Saturday, December 25, 2010

BlindSide - Short Film

BlindSide Promo from Dimi Nakov on Vimeo.

BlindSide - Short Film

Directed by: Dimi Nakov
Produced by: Graeme Cash 
Screenplay by: Chantal Rayner-Burt & Sean O'Connor

Becky's Voice Over and Monologue written by Barbara Watkins

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Principal photography for BlindSide will commence in March 2011

Starring Jordon Buckwell, Sarah James, Sean O'Connor, Tonci Pivac, Jesse Miller

Promo Credits:

Editor - Christos Montes (Orasis Video Productions)
Visual FX - Kathy Kennedy
Music & Sound FX - "Reiko Che"
Camera & Lighting - Stephen Morris, Kevin Luck 
Location Sound - Kimberley Norman 
Make Up Artist - Astrid Schirnack


Following her parent's separation, Becky's life changes for the worse when her mother, Amanda is blindsided by a charming stranger, who is not quite what he seems. One fateful night will forever change their destiny.

More About BlindSide:

BLINDSIDE is a drama / thriller which portrays a separated family caught up in a situation of domestic violence and sexual abuse, that too often happens behind closed doors in New Zealand society.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DSLRs for Digital Cinema: Their Potential, Your Responsibility by Dave Stump

DSLRs for Digital Cinema: Their Potential, Your Responsibility

by Dave Stump
Creative COW Magazine : Divergence Issue : DSLRs for Digital Cinema: Their Potential, Your Responsibility
DSLR Video Feature at Creative COW

CreativeCOW presents DSLRs for Digital Cinema: Their Potential, Your Responsibility -- DSLR Video Feature

Dave StumpDave Stump
David Stump, Director of Visual Effects & Photography
Los Angeles California USA

©2010 All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Dave Stump ASC explores the innovations and limitations of DSLR cameras and offers his insights into how and when to work with them successfully.

Dave Stump, ASC, has spent over 20 years as a director of photography, a visual effects supervisor and VFX DP. Along the way, he won an Academy Award® for Scientific and Technical Achievement. Add his position as Chair of the Camera Subcommittee of the American Society of Cinematographers Technical Committee to the mix, and you have a unique combination: a rigorous, scientific mind with direct responsibility for evaluating new cameras and technologies for his peers in the ASC, and a guy who is used to doing whatever it takes to get the shot -- the scholarly and the practical.

In his role as Rigorous Scientific Guy, Dave has been part of the Camera Assessment Series (CAS), jointly produced by the ASC, the Producer's Guild of America, and Revelations Entertainment, which is the production company founded by Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary. The goal is simple: to shoot demanding scenes with the industry's highest-end cameras, side-by-side, to illustrate their strengths and weaknesses.

[Ed. note: Robert Primes, ASC, described the CAS in Creative COW Magazine's "Blue Ribbon Awards" issue, and how DSLRs stack up, in an article called DSLRs: A Time Exposure.]

We knew that Dave has heard reports from his peers in the ASC that are using DSLRs and has been taking a closer look at them for his own work. We asked him how well these new cameras hold up for digital cinema, both technically and in practice. This article contains some of the observations he made during a recent conversation.

We brought a Canon 5D Mark II along on some of the Camera Assessment Series setups, but it was never intended to be part of the actual primary testing, because the CAS had strict criteria that excluded it. Among the rules: the participating cameras have to be commercially available, have to have shot commercial motion picture work, and have to have 4:4:4 capability. But we did actually sneak one in alongside a couple of setups, just so that we could see what there is to the craze.

Unofficially, it was an interesting experience to see them included in side-by-side testing of the material. There is obviously some pretty interesting stuff being shot with DSLRs in those commercial motion picture and television work -- but I find that the backend workflow for the screen leaves a lot to be desired. The codecs for handling material from DSLRs are pretty low in color bit depth, and fairly high in compression, and there are not many options to derive higher quality for large screen use of the images.

There are also limitations for using DSLRs on set. For example, there is not much in terms of video tap output for monitoring while shooting.

