It was one of the last panels on the schedule and lightly attended, but Sunday afternoon’s session on file-based workflows at the Produced By conference offered some startling insights on the advantages and pitfalls of abandoning film and tape.
Before an aud at the Fox commissary, “Battlestar Galactica” co-producer Paul Leonard moderated a conversation with writer-producer Dean Devlin, Lightiron Digital CEO Michael Cioni, VP of productions for Revelations Entertainment Cory McCrum and Technicolor’s VP, theatrical post-production, Marco Bario.
Devlin kicked off the discussion saying that going file-based on his TNT series “Leverage” “changed everything. Creatively. The way we approach post and the way we shoot.” He added “this technology can be used to save you money, or the way we do it, to move money around.”
On “Leverage,” he said, the savings go to richer production values. “The show would probably be $1 million more per episode if we didn’t have the technology.”
But Devlin and the panel agreed this digital shooting is still in its infancy and there’s much to beware of.
Bario, a former producer, noted “there’s no real way to budget” for post on a digital shoot.
“It’s pretty simple when there’s 100,000 feet of film and a certain number of work days and a finished movie that’s going to be this long. … Most studio templates or independent production templates have those (formulas) prebaked.”
But those formulas don’t apply where there are no film magazines and there’s no way to know how many hours of footage will come back from the set. Often it’s vastly more than the same director would shoot with film.
“I think it’s a little bit unfair to producers,” Bario said, “because there are no templates and no known workflows.”
Cioni warned producers not to lump all “digital” tools together by copying-and-pasting budgets, positions and workflows when changing capture, editing or distribution tools.
“If someone’s trying to sell to you absolutely, no problem, we can switch a Genesis for a D21 for a 5D for a RED, and do everything the same, that’s crap,” said Cioni. “It’ll never work. And you will pay for it, because I will bill you for the time when it doesn’t work.”
McCrum had a similar warning for producers tempted to eliminate the traditional line item for camera testing because they’ve gone to digital.
“Don’t move that money,” she said. “Use that money. Test the camera all the way through post. I want to see a DVD and a Blu-ray. I want to know all the problems we could run into, and I want to know it up front.”
In the same vein, Bario warned that the quality-control pass traditionally done to remove dirt and such from the negative before striking release prints is still needed after digital post to clean up video hits and noise.
Devlin recounted his experience producing “Flyboys,” which was shot with the Panavision Genesis. Devlin arranged for his d.p. to test a Genesis for a month before shooting. His report, said Devlin: “It doesn’t mimic film, but film doesn’t mimic it.”
Devlin said, “Part of the problem with digital is very often it doesn’t make sense.”
On “Flyboys,” for example, he insisted on working with uncompressed files all the way through post, only to learn to his horror that the images would have to be compressed “16 times” for release.
Coming in to see the compressed version, he found “It was the best print I’d ever seen of it. But it shouldn’t have been, by all logical sense. … There are more things we don’t know than we do know.”
Like print, music and TV before it, Cioni said, movies are going digital. He said the term “that ship has sailed” applies to the switch to digital capture, “but it’s still swimmable. You can still make it. We’re not that far out.”
Bits & Bytes
Panavision is entering the already crowded digital 3D projection space with a new system. the company will hold demos next week and show the system at Cinema Expo. They’re entering a market dominated by RealD, but with strong competition from Dolby and Xpand, with recent entry MasterImage also gaining traction. Technicolor and Oculus3D are competing in the film 3D space. … The Hollywood Post Alliance has issued its call for entries for its Engineering Excellence Award. Submissions will be accepted through July 2. … Deluxe Digital Studios is the proud holder of the Content Delivery and Storage Association (CDSA) Content Protection and Security Standard certification for its Burbank HQ and facilities in Bangalore and London. DDS is the first entertainment services company to receive the certification … PipelineFX, Shotgun Software and Tweak Software are going on the road to showcase their integrated product line for high-end production. North American stops begin June 16 in L.A. and continue to Vancouver, Toronto and New York. The roadshow continues to London, Mumbai and Singapore before wrapping in Beijing July 7. … Createasphere (formerly HD Expo) is launching its Executive Marketplace series, which puts decision-makers together with product experts. The first Executive Marketplace, Oct. 5-6 in Chicago, will focus on Houses of Worship. The second, Nov. 30-Dec 1. in Washington D.C., is aimed at government supply chain buyers and broadcasters.