Yeah, I could have had a Dragon, Leica lenses and all the lights I want – so it was definitely not a budget thing. Though I opted for BMCs, Samyang and Dedolights. I must be out of my mind – right?
No, I did what any responsible DP should do, choosing the right tool for the job. Besides that, I wanted to know if it is possible, to use more affordable tools in a full blown feature film.
1. Uncompressed, raw CinemaDNG
Why would anyone shoot with BMCs when he could have had an Epic or even Dragon? Well first of all, it was a creative decision. I love the images I can easily get out of the BMCs. The color science has a – hart to describe – certain something to it, that is hard to accomplish with other cameras. Of course I can get similar stuff (or close to it) out of a RED (or Alexa), but it takes much more time and afford, especially in post. The raw CinemaDNGs feel much “thicker and richer” (in lack of a better word), and also more flexible, and I can push them where I want much quicker. R3D feels more like ProRes for me (your mileage may vary though) – it’s absolute doable, but I feel much more comfortable with Cinema DNGs.
2. Tungsten low light
The next reason is, we shot under Tungsten most of the time. Something that you can do with Red cameras, but it’s not their comfort zone, to say the least. Especially when there is a low light situation on top of it. After doing some tests, I was pretty sure, that the BMCs can handle that they way I need it. The Dragon comes with a ton of quirks in the moment, especially since the new OLPF filter, I think it’s a great sensor, but it still needs some r&d to make it behave. Warming up the camera before shooting, noise problems, magenta smearing and all the other things you can read on the Red forum, pretty much ruled it out for now.
3. Size and lots of cameras.
We could have get one Red within our budget, but we already own four BMCs (+ two Pockets), which enabled us to shoot with more cameras at the same time – an other factor in the equation – time is money. Also the physical size was a plus. We where able to use the cameras in some unique ways – like press them with a C-stand and two extension arms, against the ceiling – and squeeze them in places, where even a bare Epic would not go.
THE SAMYANG LENSES
We already had a lot of Samyang glass, most of the lenses at least twice, so there was no need for extra lens rental – that means, we where able to put that money in front of the camera. On top of that, Samyang was so nice to borrow us six more lenses so we also covered the wider angles.
2. Look and Feel
Because we where shooting with up to 3 cameras at the same time, I wanted the same type of glass on every camera, so we can get the same look and feel across the board.
3. Need for Speed
We had a lot of lowlight situations, where we needed fast glass. This was an other reason for choosing Samyang, since most of them are not only pretty fast, but also sharp enough when you shoot them wide open. The 24mm needs to be closed down a bit to match the other lenses though, but it was absolutely doable. I could not have done that without Marco, my fantastic First AC and focus puller from Switzerland. He literally pulls – even wide open – focus like a Swiss clockwork.
4. Image Quality and Bang for the Buck
The image quality of the Samyang glass is nothing but amazing, especially for the price. I just went to DXOmark and run a comparison between the 85mm Samyang and the – much hyped – 85mm Zeiss Apo Planar Otus . The $269 Samyang beats the $4,490 Otus in three, out of five categories, regarding transmission, distortion and vignetting – not too shabby I would say.
Yes, the Zeiss Otus is a bit sharper, but as long as I have to shoot with diffusion filters, or must apply softening and digital make-up in post, because my actors would otherwise hate me, for bringing out every pore and imperfection in full 2k/4k, I think even sharper glass is the last thing I need.
Overall I was more than pleased, how the Samyangs performed. Amazing glass for an amazing price. Really looking forward, to get my hands on the 50mm, which was not available at the time we shot, so the only non Samyang lens in the game was a 50mm f1.4 Nikon, that we used on two or three shots.
FIAT LUX – THE DEDO LIGHTS
1. a matter of light and space
Most of the story happens in an apartment. Though it was a pretty huge flat, having a crew, two or three cameras, actors andwhatnot in one room, there is not much space left for lights. So I wanted something small, yet powerful, super versatile and lightweight – in other words, Dedolights – and besides one 4bank Flolight, that we bounced from the ceiling in some scenes, Dedolights is all we used.. They are super small and light. Actually when you see them the first time, the normal reaction is: “Seriously?” – followed by a “aaaw how cute – look, baby lights”. But they are more mature, robust, versatile and powerful than they look. Actually the are some of my favorite lights, and also some of the best lights I ever used (you can tell, I’m a big fan by now).
2. surgical lighting
We had a special look for the lighting in mind. Mostly hard light, something rather old school, that I haven’t done for quite a while, since soft lighting is much easier, convenient and faster. But the story called for a touch of (colored) noir, and with the Dedolights I was able to shape the light without employing a ton of flags, kokolores, diffusion frames and other stuff. Almost everything can be done within or at the light, so we did not need a lot of additional stands and grip, that goes in our way. Also with Dedolights, you are not just lighting, you are projecting light. It’s like the scalpel of a DP. They let you do things in a second, that would need much more time and grip with other lights.
3. low power – mucho light
Dedolights don’t draw much electricity. So we where able to plug them in everywhere in the flat. We often had three or four of them on one stinger – no blown fuses, no problemo. For the power they draw, Dedos are much brighter than you think, when you read the numbers. And not only the spots, but also the softboxes are surprisingly bright, if you need that. But I don’t think we ever run a Dedo softbox at full power, cause that would have been way too much.
At one point, we had so many Dedolights around, they where literally everywhere. When you need one, just grab one within your reach, and set up for a new scene. Sometimes we had to light the whole room from just one position, because of space and mirrors in the room. That looked like a forest of Dedos sometimes. But because they are precision lights, that you can bounce over 2 corners, like balls in a billiard game, it actually worked.
WORKFLOW AND DATA WRANGLING
A lot of folks think that shooting raw for a feature is insane, regarding the sheer amount of data. Actually it is a no-brainer. With HDD prices per GB in free fall, even with backups it’s way cheaper than shooting on SR tapes, let alone film. You gonna spend much more money feeding your crew during a feature shot, than you spend on storage space. But what you really need is a solid workflow, regarding data wrangling on set.
We ended up with like 160 reels from – up to – 3 cameras.
We had 10 physical SSDs – I prefer DIGISTOR, because they are custom made for video (not for computers), and they play super nice together with the BMCs. We also had one Samsung for the 4k BMC, since Digistor doesn’t support 4k raw yet.
So we had camera tape on every SSD that shows the reel number and camera name (at the time).
That sticker goes on the matte box, during shooting, and back on the SSD, as soon it is pulled out of the camera.
A sticker on the SSD means, it is fresh formatted and ready to shoot. The same sticker on the SSD – but this time it goes over the bottom, where the contacts are (without touching them of course) means it is full and ready for offloading.
What we did was to make sure, the reel number is in the metadata.
As far as I know, even if you set the reel number in the slate, it doesn’t show up in Resolve, so our DIT had to set the number by hand, once it was offloaded.
No big deal, just a matter of 2 clicks for every SSD, but it would be nice to have the reel number coming into Resolve in the first place.
The article I did on DIGISTOR drives can be found here: https://frankglencairn.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/why-do-you-want-the-best-acquisition-media-money-can-buy/
So… did it all work out? Yes. As far as I’m concerned, it absolutely did. For me as a DP, the combination of BMCs, Samyang lenses and Dedolights worked like a charm for this project. The images we took home are nothing but amazing and I’m a absolute happy camper. As soon mas my NDA is lifted, I update this article with some grabs. Also I must say, that without my amazing camera crew, I would never have been able to tackle this in the way we did – those guys did a fantastic job.
Fotos: courtesy of Daniel Schweinert