They are also difficult to keep in focus unless you put cine lenses on them. And when you put a cine lens on, if you don't connect the camera to some kind of fairly rigid platform, focusing with a cine-style focuser actually deflects the camera. You get a snap-jerk to the image -- just by virtue of the camera's light weight, and of the torque of the focus puller's arm -- focusing the darn thing. Unless you get the camera connected to something, focusing will actually point the camera down and away or up and away. It's as if the light weight works against you in some scenarios.

For the shooting itself, DSLRs are yielding good latitude -- not as great as the highest-end digital cinema cameras, of course, and certainly not as good as film. But there's some very powerful image processing going on inside those cameras. They have done a lot of dark subtraction work to quiet those sensors down, and can make them very quiet in the blacks.

But for now, you can really only output HD for motion imaging from DSLRs. You can't get the full benefit of the resolution of the sensor to do motion picture RAW work with any of them. I don't know if anybody has hacked that yet, but it really would be a lot more valuable to be able to derive for motion pictures the same resolution in RAW format that you can for still images from those same cameras.

And truthfully, while the images generally look really good, the right image criteria is going to stress the sensor -- or at least stress the QuickTime output wrapper -- and you will get some color aliasing.

So it's just an absolute mystery why manufacturers haven't purposely designed these DSLRs as digital cinema cameras, based on the technology that's already in them. I think that companies like Canon have an enormous potential for building awesome digital cinema cameras, but they don't seem inclined to go that way... or at least I haven't seen them, or anyone else, SEEM to be inclined to lean that way yet.


The thing that I always keep in mind when I evaluate the trend towards using DSLRs is the same thing I keep in mind when evaluating any new camera: I don't have a judgment about it one way or the other. It's just another tool in the toolbox for certain kinds of shots.

What it really is, is an indicator -- a barometer of what cinematographers want. They want a camera that is smaller, lighter and easier to use, and that produces better looking pictures. The Canon 5D Mark II is the size that people wish the Sony F35 could be. If you could get that kind of performance in such a small package, then the result becomes the cinematographer's dream camera.

That has always been true. In the 40s and 50s, we shot movies and TV on big, heavy Mitchell BNCR's. And then along came ARRIFLEX (For image and more information please view Gary Adcock's article, "Digital Cinema Comes of Age.") with this amazing but noisy little thing called the 2C, which was sort of a byproduct World War 2. Everybody jumped in and had to have one, because it was so much smaller and lighter, and yeah, who cares about the racket it makes? Now we can handhold the camera!

That was a revolution -- but it's a revolution that a lot of people have forgotten about. It really is the same revolution that the Canon 5D Mark II has created. In that respect, it is already a big success.


We don't need to limit our conversation about DSLRs in digital cinema to their future potential. I think that DSLRs have a lot of value right now.

For example, I do a lot of visual effects work. I can use these cameras to get a shot that nobody has ever seen before. Say I was going to put a camera out on some train tracks to get run over by a train: I wouldn't put an ALEXA out there. I wouldn't put a RED out there, but I can go to a producer in good conscience and say, "I can get the plate that we need by putting a Canon 5D Mark II out on the railroad tracks, and running over it with a train." 

There are also times when it helps to have stealth in your toolbox. You can get a shot that, if you were there with a film camera or with an F35, you might have problems. If you are doing a wide shot in a public place, people might shy away from it, or they might just stare into it. You might even attract the ire of the local authorities, whereas if you are just standing there with a still camera on a tripod, you can gather an establishing shot of traffic going by for a movie or a TV show, fairly efficiently, without interference, and without attracting too much attention. To me, that's extremely useful.

There are numerous television shows that have been employing them to great effect. That is what has led to things like an entire episode of "House, MD" being shot with DSLRs [by Gale Tattersal, ASC], and episodes of "24" [by Rodney Charters, ASC].

I personally am not inclined to try and shoot a whole television show with a DSLR. But there are guys who want to be out there, on the hairy edge. This is sort of what they're doing to stay in the avant-garde. They're shooting entire TV shows, and even moving into features with the Canon 5D Mark II. I think it has that kind of value. I personally might never do that, but I honor those who would.


