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04 Feb 2012 Paul marriagetechpreproduction
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Planning Production

The challenge: to produce a feature with a micro (is there a sub micro level?) budget so that no one watching even knows that was ever an issue.

In this day and age that kind of thing should be possible with a carefully chosen combination of kit and approach. I think one of the most important mantras is that everything needs to be proportionate to the budget. For example at one point the possibility of shooting on a Red Epic came up, however whilst the camera itself was achievable (and desirable) everything else needed to support it was heavier, more expensive or more resource intense. If anything went wrong we'd be left looking at a substantial rental back up and a lot of people standing around twiddling their thumbs. Small budgets don't have the kind of contingency cushions to take risks like that.

Sure, there were things that in retrospect we'd have done differently, but that's the case no matter what the budget size, experience and challenges - it's always different.

A small budget means being careful across the board, with the crew, the timings, the speed at which we have to work. If we had a larger budget, things would have been done very differently - no surprise there. I wonder how many people really recognise that filmmaking is a series of compromises based around budget? We were very lucky in that both the cast and crew, worked very hard and everyone had an eye on how to save any additional costs. That kind of camaraderie cannot be underestimated. Sure, there were things that in retrospect we'd have done differently, but that's the case no matter what the budget size, experience and challenges - it's always different.

So we aimed for a balance, we decided to base the camera package around a Sony FS100 and FS700 (we owned the 100 anyway and managed to get a 700 a couple of weeks before - they were in serious short supply, so thanks to CVP for coming through at the 11th hour on that front). Both these cameras offered a 35mm style 'look'. We already own a set of Contax Zeiss Primes and also a number of Sony Zeiss zooms as well as a myriad of other lenses that we use for stills and special occasions. The FS range are nice cameras, the sensors are excellent inside but wrapped in some lightweight prosumer bodies. So long as you're careful with them they work well, we'd never rent them out - they simply wouldn't stand up to the stress. For example the lens mount is pretty flexible (and i mean that in a negative 'it moves around too much' way) so it's vital that any lenses are supported independently - especially if rigged with a follow focus, because the torque of the FF can twist and shear the FS mount. You really understand the compromises made on the FS compared to it's more pro F3 big brother. We also used a little Sony NEX camera, affectionally called T Cam (for tiny), the main benefit is we could rig this literally anywhere - inside drawers, fridges, against a wall, ceiling etc,.

The bigger brother, the Sony F3 was tempting although at the time still too expensive, also one of the greatest features of the FS range is the e mount, because so many lenses can be adapted to work with it very cheaply, it's very flexible (this time in the positive way). The F3 had the more pro FZ mount and the options were reduced and more costly. Again the proportionate aspect of selecting equipment.

Each FS would be paired with a BlackMagicDesign Shuttle to record the signal externally at a higher quality compared to the internal recorder, although we would record both simultaneously giving us a form of back up for free. These shuttles are incredible value for money, 10 bit 4:2:2 in DNxHD compressed (or uncompressed). Although the FS range has been throttled by Sony into only giving us 8 bit data externally - not ideal but then plenty of features have been shot in 8 bit - from the 720p Varicam from panasonic to even the first episode of Star Wars. We felt that because we'd be inside then we could control dynamic range and make the best use of those 8 bits. We'll find out later on whether this was the case. We also did extensive tests comparing uncompressed to the light compression of DNxHD and we'll write those up (no guesses for the outcome though).

For grip gear we had a steadicam anyway, we imported a ladder dolly, bought a simple Jib and paired that with other equipment we already owned (libec tripod, ronford tripods, lastolite grids) and also a range of grip gear owned by our gaffer, Michael. We'll touch on these various bits and pieces in the future.

Lighting wise we had a combination of dedolights (both tungsten and HMI), fluroescents and our gaffer added some Arri HMIs and more dedolights.

Future posts will explore some of these choices in more detail.

I guess one of the questions people may ask is why didn't we rent a lot of this stuff. Well the reason is two fold, one is that we'd need to be able to do pickups after principle photography and also we wanted the flexibility of being able to shoot at anytime afterwards so a certain amount of the core equipment we own. Secondly is actually cost. With ebay and other outlets today it is actually cheaper to either source something second hand, use it for a few months and sell it afterwards again. Or even buy new and sell - still cheaper. Or another approach for the lighting was that we realised to light the green screens we'd need a fair amount of fluorescent light and so it made sense for us to import some lighting from china, use it and sell it afterwards. The nett effect was it didn't cost us anything. This allowed us to use some budget for the shoot and then be able to reclaim a proportion of the money back so we can divert that into Post. People may joke that i'm an ebay obsessive but on balance it saved us enough that i think my obsession is fully justified (now to track down that vintage mole light to turn into a lighting fixture for the living room…).

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