It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about what I’ve been calling the “Film Revolution;” the advent of cheap digital film-making tools that are democratizing the art by allowing stunning film work at an affordable price point.
I’ve talked about the RED, SI-2K, and others, but have never written about what have become the true revolutionary cameras to hit the market. Video enabled Digital SLR’s. In the last year Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic have all released new Digital SLR hybrid still cameras capable of shooting varying flavors of High Definition video giving no budget filmmakers that sexy 35mm depth of field (most at the heralded 24 frames per second) without the need for cumbersome, light-eating, depth of field adapters, or tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For the first time ever, full-frame 35mm digital hi-def imaging was delivered to the masses and for a price point under $3,000. Truly revolutionary.
In the capable hands of cinematographers who know how to push these small devices to their limits, some stunning short films, documentaries, commercials, and what I like to call, visual poems have been created. See an example below.
That said these cameras are far from perfect. Putting video capabilities into what is primarily a still camera has its inevitable shortcomings including form factor, audio capabilities, aliasing, and rolling shutter artifacts. Pixel peepers and technicians will tell you that while these cameras produce so-called “Full HD” files their actual resolving power is more like SD video. If that sort of stuff interests you, you can read all about it here, and probably at lot of other blogs, forums, and websites. But that’s not that important to me, or most filmmakers. Stu Maschwitz summed it up so perfectly in his blog post when the 5D MkII came out, that I’m just going quote him directly:
“Let’s get something straight. The video from the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D MkII is not of good quality. It’s over compressed, over-processed, over-sharpened, and lacks professional control. It skews and shears and shuts off in the middle of a take. It sucks.
So why are we so excited by it?
Because the video from these DSLRs stimulates us emotionally. It’s contrasty, with sexy depth of field. It looks like cinema, if you don’t look to close. Guess who doesn’t look too close. Everyone.”
– Stu Maschwitz – ProLost.com
That’s the appeal of these affordable digital cinema devices and the reason you need to get off your ass and go shoot something. That’s right; I’m finally getting around to the title of this post. Don’t Wait!
These cameras prove that technology is changing at a rapid pace, and has enabled filmmakers a freedom never offered before. Has this given rise to the film revolution I’ve been prognosticating? Yes and no. While some filmmakers have embraced these tools and made wonderful films big and small, this ever changing technology has also given filmmakers excuses to procrastinate. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
I meet and discuss projects with lots of up and coming filmmakers who say things like, “I’d like to shoot my epic, but I only have a standard def camera and can’t afford to HD. I’ll wait until they’re more affordable.” Or worse, the snob effect,” I have to shoot it on film.” Or “I like those HDSLR’s but I’m waiting for that firmware upgrade that enables (fill in the blank here).” Or a myriad of other excuses for not going out and making your film. I don’t care if you shoot your film on an iPhone. If your script is ready, go shoot it. Shoot it now with whatever camera you have available. You’ve got a Canon 7D? Great! My old standby Canon XL2? Perfect. An old Sony VX100? Fine, just go shoot it.
Ayz Waraich has proven that you can make a beautiful, emotional film with a ton of heart on a cheap HD consumer camera with hardly any manual controls. Don’t believe me? Watch “White Red Panic” embedded below and prepare to be blown away.
If that’s not proof enough, I submit that if well told, your film may not even need to look that good. Take a look at the Award Winning film “Once.” It’s a great film but the cinematography is mediocre at best, mostly shot with flat available light on prosumer video cameras. Sure it’s a bit shocking at first, but then you get sucked in by the story and characters. Years before that Edward Burns won the Sundance Grand Jury prize with “The Brothers McMullen“. Another poorly shot film that transcends its imagery, with heart, character, and emotion.
So with the end of the year upon us, I’d like to ask all aspiring filmmakers to make a New Years resolution to stop worrying about the technology, and for God’s sake don’t wait. By the time that feature or camera you’ve been waiting for comes around, you’ll likely be waiting for the next breakthrough. In the meantime you’ve got nothing to show for it. So shoot now with what you’ve got. It’ll force you to use your creativity to deliver a film that goes beyond the technology and touches your audience; which is what it’s all about.
End of Rant.