I have done some of my own testing with the Canon 5D Mark II, and I really enjoy shooting with it. As with any new camera, I enjoy finding its unique characteristics.

To me, one of the responsibilities of a cinematographer is to know how to use all the tools available, so that you can let the script and the story and the circumstances tell you which camera to use, rather than just picking a camera that you have a comfort level with.

It obeys a really old axiom, that when the only tool you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you know only one kind of camera, then every job you do looks like a job for that camera. But ultimately, what we learned from CAS is that every camera has its strengths and weaknesses. If you let the job tell you which camera to use, rather than just your knowledge of only one camera, then you are ultimately doing the greatest service to your producer.

The thing that I think about most is my responsibility to the projects that I do. Sometimes part of the job description entails that you're here to save them from themselves. In the same respect that it's possible to spend too much money on a project, it's also possible to spend too little. Making the right choice palatable and desirable is a delicate dance.

Ultimately, a question that you must ask your producer and your director, as a responsible cinematographer is, "What is your expectation of the shelf life of this product that we are creating? How hard do you want me to work to make this product future-proof?"

By knowing and educating myself on a lot of different camera systems, I can make a choice. There's an important distinction to be made here. If I only know one camera system, I can't make a choice. I can only decide to use the tool that I know.

I can't choose some of the others that might work better, if I don't know what they are.

Dave Stump, ASC has worked as a DP, effects cinematographer and VFX supervisor on dozens of films including Quantum of Solace, X-men and X-men 2, The Bourne Identity, Army of Darkness, Star Trek: First Contact, Batman Forever and many more. He chairs the American Society of Cinemtagraphers subcommittees on Cameras, and Metadata.
In 2000, Dave was part of a team that received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® for hand-development of advanced camera data capture systems, which he describes in his first article for Creative COW Magazine, Metadata and The Future of Filmmaking. There, Dave describes a possible future for filmmaking -- faster, less expensive, and more creative -- as cameras and metadata come together.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

HDSLR Audio Round Up

HDSLR Audio Round UpPDFPrintE-mail
Written by Jem Schofield   
Friday, 11 September 2009 16:16
One thing is for sure, if you're shooting with the new crop of HDSLR cameras—Canon 5D Mark II,Canon 7D or the Panasonic Lumix GH1—you’ll need to put some serious thought into your audio workflow. While each of these cameras is capable of producing remarkable images with their large sensors and interchangeable lens systems, they are all pretty awful in the audio department.
Well, each camera does have built in audio capabilities, including a built in mic and a jack to plug in external microphones, but none of them give the user any real manual control over what’s being recorded. There are no meters, no trim knobs and no XLR inputs to use professional shotgun and lavalier microphones. Most importantly, all of the cameras use Automatic Gain Control (AGC) when recording, and it can’t be disabled. This is the real monkey in the wrench.
AGC works on the equality system. If Joe is talking to camera and suddenly an itty-bitty cricket makes a loud sound in the background, the AGC will kick in. It will increase the mic’s gain and try to make the cricket as loud as Joe. As you can imagine, the results can be disastrous. The audio levels will be all over the place, and unwanted noise can be introduced into the recording. It’s the equivalent of an audio roller coaster ride. Not good.
So, in order to combat these inherent HDSLR audio issues there are a number of current solutions that can be used to ensure that you’re getting the best audio on your HDSLR projects.

Double-System Sound
Zoom H4nThe first thing to come to grips with is that if you are going to shoot a real project with an HDSLR, and it’s not MOS, then you’re probably going to have to go old-school and record dual system. I will discuss options where you can record directly to camera a little later, but for the cleanest possible audio for your project, double-system sound is the only game in town. [NOTE: Watch Jem's video on recording sync sound with the Canon 5D here.]
The most popular, cost effective, recording solution being used for HDSLR double-system sound is the Samson Zoom H4n. It’s a portable flash-based recording device that has a built-in stereo microphone and also has two XLR inputs. It’s easy to use, costs less than $350 and the audio it records is very clean. It includes a low-cut filter (also called a high-pass filter, because it lets the high frequencies through but can cut lower undesirable frequencies out), and it can be coupled with the Redhead Windscreen when filming outdoors.
The H4n runs off of two AA batteries or the included AC adapter and is truly the Swiss Army knife of HDSLR recording. It can even be used to record reference audio directly to camera (using its mini jack line out).

