Mike Seymour of fxguide and fxphd loves his Canon 7D, but on the splendid Red Centre podcast he bemoans one shortcoming of its video mode more than all others combined: 8-bit files. Line-skipping, heavy compression, weird form factor? Mike’s not concerned about that nearly as much as he is the noise, banding, and crunchy chunky nastiness that he knows is lurking within those apparently lovely images, just waiting to pop out and bite him when he’s keying a sky or brightening a face.
Why Mike should relax: It’s just not that bad. It’s the compression more than the 8-bit recording that makes HDSLR video fall apart under stress. Get a good noise removal plug-in and watch your bit-depth magically appear to increase. And not every shot needs to be keyed. More professional photographers than will ever admit it shoot JPEG instead of raw. 8 bits is plenty if they’re the right eight bits.
Have you ever seen a photo of Vincent Laforet without something really, really expensive in the shot with him? Something black-anodized and wireless? Vincent loves the toys. He’s been using them to make awesome images before he fell in love with making moving pictures—he’d use film cranes to place SLRs in precarious positions on New York landmarks, for example. Now Vincent is reliably the guy who will strap a $4,000 camera body to about $300,000 worth of camera support gear.
Why Vincent should relax: More than anyone I know, Vincent could make a beautiful film with nothing more than a camera, a 50mm lens and a tripod.
Sorry Philip, there are so many shallow-depth-of-field mavens out there to choose from, but your fanaticism for it combined with your keen eye and willingness to approach complete strangers on the street with a giant Zacuto rig sticking out of your chest like a spinal surgery patient have probably sold more Canons than their own marketing department has. Philip has made focus hunting into an artistic choice rather than a technical failing. And really, on a medium-close shot with one nice, sharp eye, who wants to be distracted by a crisp eyelash?
Why Philip should relax: Most movies are shot on 35mm film (roughly equivalent to the 7D’s sensor size) at about f/4. Some of my favorite shots of Philip’s have literally several things in focus.
Jim Jannard, founder of RED Digital Cinema, recently wrote “If 1080P is really ‘good enough’… then there is no reason for RED.” He’s bet everything that people care a lot about spatial resolution. Not satisfied to make a 4K camera, Jim announced a complete line of cameras for the pixel reductionist ranging up to a 28K monstrosity. To Jim, quality comes from sharpness and detail.
Why Jim should relax: The highest-grossing film of all time was shot in HD and then cropped for projection on screens the size of football fields. If you see a ‘scope movie that was shot in HD, you’re looking at an image only 800 pixels tall. Movies move. They have tons of motion blur, are rarely perfectly in focus, and they are watched by people who don’t have perfect eyesight in theaters that are manned by “projectionists” who focus biannually.
Roger Ebert hates that wagon wheels go backwards. It drives him nuts. Years ago he saw a demo of Maxivision 48, a system that shoots and projects 35mm film at 48 frames per second, and he’s never forgotten how smooth it was. Like many, he decries 24 fps as a technological dinosaur, a holdover from a bygone era.
Why Roger should relax: With the advent of HD, it became easy to create digital moving images of high enough spatial resolution to pass for film (unless you’re Jim Jannard, see above), but at first we could only do so at 50 or 60Hz. HD video at 60 images-per-second inspired no filmmakers and no audiences—in fact, at the very Sundance I met Roger, a 60fps HD test shot by Allen Daviau was booed off the screen. It wasn’t until we hobbled our HD cameras to 24 that we could start making movies digitally. More frames-per-second is indeed smoother and more life-like. Just like video. Who would have imagined that audiences don’t want movies to feel more like daytime soap operas?
I’m taking the hard road here by picking on a filmmaker I idolize, rather than the studio execs who see “3D” as just a longer way of typing the dollar sign. Jim uses the word I hate—immersive—to describe the effect 3D has on an audience. 3D is more “real” to him, more life-like.
Why Jim should relax: Jim has made some of the most immersive movies I’ve ever seen, and none of them needed an extra way to remind me that some stuff is in front of other stuff. 3D is an imperfect technology that has failed to win the love of moviegoers twice before. Movies work because they are larger than life. If you succeed at making them life-like, you run the risk of faithfully recreating the mundanity of the real world. Who would have imagined that audiences don’t want movies to feel more like plays?
I flatter myself to be in the company of the above luminaries, but fairness demands that I turn the lens on myself. I am biased against expensive things. I’ll talk your ear off about how After Effects runs circles around Flame, and then instantly forget all your scathing rebuttals of all the things Flame can do that AE can’t. I get off on accessibility, even if I don’t actually access it. I bought a Canon HV20 the week it came out, calling it the no-more-excuses camera. Well I must have been wrong, because simply owning the camera didn’t cause a film to get made by me with it. Filmmaking is hard, and I sometimes get too preoccupied with finding ways to make it easier.
Why I should relax: Usually you do get what you pay for. A cheap, crappy follow-focus is just a non-refundable down payment on the good follow-focus you’ll eventually buy. And it’s the fact that filmmaking is difficult that makes it worth doing. Movies capture the efforts of a few and turn them into an experience for the many. Try hard, then try harder, then try harder still—and then look next to you at a filmmaker who’s trying even harder. Chances are you have a favorite director whose work has never been the same since they got famous enough to stop killing themselves making their films.
I kid because I love
In case it’s not abundantly clear: I admire every single one of these fetishists (well, except that last punk). But we can all use a little reminder now and then that movies work. They’ve transported us, fooled us, moved us, terrified us, and turned us on for a hundred years, all without any yet-to-be invented bells and whistles.
Movies aren’t broken. Stop trying to fix them, and go make one.