Digitial or Film: An AFM Seminar

All of us came to the last AFM seminar  Film or Digital…That’s the Question – Beautiful Images on a Shoestring Budget with preconceived notions.  Many of us independent producers, writers and directors had heard of the wonders of digital.  We had all been blown over with the claims for the Red camera and for other new technologies.  What none of us really considered was the true bottom line.  

What does this picture need? What emotion are we trying to get across in the story?  Led by Michael Goi, President of the American Society of Cinematographers and joined by Christopher Baffa (Glee); Richard Crudo (American Buffalo) , Johnny Jensen (Lost in Yonkers) , Michael Negrin (Time Loves a Hero ), Anthony Palmieri (ER), Roberto Schaefer (Stranger Than Fiction) , Nancy Schreiber (The Celluloid Closet) , and Rodney Taylor (Buttermilk Sky) the panel explored the pros and cons of digital and how to determine what was needed.  

Digital or Film AFM: Christopher Baffa, Johnny Jensen, Rodney Taylor

Each camera, Michael Goi pointed out, has its own strengths and weaknesses and each varies with the project you are trying to film.  “We have latched onto the marketing data and taken it as high tech without questioning what is real.”  

Ultimately, says Johnny Jensen, “we are telling a story.  You want to create memorable moments and you have to understand where you are shooting – the lighting, time of day, location and the feel or emotion you want the piece to express.  No camera is going to be a panacea for all types of stories.  Don’t spend too much time in the technical arena.”  While digitals have gotten a lot better, there are still flaws.  It’s important to understand also the accessories you will need to process and post the digital media.  It might, in the long run, be more expensive, to shoot digital.  

Digital or Film AFM: Roberto Schaefer,Richard Crudo

Michael Negrin suggested that any good producer needs to be on the same page as his director and his cinematographer.  What does the director’s vision tell him?  Often a good director will have a cinematographer that he likes working with or visa versa. That mean if you find one good one, you will often have a ready made crew.  

Digital or Film: AFM - Michael Goi and Nancy Schreiber

Nancy Shreiber pointed out that sometimes shooting in super 16 might give a darker, grainer feel that you are looking for in a piece, which you would not necessarily get from the digital without a lot of lightning changes.  “With the low ASA, Red cameras often need more light.”

Another problem with digital is the saving power, since the hard drives do not archive as well as film does and often a transfer must be done every three years to safe guard the images.  Can you imagine how expensive that can be?  

Because each camera is so unique , Rodney Taylor suggests that you test your shots ahead of time but then that requires extra labs.  He also pointed out that you want to get your post house involved from the very beginning since that can also make a difference in the camera you use.  

So what does a good cinematographer look for in a script that he is committing to?  He wants to see the emotion that he will be able to bring to the screen.   He wants to know that he is touching heart of the viewer.   Being able to blend visions of you, the producer, and the director is the heart of being a good cinematographer. He wants to know why you want to do that movie?  The cinematographer will be the correct one to assist you with the camera choice and go over the budgetary considerations with you.  

For more information on choosing cinematographers go to www.asc.com or 800 448 0145

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