Monday, September 20, 2010

Rodney Charters at DigitalFest!

May I begin with saying Rodney Charters is a nice guy! He talked with people about camera specs for about thirty minutes after his DigitalFest appearance; the new Canon 60D seems to be Rodney's fast growing side-kick because of its lightness and flip viewing screen. I also liked that he was totally frank about Hollywood insanity. For instance, Fox allowed Kiefer Sutherland to decide whether or not 24 should go digital, instead of giving Charters the power to decide what he was going to shoot with. Really Fox? Kiefer's opinion is more important than the Director of Photography's?

Although Charters continued working with film (after Kiefer decided that digital color grading distorted his face), he used the Canon 5D Mark II to shoot action scenes (especially car chasing action). He showed us several photos of 5Ds enclosed in exoskeletons that were designed to firmly mount to cars. Wowzer! TV networks have some serious cash to throw around, hiring companies to build special HDSLR camera cages for stunt cars. Really, by the time a network has bought all of the specialty gear to shoot HDSLRs during an action scene, and sprung for a 5D Mark II body modification so that it can accommodate a cinema lens, no money has been saved in using a HDSLR camera. But come to think of it - networks have a tendency of spending on one end what they saved on another.

The perfect example of networks spending what they save came up when Charters started talking about shooting locations. He said that many scenes in 24's later seasons were shot against a green screen, and then a cityscape was superimposed post-production. Filming permits in New York, I guess, are more expensive than flying stills photographers to New York to photograph its skyline, and then plastering these stills over an action scene in post. Between the airline tickets for the photography crew, hotel and food expenses, per diems and special effects costs, it's hard to believe that the show saved much going the green screen route. But if the network really did save this way, my indie spirit says screw New York! Find a city or town that will let you film for pennies on the dollar.

One thing's for sure - the savings is undeniable when comparing digital video to film processing. A thousand feet of film (i.e. one reel) costs $1,000 for the film, plus another $1,000 for processing.  Charters said that on 24 they would shoot roughly 20 reels of film per day - $40,000 a day in film and processing!  This number is the reason why Charters shot with HDSLR cameras on the set of Indian Gangster, a television concept created by writer/director Snehal Patel. Patel was looking for ways to stream-line costs so Charters suggested that the pilot be shot exclusively with HDSLRs. The pilot is definitely eye-candy, thrilling Patel so much that he has become an HDSLR convert who now teaches film-makers how to use these cameras skillfully.

Although a good deal of Charters talk focused on production costs in relation to HDSLRs, he also spoke at length about the challenges of focus pulling on HDSLR cameras and the HDSLR camera's inability to shoot raw. He would like to see Canon design lenses that auto-focus. Right now, Charters is using a focus remote that costs around $30,000, but he would love see the life of a focus puller made easier with automatically responsive glass. Additionally, he would like to see the dynamic range of a Canon 5D Mark II RAW still photograph, dynamic range that's comparable to that of film, made available to those using the HDSLR's video capability. At this point, there just isn't much wiggle room in color correcting video clips. Oh happy days when a colorist doesn't have to sweat!

Well, that pretty much covers the highlights of Charters appearance at Pictureline. We learned a lot about how the established industry works, and hope that this blog post has given you a clear glimpse into our experience at DigitalFest.

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