David Altrogge at Vinegar Hill Pictures sent us this video and write up on a spot they produced for a Christian retreat. It has a very organic and shot-on-the-fly feel to it, which quite often takes a lot of prep to achieve. It sounds like David and the crew had their share of challenges, particularly with the decision to partially shoot this on 16mm film.

Here’s his write up. I emailed him back with a few additional questions about his shoot – particularly the decision to incorporate 16mm into the production. The Q and A follows the original write-up he submitted.

NEXT 2010 Write Up:

My Director of Photography, Mike Hartnett, and I knew going into this project that we wanted to shoot portions of it on 16mm.  The concept that we had developed and the script that we had written for the client was all about the excitement of stepping away from the ordinary, the every day, the mundane.  To convey this we conceived a simple narrative of an idealized road trip.  From the outset, I wanted the piece to be very current in feel, but also have subtle nostalgic qualities, almost looking as if the road trip portions of it were old home movies.  Enter the 16mm.  We I knew that the best way to get an old “home movie” look would be film.

We didn’t, however, have the budget to shoot the entire thing on 16mm.  The solution we came up with was rather simple: we bought an old Soviet made K3 16mm camera (www.k3camera.com) on Ebay for a mere $200.  We purchased just enough film to shoot the road trip sections and then planned on shooting the narration segments (where the girl is addressing the camera) in the studio on the Canon 7D with Canon L-Series lenses.  Visually, we knew we wouldn’t have a problem cutting between the 16mm and Canon 7D because the studio portions would be very controlled and locked down while he road trip segments would be very fast moving and kinetic.

Due to some technical difficulties, we weren’t able to shoot all of the road trip segments on 16mm.  We ended up shooting about half of them on 16mm and the other half on the 7D.  However, we were amazed by how well the two cut together.  My DP Mike, who also edited the piece, did a brilliant job color grading the footage so that it all had a homogenous look.  To further smooth over the differences when cutting between the 7D and 16mm he added ueber subtle grain to the 7D footage in Color.

In the end, we came in on budget, on time, and most importantly, the client was thrilled with the results.  We’re really excited to  be utilizing 16mm a lot more in the future.

Additional Q and A:

Ryan: David, What compelled you to shoot this on 16mm, versus just the 7D or a 5D Mark II and then just muddy up the footage in post?

David: Film has such a warm organic quality to it that digital just can’t touch.  If we had shot it all digital and then tried to make it look like film in post it would have looked fake.  I mean, the way film handles highlights, midtones, and darks is just entirely different than the way digital handles them.  With film you get so much more lattitude, such a different color space, etc.  Also, all wonderful imperfections that you get with film, the scratches, the light leaks, all of it, are actually a part of the image, not just something that is overlayed in post. Furthermore, the 16mm camera we used didn’t have an external monitior and made composing the shots more difficult.  As a result, there was a wonderful spontaneity to the shots we got, which added to the “home movie” look.

Ryan: I shot my student film back in 1998 on 16mm and it was a nightmare to work with (mainly because I was syncing sound as well, and editing on a flatbed). Also, did you have the footage telecined for editing? Where? What were your costs to purchase filmstock? Where did you get it processed?

David: Fortunately, everything we shot 16mm was MOS (let tell you, our camera was LOUD!  I mean, it sounded like a machine gun).  We got the telecine done at Colorlab in Rockville MD.  It was a totally awesome place.  They gave us all the footage on a hard drive as Pro-Res 422 files which made editing a snap.  When all was said and done, the cost of the film stock and processing came in under $2000.

Ryan: I think 16mm is still very intriguing as a format for a lot of people, but the new DSLR’s and ease of use have made film an expensive and time-intensive option for many indie shooters.

David: You’re right: shooting film is more work and more expensive, but it’s so doable and SO worth it.  I think with the DSLR revolution that’s happening (and I’m thrilled with it by the way…my company just purchased a 550d…) it’s so crucial for filmmakers to work even harder to set themselves apart from the crowd.  I mean, anybody with a 550d and a decent lens can get gorgeous depth of field.  We’ve really got to push ourselves in new directions, to try new things.  It’s really exciting to think about: ebracing old and new technologies and fusing them to create something new.

Vinegar Hill’s Website – www.vinegarhillpictures.com

ColorLab’s Website – www.colorlab.com

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