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  • Summer Season Wraps

    Posted on September 19th, 2010 Mike 1 comment

    As someone who’s worked in network television for a long time, it seems strange to be wrapping a season of a show – let alone two shows – in September. Throughout the medium’s history, seasons have traditionally begun in September, with production commencing in July. But in recent years, the growth of cable networks as a venue for scripted series has largely changed that model, with many cable shows having production and post cycles that don’t coincide with the traditional network periods at all. With creatively and commercially successful dramas (and comedies, albeit to a lesser extent) now being produced for services like TNT, USA, TBS, FX, AMC, and A&E, not to mention the pay channels like HBO and Showtime, “production season” can begin in July, September, November, March, or anything in between, depending upon the network, show, and proposed time of year for airing. This has allowed them to air shows at times of the year when they don’t have to compete directly with the broadcast networks, for instance, during the summer.

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  • Who’s Shooting With What – And Why

    Posted on July 5th, 2010 Mike 2 comments

    As another television production season begins (most network shows begin shooting shortly after the 4th of July holiday), the question of whether to shoot on film or digital formats has become almost an anachronism in 2010. The fact is that the SAG actions a year ago solidified and accelerated a now unstoppable march towards use of digital formats for all but some legacy shows that are still shot on film. New shows are almost universally choosing (some might say being compelled by the studio, but I digress…) to put the cast under AFTRA contracts and shoot with digital cameras of various types. Under the umbrella of “digital formats,” there are numerous choices available: compressed and uncompressed, videotape based and file based, HD formats and higher resolution formats, large format and small format, and price ranges for equipment ranging from ridiculously cheap (the Canon DSLR’s) to if-you-don’t-have-a-network-level-budget-you-probably-can’t-afford-it (F35, Panavision Genesis, etc.). This season, you will find network shows shot on equipment from Arri, Panavision, Red, Panasonic, Sony, and possibly some others as the primary, or “A” camera, but on the same sets on any given day you might very well find cameras from companies like Canon, Iconix, Woodman Labs (the Go Pro line), and even Apple’s iPhone being used, sometimes on the same scene. If it all sounds like a bit of a free for all, well, to some degree it is. On the down side, the presence of all of these devices, each one seemingly with its own specific file format, has made life much more difficult for post production, both in editorial and in final finishing. On the up side, the viability of all of them for specific purposes has given production more tools than they’ve ever had to explore visual creativity. Every show must ultimately decide what to use as the “A” camera, regardless of what other tools they might bring to the set on any given day. And the reasons behind those decisions are not always what people outside the mainstream television industry seem to think they are. Read the rest of this entry »

  • I Ran Into An Old Friend..

    Posted on July 4th, 2010 Mike 1 comment

    I recently completed a digital intermediate project for an independent feature called “Meeks’ Cutoff.” This picture had a few rather unique characteristics: it was a period Western, it was set in – and shot in – eastern Oregon (an area not exactly known as a production hotbed, and one that as a result has not often been photographed), it was shot with an intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and perhaps most surprisingly for an independent production these days, it was shot on 35mm film. Considering the many harsh production conditions – wide open areas with little shade, rapidly changing skies and weather conditions, and lots of dust – that choice was a wise one. But in grading the picture, I was quickly reminded of why film survives, and why it is, in many ways, still the most robust and forgiving production format we have.

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  • So, About That DaVinci Thing…

    Posted on May 16th, 2010 Mike 4 comments

    Due to my work schedule, I did not attend the NAB convention in Las Vegas this year. Which, as it turns out, is a pity, because it was probably one of the most interesting gatherings in quite some time. Lots of interesting announcements on various fronts, involving some of the more significant players in our business, including Arri (with the Alexa camera line), Aaton (showing the proposed digital back for the Penelope camera), Assimilate (showing a new version of Assimilate Scratch working with Arri RAW files in real time), Filmlight (some very interesting new things coming, including integrated Red Rocket support, and support for Sony’s new software version of the SR codec, allowing for some very efficient file based workflow enhancements), and Avid (Media Composer 5, one of the most significant upgrades of that software in years). And I’ll be writing about all of these things in time. But perhaps the most significant – and potentially disruptive – announcements came from Blackmagic Design regarding their newly acquired DaVinci product line.  Read the rest of this entry »

  • Got RAW If You Want It

    Posted on April 11th, 2010 Mike 3 comments

    With the NAB convention taking place in Las Vegas this week, there are going to be quite a few announcements about all kinds of products. This being NAB, it should always be remembered that an announcement does not a product make, and most certainly, an announcement does not a ship date make. Product announcements are, first and foremost, tools to keep current customers interested and engaged, and potential customers intrigued. I’ll have a lot more to say about NAB announcements after I visit Las Vegas later this week, but one very significant announcement did not wait for NAB. The introduction of the Arri Alexa digital camera line took place in Los Angeles last week, in part to allow the many industry people who are working on television pilots at the moment to participate (why NAB always takes place smack in the middle of pilot season is something I’ve never understood), and probably in part to get some direct attention prior to the rather mad, free for all atmosphere that NAB represents. At any rate, the event was very well attended and very well presented, and illustrated the clear differences between Arri – a well established, well regarded and well known industry player for many years – and their primary competitor in the digital cinema camera arena at the moment, which would be Red – a company with a much shorter history, but a lot of interest, a lot of buzz, a very significant product line, and some big sales numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