Reference Audio & Direct to Camera Recording
When recording dual-system, it’s important that the audio your camera records is as clean and audible as possible. Whether using software to sync your double-system sound (more on that later), or doing it manually using audio waveforms, if you don’t have good levels and clean audio it’s pretty much a game over.
To help you capture better reference audio to any of the HDSLRs mentioned in this round up, there are a few small microphones that can be used. Remember, these mics don’t disable the AGC in the camera, but they will have better pick-up and audio than the built-in mic.
Sennheiser MKE 400 MicThe first is the Sennheiser MKE 400 Compact Shotgun Mic. It’s tiny, mounts to a hotshoe and runs off of a single AAA battery. It has low and high gain settings and also includes a low-cut filter switch. It comes with a foam windscreen, and there is the MZW 400 Hairy Windscreen that can be added for outdoor, windy conditions.
RODE SVMThe second mic is the RODE Stereo VideoMic. It’s considerably larger than the Sennheiser, but it has a true stereo X/Y microphone, a built in shock mount, a high pass filter and a -10dB pad switch when the mic is too hot for the device it is being used to record to. It runs off of a single 9V battery, has great pick-up and even includes a Dead Kitten windscreen for outdoor recording. RODE also makes a mono, very directional, shotgun mic called the RODE VideoMic. It’s another option when you want to record clean audio to your HDSLR.
Sennheiser wireless mic system ENG G2The stealth approach when recording to your HDSLR is to use a wireless mic system like the Sennheiser EW 100 ENG G2 Series. This system includes two transmitters (one for 3.5mm devices and one for XLR devices), one receiver and one lavalier mic. When you want to be on the down low and still look like you’re just shooting stills, this is an excellent option. You can even use the included XLR based transmitter (only one transmitter can be used at a time), when you want to use a boom mic in a wireless configuration.

Under ideal conditions, indoors with next to no ambient noise, you can record pretty clean audio directly to your HDSLR using an external mic. If you want to use other professional mics (like the Sennheiser wireless system mentioned above or a XLR based shotgun microphone), adding a mixer to the configuration can give you even more control.
JuicedLink makes a number of cost effective mixers that have 2 or 4 balanced inputs that output to a standard 3.5mm stereo jack that runs to your HDSLR. Their products include the CX211CX231,CX411CX431 and the CX471. The 11 series doesn’t have Phantom power (the 31 series does), but all versions of their mixers have three gain settings (low-noise preamps), and separate trim knobs for each input. All of the JuicedLink mixers run off a single 9V battery and the CX471 also includes audio level meters.
If you’re not using the CX471, you’ll have to do some test recordings to the camera’s flash card, transfer them to your computer and tweak the levels as needed. As there is no headphone jack on any of the HDSLR cameras, this is something you probably want to do anyway (regardless of the device that you are using to record direct to camera). It would be a best practice workflow each time you record in a new location.
Juiced Link 231 Juiced Link 431 Juiced Link 471

