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Bare Bones Cinematography (3 replies and 11 comments)

Jacob W.
7 months ago
Jacob W. 7 months ago

I hope this questions lands as I intend, but I would like to ask Roger, as well as the other cinematographers on this forum a question for discussion.

I've seen some big time directors stripping away large budget and highly technical gear and doing 'bare bones' films. Such as Rob Rodriguez doing Red 11 for a budget of $7000, or Zack Snyder shooting Snow Steam Iron on an iPhone, among other examples not listed.

"What would you personally think is the 'bare minimum' you would consider appropriate and still agree to direct the photography for?"

Phrased also as -

"What is the least amount of gear you would show up to confidently shoot with?"

An iPhone and the Sun? An Arri and a few LED's, couple bounces, and some sunlight? Etc. Etc...

I know a lot would depend on the story and style of the hypothetical film, and perhaps that is the ultimate answer to the question, but still, I think it would be a viable discussion I would like to hear thoughts on. 

There is also a 'Roger story' a Camera Op told me on set that led me to ask this question as well.

Thanks!

Frank
7 months ago
Frank 7 months ago

Steve Yedlin had an interesting twitter thread about applying this approach to the production of the film Brick: https://twitter.com/steveyedlin/status/1356338696341999616»

Jacob W.
7 months ago

Oh cool. Yeah this is basically what I'm getting along the lines of. Really good post. Would be interested to know A) the cost of that package back in 2003 and B) What he would consider the same equivalent package in today's time. Thanks Frank!

Mike
7 months ago

If you had to paint a landscape, how large a canvas would you need, how many tubes of paint would you require and what colours would you need?
The only way to know is to try it yourself, experience takes a life time to perfect.

“Confucius says, man who does not climb hill will never experience pain of falling on arse while descending.

Jacob W.
7 months ago

Love your metaphors Mike. I recently shot a small stunt short with nothing but the sunlight and a Black Magic camera... it was all I had available. Another reason for me asking the question here. But I get your point. And thank you.

Mike
7 months ago

Having made your short film, what Extra equipment do you think you need to have made it better. Better lighting, better sound perhaps even better editing. Not having seen your short, do you think more sophisticated equipment would have made a big difference to the appearance obviously better lighting could have improved it but did it need better lighting. Just curious that’s all. I have seen some stunning shorts made by students using vintage cameras, no special lighting but a real understanding of how to use natural light. It is surprising what you can achieve having no money but ‘bags’ of enthusiasm, better still, forming a like minded group with the intent of telling stories through film. It’s a lovely thing to see, when it happens.

Jacob W.
7 months ago

Honestly, I think at this stage, it needed better direction and better knowledge of what shots cut together, better angles, better framing. That falls upon me to be better. Which I think is great seeing as my limited technology didn't fail, and I think better technology and more sophistication wouldn't have necessarily made it better. Just because you use an 8K Red Dragon doesn't mean you're going to make a masterpiece.
The style was supposed to be an old "rope and dope em" 70's western slapstick stunts fighting. More washed out colors, handheld camera.

So I think the bare bones was sufficient in it's tools, just needed to have more knowledge from my standpoint on how to work with natural light and frame and cut better. But I will post the short when it is fully finished. I'm quite excited. Thanks Mike. Always A+ responses from you.

Mike
7 months ago

Very interesting Jacob. Would love to see the finished film. Atleast, you are now much wiser than you were before, that’s worth something. You are already working in the industry so you could say that you are ahead of others and perhaps solutions to problems could be resolved quicker with the help of work colleagues. Not being able to discuss it can be more frustrating for some who are unable to reach out for help.
Keeping the energy going is very important otherwise enthusiasm will loose its velocity, that’s why like minded souls are so important to have onboard if you are going to stay focused.
I think you are going to win through here, you are not easily put off and will stay the course, time will tell.

Jacob W.
7 months ago

Yeah, and I am able to use this resource for feedback as well as the other professionals I am around to critique and give me some anecdotal info. I definitely am enjoying the process of learning from the faux-pa's of beginning and making those mistakes. Appreciate it Mike!

cujo
6 months ago

>> "What is the least amount of gear you would show up to confidently shoot with?"

