Indie lensers zero in on 24P

'Lucia,' 'Lily Chou-Chou' announce format's new style

By and large, independent filmmakers are cinephiles. So why would the 24P format, situated firmly in the world of high-definition video, become the new darling of the indie world?

The reasons are varied, but perhaps the most significant one is that several of the most beautiful films recently released have been shot in the format. Julio Medem’s luscious “Sex and Lucia” and Shunji Iwai’s “All About Lily Chou-Chou” are two recent examples in which luxurious color merges with innovative storytelling to announce the arrival of an all-new style.

The filmmakers currently using 24P vary tremendously, from first-time feature director Eriq LaSalle and his film, “Crazy as Hell,” to Lars von Trier and his latest endeavor, “Dogville”; their reasons for choosing the format are similarly disparate.

First-time feature directors are intrigued by the ultrasharp video image, and a chance to get a high-quality transfer.

Chris Hutson, for example, recently finished shooting romantic comedy “June” using the Sony/Panavision CineAlta, the camera created for George Lucas and “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

Hitting the ‘Jackpot’

“We saw ‘Jackpot’ by the Polish brothers and were blown away,” explains Hutson, referencing the richly textured second feature by the Polish brothers released last summer. “The colors really pop, and the format really handles the outdoors — not at the peak of the day, but in the morning and at dusk. It’s beautiful.”

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Joe Menendez wanted to work fast but still get a good image for his first feature, “Hunting of Men.”

“In the HD world, you can turn on a light and it’s lit,” he says. “You don’t want to do it that way, but you can. I also grew up shooting Super 8, and now I can grab a 24P camera and shoot like I’m 12 years old again.”

Nicole Holofcener recently opted for 24P for her second feature film, “Lovely and Amazing,” mainly for budget reasons. The film was produced through Blow Up Pictures, and the company’s co-founder Jason Kliot notes that he and his team are very receptive to 24P.

“Every format is just one part of the palette we choose from,” he says. “I’m not someone who believes 35mm is better than Super 8, or that mini-DV isn’t as good as 24P. I think ‘Chuck & Buck’ got a lot out of being shot on mini-DV, and Nicole’s movie, which is more traditional in its style, was more appropriate for 24P.”

For von Trier, the format is just one more way of experimenting. Shari Roman, who is directing a documentary titled “Digital Babylon” about digital filmmaking, visited the set of his “Dogville” in March.

“The cinematographic aspect was very unusual,” reports the filmmaker. “Von Trier used multiple Sony PD150s mounted in the ceiling, as well as a 24P camera which he rigged to his body so that he looked like a DV Darth Vader robot.”

While 24P has its merits, including an easy one-to-one transfer process, it does pose several challenges. Until recently, post-production was expensive because so few post houses had the resources to work with 24P. That’s changing — 24P is becoming more in use and prices are starting to equalize.

The other obstacle is the high data rate of HD, requiring lots of disc space and ultrafast computers for editing. Indeed, many filmmakers long for the ease of mini-DV but the clarity and quality of 24P.

“With 24P, the goal now is to make a camera as small as the PD150,” claims Gary Winick, founder of Independent Digital Entertainment.

Winick and other filmmakers are in luck — Panasonic is finishing a mini-DV-based 24P camera called the AG-DVX100. It’s due to be ready this fall.

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