  • SAG and AFTRA: Together Again

    Posted on February 28th, 2010 Mike 1 comment

    Late this past week, announcements were made by SAG and AFTRA that stated their intention to negotiate jointly for their next Film and Primetime Television deal. These negotiations are slated to begin this fall, although the current contracts – signed by AFTRA in 2008 and SAG many months later, in 2009 – don’t expire until June of 2011. These early negotiations were part of the settlement agreed to by SAG when they finally accepted the current contract. The announcement was not unexpected, especially given the upheaval SAG has gone through in the last 2 years, and the stated intentions of their new leadership under their new President, Ken Howard. But make no mistake. SAG is fighting to maintain relevancy, particularly in television, where their antics of the last year and a half have severely reduced their ability to maintain their representation. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Another Red Day

    Posted on February 14th, 2010 Mike No comments

    Yesterday, I attended the Red Day presentation done at Ren-Mar Studios (oops…. I meant Red Studios Hollywood – old habits die hard in this town..). Saw a lot of familiar faces, and met a lot of new ones. I especially enjoyed seeing Assimilate’s use of dual Red Rocket cards to provide live playout of stereoscopic Red material with full debayering in real time. That alone has a lot of potential that I hope to explore.

    This morning, a discussion on the CML centered around things Red (and possibly other companies) might be able to do that would be truly revolutionary and useful. It seems to many that most of the talk involving new digital cameras centers around things like improved dynamic range and resolution – important things to be sure, but ones that are really incremental improvements, not revolutionary changes. To be revolutionary, something has to be presented that accomplishes something that cannot currently be accomplished, or at least accomplishes it in a new way that changes the way one looks at the problem. It is very helpful if that change is also useful, in terms of either making a task more efficient, or eliminating costs associated with doing things using the current methods. I’ve got some things to suggest that I think might be revolutionary and useful. All relate to characteristics of the current Red systems that are often criticized, such as its use of a proprietary file and compression format, the need to supply personnel and systems for backing up files at the time of production, the complications involved in maintaining a consistent color path for dailies, the need to constantly transcode camera files, and the lack of a proper archival element. Here are some of them:

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  • 2010: Fearless Forecast

    Posted on January 2nd, 2010 Mike 3 comments

    This is the time when you see a lot of reviews of what’s transpired over the last year, but I’m not going to do that. For one thing, 2009 really sucked on almost every level, so why rehash it? But more importantly, I like to look to the future and not dwell on the past. And the future will be, at the very least, well, interesting. And not necessarily in the ways you might expect. So here are some personal prognostications for your profound perusal. And please don’t hold me to any of them – they’re all based on personal opinion with no basis whatsoever in actual fact. That said…

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  • Scarlet Rays

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 Mike 1 comment

    Scarlet 2/3" Fixed Lens

    Earlier this week, Red Digital Cinema released information regarding some future products, in particular their Scarlet camera and Red Ray media player. I wanted to take a few days to go over the details and hear others reactions before posting mine.

    Scarlet is an attempt to enter a new market segment for Red, who basically defined their own market with their first product, the Red One. The price/performance of that product was something that really hadn’t been seen before and a lot of people in the mainstream production industry really didn’t know what to make of it. But in the approximately 2 years since its release, it has established itself as a strong player in some very specific areas. Independent filmmakers (now redefined not as those who are working for independent studios, but as those who are working for themselves) latched on to the Red One as a device that could give them images that went considerably beyond what was available with “prosumer” video cameras, such as the Panasonic HVX200, which had become quite popular for this type of use. Some more experienced cameramen saw it as something they could afford to own and present themselves as owner/operators on a wide variety of productions, but particularly in music videos and commercials. In fact, in that two year period, the Red One has found pretty wide acceptance in that community. In what I would refer to as the “mainstream” industry, it has been used on a few sizable feature films, as well as a few television series, but it has seen much more success in the commercial world. The Scarlet represents an attempt to move, for lack of a better term, downmarket with a product that is smaller, simpler, and has a much lower price point. Surprisingly, Red plans to endow the Scarlet with a great deal of the functionality and image quality of the Red One and its successor, the Epic, and the ability to share a lot of peripherals with the Epic line, allowing both to be used together in a lot of situations. Like much of what Red has done so far, this is an approach that has never really been tried by the “traditional” camera vendors, and clearly reflects Red’s out of the box thinking.

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  • The Endless Battle: Production vs. Post

    Posted on November 28th, 2009 Mike No comments

    I belong to an Internet discussion group called the CML, or Cinematography Mailing List. This is a group that was started a little over 10 years ago by Geoff Boyle, a fine cinematographer from the U.K., and has since grown to thousands of members. The membership largely consists of industry professionals, primarily in the camera department, but also some who work in other areas of production and have a personal or professional interest in cinematography and the many things that surround it. There are many, many very informative and lively conversations on this group, and it sometimes gets a bit heated. When that happens, the cause is often (certainly not always, but often) the endless misunderstandings between those working in production, and those working in post production.

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