Disabling AGC
The last device I want to mention is unique to the bunch. It’s the BeachTek DXA-5D Dual XLR Adapter. While it was originally designed to work with the Canon 5D Mark II (and has pins that line up with the bottom of the 5DMKII for mounting), it will also work with the Panasonic Lumix GH1 and the Canon 7D.
BeachTek dxa-5dWhat makes this device unique?
Well, the DXA-5D is the only commercial device on the market that was designed not only to allow direct to HDSLRcamera recording, but also to disable the Automatic Gain Control Disable in your HDSLR camera. Pretty cool, huh?
What the device does is send an approximately 20Khz tone to the camera (we can’t really hear that frequency), which tricks the AGC feature in the HDSLR. This allows you to record audio and not worry about giving equal billing to that cricket I mentioned earlier.
The DXA-5D runs off of a single 9V battery and can provide 12V or 48V Phantom power to external mics. It can record in Mono or Stereo and has two ground settings (G1 and G2), which are used to reduce noise. It also has audio meters and a headphone jack to monitor audio.
Under ideal conditions, you can get away with using the DXA-5D to record useable audio. As it disables the AGC in the camera, it can be a great device to use for both direct to camera recording, for certain projects, and to improve the quality of the reference audio that is recorded to the camera. The quality of the audio won’t be as good as recording to a separate audio device like the H4n, but for certain applications it may just do the job. It’s small, inexpensive and probably a good addition to an HDSLR shooter’s kit.

Connecting to the Lumix GH1
While any of the above solutions will work with the Panasonic GH1, when recording audio directly to the GH1 remember that you will need a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter. That’s the mic input size on that camera. Other than that, nothing is different.

Syncing In Post
Once you have recorded double-system sound... and you should be, what do you do in post? If you’re using Final Cut Studio for post-production, you’re in luck! Singular Software makes a product calledPluralEyes that was designed for Final Cut Pro and it really works. Once installed, you set up your FCP sequence to match your project’s assets and name it PluralEyes. You then drag your good audio, recorded to an external device such as the Zoom H4n, and the picture and reference audio from the HDSLR camera into the sequence. Fire up PluralEyes, press Sync and it lines it all up in one click – it even creates a new sequence with the synced version. It’s worth every one hundred and forty nine dollars that it costs as it can save you hours of syncing. The company is working on versions for other NLEs, but Final Cut Pro is the only supported application at the time this article was written. [NOTE: Jem's video demonstrates syncing audio with FCP and Plural Eyes. Watch it here.]
If you are using another NLE for post-production, slating each take during acquistion is really important. The current gang of HDSLRs don’t record timecode, so the audio waveforms that are recorded to both camera and your external recording device are your best friends. Slating will give you a definite visual and auditory reference to make syncing in post much, much easier.

When recording audio on a job, each location and job will require that you make tweaks to each of your device’s settings. It’s the nature of the beast.
I find that when recording directly to the H4n, using the Sennheiser ME66/KP6 shotgun mic, that I set the H4n’s recording level to between 55 and 65. This, of course, has to do with the location, type of mic and the placement of the mic. You can also use the H4n’s Phantom Power, but be warned that while it will give you 48V of Phantom power for potentially better dynamic range, it will also eat the AA batteries for breakfast. You’re better off using the adapter if you want to use the device’s Phantom power.
The only real disadvantage I have run into with the H4n is that you can only set one recording level for both of the XLR mic inputs, which are recorded as stereo to two discreet channels. If you’re really serious about your audio (and you should be), you may want to consider adding a mixer such as the Sound Devices 302. This will allow you to control the individual levels for up to three mics and then run those as two outputs into the H4n.
When using the JuicedLink mixer I found that using the medium gain setting produced the best results. This is based on one set up, and while I can’t see using low for any practical applications (I was very close to the mic during the test), I could see using the high gain setting when the mic was further away.
When using the Beachtek DXA-5D with a single mic setup (Sennheiser shotgun again), it seemed that plugging the mic into the right channel, setting the ground switch to G1, activating the AGC disable feature and recording in stereo gave the best results. This effectively gave me a clean audio track in the right channel, the 20Khz tone sent to the camera in the left channel (which can be disabled in post), and the least amount of noise. Again, this was based on one set up but this seemed to be the right combination. I also left the trim knobs all the way clockwise on the DXA-5D as any counter-clockwise adjustments would attenuate (lower or reduce) the input levels. While the DXA-5D is definitely noisier than recording to the H4n directly, it has its place. In good conditions it can produce very useable audio directly to camera, which can eliminate a step in post – syncing audio from an external device.
In the end, though, it’s still best to record double-system sound. While it’s a little extra work, it’s all worth it in the end.

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