends that seem to be taking place in the current market and, no, I don’t think it is solely due to the evolution of digital cinematography (though this plays a hand).  It is no new development that making motion pictures is a business and, like all businesses, to be successful one must make a profit.  In days past, a production generally had one of two options in regards to the camera department: a 35mm motion picture film camera or a 16mm motion picture film camera.  Yes, there are lots of shapes and sizes from a fully outfitted Panavision Platinum all the way down to a modded Bolex H-16; the quality, however, between one 35mm to another and one 16mm to another with proper lenses is not drastic.  It was almost always generally assumed that the camera itself, whatever the make and model, would be rented as most Directors of Photography didn’t own a package and the Director of Photography himself would be chosen because of his technical and creative ability in forming an image, not in what gear he could bring to the production to help lower rental costs.

Today’s market, with the prominence of digital cameras in the production of motion pictures, makes things decidedly different.  Hi-Definition and Digital Cinema cameras come in an array of shapes and sizes as well, but also a plethora of sensor sizes, recording codecs and image capturing capabilities.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s always nice to have many options available for all sizes of budgets.  However, the problem arises in the fact that producers don’t really know that much about cameras.  Their main concern is the bottom line in the budget and to them, “We’ll shoot digital” means that any of the above cameras are fine, right?  Canon 7d is just as good as the ARRI Alexa, isn’t it?  I mean the one is just a little more flashy, but the image quality can’t make a $1,000 a day difference, can it?  Well, yeah it can.  Furthermore, there seems to be a growing trend that producers don’t want to actually rent a camera package anymore; they want a DP with a package (and lots of times one with lights and grip equipment as well).

So, what does this mean for cinematographers?  Well, it means that the best person is no longer getting picked for jobs.  The Director of Photography who is hired is the one who has the nicest camera package and the cheapest day rate.  This leads to many subpar cameramen being the busiest and making the best livings, while excellent DPs are struggling to keep food on the table.  Of course, not everyone who owns a package is not “the best” person for the job; many people with great packages are excellent.  The decision of who shall or shall not shoot the film, however, should not be dictated by package.  Believe me, in the end, your film will have a much better chance at being profitable by hiring a proficient DP and supplying said DP with the equipment needed to capture the essence of the story visually.  In short, quality into a production usually means quality out of a production.

I’m not sure how prominent this phenomenon is on larger productions, but I have a feeling many cinematographers on lower budget productions will agree that this is a common occurrence and, obviously, not everyone has $40,000-70,000 to invest in camera and lighting gear.  Even if they do, most lower budget productions aren’t union and the day rate is not enough to keep up the package, insurance and provide for yourself or a family.

Where do most of the DPs on larger budget productions come?  They come from these lower budget productions that do well at festivals.  Sure, if some of these DPs who own great packages aren’t great to begin with, they may evolve just from constant practice and opportunity to work.  Yet, what becomes of the guys who don’t own large packages who have great eyes and can make beautiful, fitting images?  It’s no longer a common (or necessarily viable) alternative to start as a 2nd AC and work your way up to being a Director of Photography, at least if you would like to be shooting or operating films before you are 40.  Most of these cinematographers either end up working on below par projects just to make a living, leaving the field entirely for something more profitable or struggling from job to job trying to get the productions they can on their merit alone.

I think it’s a terrible trend in the industry and producers need to realize that the camera/lighting department is not the best department to try to save money on.  This is the department that produces your image on screen and what’s the first thing that everyone will comment on after seeing a film?  Whether it looked good or not.

 








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