My last blog post was about story and not getting caught up in all the tech/gear frenzy. Now, I want to talk about what it is like to be a cinematographer. Having a picture style that will give us more latitude and enhance our visuals is a great thing, but it is the person behind the capture device that makes it sing. You have to know how to light, you have to understand mood, contrast, composition and exposures. I don’t want to sit in the corner as the crotchety old DP and say “well, Sonny, that HD is for the birds.” There are many people that call themselves cinematographers but are they? Do they have the experience to back it up, or do they rely on the colorist in the DI or telecine bay to do their work for them?
The reason I gravitated toward this format was two-fold. One- it was the right tool to tell the story on “Act of Valor,” and two – it put the power back into the hands of the cinematographer. I found myself filtering again for a specific look that I wanted to bake in. I treated the Canon 5D like reversal film stock, which means you have to get it close. What you see on the back LCD is what you get. That excited and inspired me because it was fresh, new and innovative. Who thought we all would be capturing drop dead gorgeous footage from a 2.5 lb. pro-sumer still camera? The fact that I have to get it right on the day, make all the right choices on the day, and all the right exposures on the day, challenges me. This is what the photo chemical process was like before the DI color bay. That said, I love a little wiggle room and that is what Technicolor has designed with their CineStyle. They have engineered a beautiful balanced color space that delivers the most latitude out of the Canon 5D camera, period, a standard.
Now let’s talk tech for a minute. Dealing with flat picture styles are very difficult to expose. So here are my suggestions. Picture NUMBER 1 Set your picture style to Neutral when exposing and lighting your image. Once you are set to record slide over to Technicolor’s Cine Style without adjusting exposure. This will give you a LUT, (look up table) so that you can properly expose your flat picture style and give you the best wiggle room in post. This Neutral is just a base, if you want your film to look like bleach bypass then download that picture style, if you want it to feel like Ektachrome or cross processed, what ever your creative vision for the project. Start with that, then slide over to the Cine Style. When you download the Cine Style Technicolor Picture NUMBER TWO is suggesting you alter your saturation because your picture profile comes up Sharpness: 0 Contrast: -4 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0. I have done a simple set of three pics so that you can see how it works with the Cine Style with 0 -4 0 0 and with the Picture NUMBER 3 Technicolor’s suggestion 0 -4 -2 0. Here are the pics.
Look at the added detail in the blacks and how the red is taken down several notches. This Cine Style is amazing and I am finding much cleaner results in the post color correction process.
Have at it; soak it up; relish in the fact that someone designed a picture style with color science behind it. It is not something that someone cooked up on their laptop, which is the road I took.
With this format I feel that there are way too many choices, this is good and bad all at the same time, their needs to be a set of standards, oooohhhh standards. Yes, to be able to create at your full potential you do need boundaries/rules. At the ASC we have been striving for excellence and quality control throughout every aspect of photography and filmmaking for over 80 years, we live and breathe it. So now there is a picture style standard that has Technicolor’s name on it. Another standard that all of you will have to get very familiar with is rec. 709. This is the benchmark that all HD video is color corrected with. It is a color space that was designed years ago to give you the most accurate color and contrast rendition when going to film with HD files.
This soon became the industry standard to light and expose with while using a flat picture style like what Technicolor has made. You need a LUT (look up table) that throws contrast, color and saturation into this very flat, mundane style. Try lighting and exposing with this Cine style and you will soon find yourself underexposing your 5D footage. My suggestion is to have a picture style that you want your film to look like dialed into your camera. This is what you light and expose with, then before rolling you slide over to Cine Style and record flat to get some wiggle room.
Every cinematographer’s journey is unique and based on individual preference. Technicolor has given us a gift from the Gods. For the cinematographer in training, it is a great tool to hone your skills and be confident in the results. But, remember it is very important to make mistakes. I have done it a thousand times and many of those times the screw up was a new look, a new cocktail, a new visual creation. The others completely boned me, HUGE.
I was with my very good friend, Roberto De Angelis from Rome, who has operated on six of my feature films, last Friday. He is in town shooting Michael Mann’s new HBO show “Luck.” Roberto said, “Whatever camera you put in my hand, I will make work. I don’t have to know anything about it. The frame lines are the same.” Now, that is coming from probably one of the best steadicam operators in the business, and I see his point. On the other hand, we as cinematographers, have to light it and knowing the limitations of the format is very important.
So, I have to say this about picture styles in general. They can bury you if you do not choose the right one for your project, but your ability to know how to light and understand exposures comes with experience – film experience. Go backwards, which is actually moving forwards. At this point, film is still the ultimate capture medium, there are no ifs ands or buts about that. What the Canon 5D gives you is the ability to think out of the box. We are not in the mass moving business anymore. Use it to liberate yourself as a cinematographer, to challenge you, to inspire you, to say, “I will go at it another way.” This is why the 5D rules. Put it in places that were never imagined and have no boundaries with your creative ideas, but have a set of standards that guide you. Carpe diem!!! Seize the moment, seize the story, seize the exposures, seize the light and if you get the training and build your experience, you will seize the day.