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9.29.2007

The "Film Look"

I had chat with one of my "mentees" on-line today. He had some questions, mostly related to what kind of camera he should get.

His first question was what consumer priced camera shot in 24p. I asked him why he wanted a 24p camera. He said he was looking for a consumer camera that had "film look". I've heard that term often. Basically, it's the goal of making an image that was not shot on film by a Hollywood crew look like an image from a $400 million production.

Unfortunately, people spend a ton of time trying to get the "film look" and forget to make movies with good stories. If you have a good story, it doesn't matter what you film was shot on. Seriously. I have proved in my own films that story definitely trumps the difference between a $300 camera and a $10,000 camera (both of which I own). I also, while in film school, got to be part of a shoot that rented a $110,000 camera. Guess what? The story was more important. Sure, we got good looking shots, but I have never gone back to watch that film. If I want pretty pictures, I'll watch a $400,000,000 Blockbuster, not one my school projects.

24p is close to "film look" for only one reason: It has the same frame rate as film. The color curves and motion are totally different. Film has a "stutter" to it as it bounces through the "gate" of the projector. People sometimes add this in to digital movies, and that just annoys me. Basically, the idea is: Let's make the film worse so it can look more "natural". Give me a break. As for the color, Film (in still cameras are movie cameras) has more of an "S" shape from Black to White, whereas Digital is a straight line. This makes for a very distinct difference. This gap is closing and can be tweaked in post.

And, honestly, I have only been able to tell a difference between 24p and 60i when looking at fans in 24p... and it looks worse, in my opinion. The motion is much more jerky. The rest of the time, I couldn't tell you if something was 24p or 60i.

So what kind of camera should you buy? If you are still hazy on the difference between 24p and 60i, you don't need a 24p camera. I you are looking to purchase your first camera, you certainly don't need a $10,000 beauty. You need to learn how to make movies, then, when you have begun to master that, technology begins to matter. Before that, what you use makes no difference at all.

I have heard it said by many wise people: It's what you do in front of the camera that's important, not what kind of camera you have.

So, for your first camera: Get a MiniDV camcorder with as many Manual controls that you can. If you have the money, get one with 3CCDs (the image will be much, much better) and XLR inputs too (or at least some sort of mic-in so you can attach an XLR box).

For your second camera? Come talk to me.

The thing is, if you're starting out and are just starting to get equipment, odds are that you won't even be able to handle 24p footage. Get a camera, start making movies. It's like the time I went shooting (with a gun). The guy selling us shot told us that it didn't matter the quality of bullets we purchased. We weren't good enough for it to make a difference. He said that even he wasn't "better than his bullets". His daughter, however, was. If she didn't buy the expensive bullets, her score suffered.

That's how it is for you too. Until you get good enough at making movies that the kind of camera (or lights, or mics, or even actors) makes a difference: Don't even think about "film look". It won't make a bit a difference for you movie.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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