Chapter 4: The Impossible Technology (Part Two)

In this post, I will outline the process I used to find my camera.

I wanted to meet DCI and UFO Moviez specifications. This means I needed a project ready in full HD at either 24 or 25fps. Even though the marketplace was all about 24p and whatnot, no digital camera could record true progressive like film (at least when I set out to buy one).

The specs are as follows: 1920×1080 resolution at 25 fps.
This is called full HD. DCI converts them into JPEG and UFO converts them into MP4. Both are crappy standards – but are small in size and good enough for a cinema screen.

In the market in 2006, there were only four cameras that were available that could do justice to this:

Canon, JVC, Sony and Panasonic. After researching, I discovered I needed a good lens. Both Sony and Panasonic had fixed lenses – which would make things difficult in case I wanted to try other lenses. Canon was too expensive an option and so I settled for the JVC 111E camera which is a brilliant one. The only drawback this camera had was that its maximum resolution was 1280×720 which is not full HD but still is good HD.

After a little more research, I discovered that 720p has quality equal to Super 16mm, and the result of blowing it up to 1080p would be equivalent to blowing up 16mm to a 35mm print. This convinced me to go for 720p. From this standard, I could go to film print, Betacam, HDCAM SR and DVD. After checking out numerous videos of footage shoot with the JVC camera, I decided that this was the one I was looking for. The rental costs of this camera for my production schedule were almost 75% of the camera cost. So it was a foregone conclusion that I would buy the camera and a battery pack. The battery set was bought from Global Media Pro based in Australia and each battery gives me 4 hours. I have three batteries so I can shoot for a full day and a half. Each battery takes about 2 hours to recharge on the fast double charger, so it was a fantastic package.

For my tripod, I chose Studio Assist (based in Mumbai and Chennai), I had an old computer monitor to check the quality of the footage and a firewire with laptop to stream real-time data on to a hard disk, as well as use JVC proHD tapes as backup. During filming though, I abandoned the monitor and the laptop/hard disk as it made things slow and unnecessary. Here’s the setup:

My JVC GY-HD111E

My JVC GY-HD111E

I bought a Sennheiser boom microphone and a Protech windshield and jammer set as my main microphone that was fed into the camera for sync sound at 48Khz. For additional scenes, I rented wireless mics to go with the boom.

The questions one has to ask are these:
What is my final delivery? Whom am I making it for?
If it is for theatrical release, the final master must be at 1080p. It doesn’t matter what your source format is: PAL, NTSC, 720 or even a webcam. You can up-res it to 1080p in post production to make it watchable. Just make sure it is something you would want to watch first before sharing it with others! Shoot at 25p in PAL countries. 24p makes it difficult for indie filmmakers trying to render too much. Either way, once your DVD is ready, you’ll need to make it PAL or NTSC.

What is my budget?
Decide whether you are going to buy the camera or rent it. Check out every option in the market that fits in with your final delivery format.

How am I going to use it?
Are you going to shoot on a tripod, handheld or something else? Are you going to use different lenses or are you comfortable with what the camera base model offers you? Can the camera operate in temperatures and other conditions you are going to shoot in? Can the batteries last an entire shoot and how much time does it take to recharge them? Who is going to handle the camera (the operator) and is he/she comfortable with the camera? Is it balanced properly (the lens and the battery should balance out each other so the camera is not front-heavy or back-heavy)? Is it shooting on tape or a hard drive or a memory card? What are the options of back up? How much time does it take to change media and make a backup? What are the costs involved in the same?

How does the camera handle sound?
How many sound inputs does it have? Are they broadcast quality sound? Check with a sound engineer before taking a decision. Is the sound engineer of your project happy with it? How many microphones will you use and is the camera capable of taking that many inputs or will you have to get a mixer to mix-down on set? Are you going for looping (ADR or dubbing) later on or are you strictly on sync sound (many takes will have to be repeated for sound and this will push the production schedule)?

What are you going to finish it with?
What is going to be your editing software and how are you going to render the master? Do you have effects and color correction? What are you going to use to handle these and how do you plan to integrate all the footage? Does the software you are going to use support the format you are shooting in? Can the format handle multiple renders? I used HDV, which is MPEG-2 compressed 1280x720p, which underwent greenscreen work, motion graphics, 3D animation, color correction and sometimes multiple renders to achieve its finished look. The final master was uncompressed 32-bit TIFF files, which was almost 1TB of hard disk space and took a total of ten days to render non-stop!

If you can, rent the camera for a day or two and let your crew get used to it. Then try to edit what you’ve shot and finish it on the editing and finishing system of your choice. When done, judge the results on a full HD monitor or a cinema screen if you can. If you’re happy and your crew is happy, then go for it!