The “Film” Revolution

The “Film” Revolution
The internet is always abuzz with hype on the latest and greatest video cameras and software innovations. If it wasn’t for paying work you’d see me blogging daily on bleeding edge digital video technology. As it is, I have to earn a living and so I leave the news gathering for the most part to the excellent blogs, DV Guru and HD for Indies. Subscribe to their RSS feeds and you’ll get more digital video news than you can handle.

One of their favorite topics of late is the RED camera. Considered the Holy Grail of independent digital video cameras, the RED sports some impressive specs not the least of which is 4K+ resolution at up to 60 progressive fps (The frame rate goes up to 120 fps as you lower resolution in the camera head).

To put that in perspective, its sensor is almost the same resolution and size as the lauded Panavision Genesis used to shoot Superman Returns. However what makes RED truly impressive is that it outputs full 4K resolution files, while Genesis downgrades everything to 10-bit log 1080p. While 10 bit log 444 1080p is no slouch (in fact I’d be happy to shoot a feature with the Genesis), it’s only about a ¼ of the potential resolution of it’s sensor and what RED can output as RAW files. Oh and did I mention that the RED sells for only $17,500 and can use almost any standard Super 35mm or 16mm film lens while maintaining the same depth of field characteristics…?

Now that you’re all drooling lets face facts that RED still hasn’t been released, and their website only gives an ambiguous “early 2007” date. That’s not stopping them from releasing some footage and images on their website, or organizing the first public screening of their footage, which takes place next week in Santa Monica. If this camera lives up to what it boasts, it’s going to make things very interesting in the coming months.

Another camera bursting onto the indie film scene is Silicon Imaging’s SI-2K camera. This camera is 2K resolution (slightly better than HD) and captures direct to disk at 24 fps at its highest resolution and up to 72 fps at 720p HD using Cineform’s proprietary RAW 10-bit intermediate wavelet codec. This necessitates the need to edit with Adobe Premiere Pro which has been the red-headed step child of NLE’s for years, but has matured of late and really isn’t a bad system.

UPDATE 11/9/06: I have learned that this camera can also record RAW Uncompressed 12-bit content that can be exported to DPX or DNG frame sequences. These can be wrapped in QT and used in Final Cut Pro or other editing systems.

One thing that Silicon Imaging’s camera has over the RED camera is that it currently exists. The film Spoon was shot with this camera, and the workflow, trials, and tribulations are detailed on the Indie Film Live blog. I also had the opportunity to see this camera up close and personal last week at HD Expo. After cursing myself for forgetting my digital camera to snap some pics, I examined the camera head and it’s remarkably small size and high image quality. They had the camera head only version on display which requires a laptop or other PC connected via gigabit Ethernet to record, but also have an integrated solution. They have images and WMV-HD files you can view on their website to see for your self. At packages starting at around $12,000 they’ll be giving RED a run for their money.

Now how does all this relate to the title of the blog entry and more importantly to you? Well simple, these tools are going to change the landscape of independent film production forever.

With the introduction of cameras at this resolution at these prices, and ever quicker and more powerful non linear editing desktop computers, it’s going to be easier than ever to make a feature film on a modest budget that looks like a Hollywood blockbuster. At 4k and 2k resolutions with the ability to use standard cine style film lens, we’re talking Hollywood caliber camera equipment finally within the grasp of the grassroots filmmaker. It’s a democratization of film production where for a percentage of the cost of a Hollywood feature film, you can get a RED or Silicon Imaging camera, couple it with a PC or Mac with your favorite NLE software and make a 4K or 2K resolution movie ready to distribute for film-out, digital projection, HD-DVD (or Blu-Ray whichever wins the format war), or standard DVD and you’ll never have had to even look at a Hollywood Studio. This technology coupled with an independently financed production model will turn Hollywood on its ear. These tools bringing the costs down enables storytellers not to need a big studio to finance their story. No studio means no studio notes. No studio notes means filmmakers will be able to try quirkier, weirder, more experimental methods of storytelling. It’ll be a film revolution fought in the trenches by independent filmmakers, and the viewing public will reap the benefits of new and interesting storytelling.

Now, I’m not saying a camera alone makes all the difference. You’ll still need a group of talented collaborators to work with, and a fantastic script to guide you. And sure, the accessibility of the technology and the proliferation of cheaply produced films will likely produce a whole lot of stinkers… but there will be those diamonds in the rough from trailblazing, innovative filmmakers who might have never gotten the opportunity to make a film without this technology. They will change the landscape of film as we know it.

Are you ready for the revolution?

[EDIT – HD For Indies just posted a head to head in depth comparison of the cameras and workflow. A must read. Check it out.]


Filmmaker. Themed Entertainment Designer.

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