Sunday, April 1, 2007

Shooting Tests

When I decided to make Dry Rain, I knew there was only one person to shoot it for me. Doug Hostetter and I have been friends for ahwile. His easy going demeanor would prove to be a great asset on set. He's got a great eye and thoughtful feedback that's both useful and critical. It is great having someone on your team that you fully trust in all aspects. Doug also use to live in Great Falls back in the early 90's. He knows Montana and understands the proportions of the huge state.

For the past year, we've been meeting over coffee. We tend to meet around 7am so he can sneak out before his twin kids wake up in the morning. It is easier on everyone that way. We talk shop, gear and dream of the next big job or the chance to shoot something meaningful. I presented Dry Rain to Doug and he was immediatley on board. He was excited at the chance to shoot the short after he read Pete's story.

Early morning coffee meetings quickly became pre-pre-production meetings for Dry Rain. We schemed on things like how to shoot the car sequences, times of day, locations and logistics. We also talked about what we'd shoot on. Since we are both cinematographers at heart, we knew film would be our choice of acquisition media. We've both shot HD, DV, Mini-DV and P2 based video formats, but Dry Rain needed film. Big landscapes and intimate moments demand the richness and subtlties of film. We now had to start picking the right film format.

Through research and conversation with our peers, we quickly turned to 3-perf 35mm as our preferred format. The savings on film with 3 perf would be great and the huge negative area of the Super35mm frame would be perfect for the scope of the project. 3 perf 35 uses one less perforation than the standard 4 perfs in "normal" or Academy 35mm. When shooting an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 or wider, it is perfect since the top and bottom of the negative get cut off anyway in 4 perf 35. Here's a basic overview, if you are so inclined:

Our next dilemma was where do we source a camera. In the Northwest, 3 Perf cameras are non-existant. L.A. was our next obvious choice. Doug approached Robert Keslow of Keslow Camera in Culver City. Doug has been using Keslow as his preferred camera rental house for several years now. Luckily, Robert was very gracious and was willing to give us a camera for our tests. He'd also loan us a camera for the week of shooting in the summer. We just needed to prove to our selves that 35 3-Perf was the way to go over the cheaper, but good looking Super16mm.

With the support of Oppenheimer Cine, here in Seattle, we built out a Moviecam Compact and an Aaton XTR Super 16mm Camera. We set out with the goal of doing side by side comparisons of the two formats. We headed east to Vantage, Washington to get something simlar to the open spaces of Montana. We shot several shots matching the field of view with both camers. We chose Cooke S4 primes and matched up lenses to get a similar frame in 16 and 35. We also shot the same stop and used the same exact filtration. We shot Kodak's 5205 and 7205 films to keep the apples to apples comparison as close to possible.

The one bonus of shooting in 16 is the package size. Overall, the 16 camera package is smaller, more compact and easier to shoot in a car. What we loose in image quality, we gain in costs (16 being cheaper for film) and camera size. On the other hand, the 35 gives a much bigger negative area to work with and more resolution. It looks amazing. It is just bigger and harder to squeeze into a car. Not impossible, but challenging none the less.

In Telecine, Doug saw a substantial difference between the two formats. 35 was the clear winner. 16 looked good, but didn't hold up in resolution, color space, lattitude or grain quality. For now, we'll choose 3 perf 35. If we can't afford it, we know that 16 will make a great looking image.

Wide Shot: 35mm 3Perf

Wide Shot: Super 16mm

Close-up of Matt: 35mm 3Perf Lucky me getting to stand in.

Close-up of Matt: Super16mm

Close-up of Doug: 35mm 3Perf, he's a better stand in than me.