This isn't really a meaningful question, I'm afraid. The gear you need depends on what you are shooting. This is especially true for lighting and rigging. For example, if you're shooting a complex outdoors scene which takes place in just a few minutes of movie time but will take days to shoot, you may need a lot of lighting power and scrim so the light will match between takes. Otoh, if you're shooting in small spaces indoors you may need almost nothing... Unless there are windows and the whole film in supposed to take to place in a short period of time during daylight, in which case you may need BIG lights outside each window and a generator truck, so you'll have constant lighting!

There are also issues like focus pulling to consider - you may utterly need a skilled focus puller, remote, and geared lenses depending on the project. For example Tiny Furniture was shot on APSC DSLR but still used a real cinema lenses for this reason.

Rather than asking "How little gear do I need?" it's better to understand what role each piece of gear plays in a shoot - then you won't blow scenes that can't be done in your budget because you can plan alternative ones instead.

The Byre
7 months ago
The Byre 7 months ago

People - well, guys mostly - often get obsessed with equipment.  What lens, what body, which tripod, which lights, which brand of grips, which microphone - it goes on and on and rears its head every time techies get together.  

Behind this stands the pressure from the manufacturers who spend inordinate sums of money on marketing.  Some brands spend 50% of their revenues on marketing. A handful spend even more!  Magazine ads, freebies for the influential, expensive YouTube how-to features, fair stands, showrooms, wages for marketing staff, PR events - it all adds up!  Just putting up a stand at NAB or IBC can mean looking down the barrel of $1m-plus.

There are today dozens of cameras of incredible quality and several lens makers able to make excellent lenses.  There are four editing programmes that work perfectly and four audio programmes worth considering.  And so it goes on - the choice is vast!

The quality of budget-priced equipment is today so good that you would be hard-put-to-it to tell the difference between the end result of a cheap DSLR and some bonkers-expensive box with the very best lenses.  The average punter certainly would never notice!

That (IMO) means that if you have to make a choice between spending a few thousand on getting better talent in front of the camera or getting a better camera - the talent is where the money should be spent.  That is of course just my opinion.  

Daniel Day-Lewis and a DSLR or someone from the local am-dram group and an IMAX?

Jacob W.
7 months ago

Agree with this Byre. And I think history proves your point because most of the greatest films or at least films regarded as 'greatest' were pre DSLR and pre IMAX. That is because the stories were so good, and the acting was so good.

cujo
6 months ago

> Some brands spend 50% of their revenues on marketing.

Really? Like who? And how do you know this...? Because I've worked in marketing and written business plans - and this is an unbelievable spend. Even Rolex don't spend that kind of % on branding.

> the talent is where the money should be spent.

In reality, gear often is talent. You pay actors and crew by the day. That means periods of non-shooting are very, very expensive. The big bill isn't, as you seem to think, cameras, but lighting and grip gear. Which are there so that you can be much more independent of the time of day and the weather - not just in terms of quantity of light but colour and direction, etc. If you want to keep bills for crew and talent down, then lighting and rigging are often essential. Most of those "greatest films" shot before "DSLR and IMAX" were shot with HUGE lighting packages - things that were literally like search lights, required generator trucks, and easily killed people if they made a mistake.

Again, you can make films that dodge around this need - but it has to be done at the script level, and you have to understand when and why expensive lighting is needed.

You also mention microphones: these are a TERRIBLE thing to cheap put on! Every pro smartphone film I've ever heard of uses full-on pro sound gear. Eg

https://momofilmfest.com/the-ultimate-beginners-guide-to-smartphone-filmmaking/»

...Mess around and go cheap on ANYTHING before the audio package! If you're serious about making narrative and have a BMPCC but iffy sound gear, trade in the BM on an old £100 Canon EOS M and spend the extra on a decent recorder and mics.

Roger Deakins
6 months ago
Roger Deakins 6 months ago

There are any number of films that have spent more on marketing than on their shooting budget.

cujo
6 months ago

Yes: I'd love to see data on how old this trend is. I'd also be fascinated to see box office takings vs theatre food and drink sales, and especially the return on each. It's been said that from the pov of the cinema chains the movies they show are just marketing for the popcorn sales that actually keep them in business..

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