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Netflix Image-Enhancement Rules Take Some Cinematographers by Surprise

A Netflix requirement that cinematographers capture films in HDR, or high dynamic range, has taken many by surprise, filmmakers say, but those at the 27th EnergaCamerimage festival in Poland seem increasingly accepting of the change.

DP Roberto Schaefer said the new rule could benefit the viewing experience for TV viewers but also noted that he only learned of it at the last moment on his most recent production. Schaefer, at Camerimage to screen “Red Sea Diving Resort,” the fact-based feature about a Mossad operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews from persecution, said HDR should be planned from the start of production.

“It’s about communication,” Schaefer said, speaking at a panel on closing the gap between technical and creative concerns sponsored by the American Society of Cinematographers, Netflix and IMAGO, the European federation of cinematographers.

“You really should be told,” Schaefer said. “I hope people are informed.” Just how much the dynamic range of footage should be enhanced is unclear under the Netflix rule, said several cinematographers.

Other DPs agreed Netflix should communicate such changes to filmmakers well in advance of production shoots.

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Jimmy Fusil, Netflix manager of creative technologies and infrastructure, acknowledged that communications could be better but insisted the streaming giant respects cinematographers’ work and is invested in getting its viewers “authenticity in the representation” of their vision. “We want what you want,” he added.

Another sticking point many DPs are reckoning with these days is the widespread use of streaming dailies. In the days of film, dailies were screened at the start of production days, offering a chance for the key crew to review freshly printed footage shot the previous day to help them evaluate image quality and spot and correct technical problems.

Now, said Schaefer and others, dailies are streamed to separate crew member’s tablets, where slow wifi on remote locations means they are not seeing a meaningful representation of the footage. Worse yet, points out Belgian cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier (“Beirut”), producers back at the studio often see digital dailies on non-calibrated monitors in bright rooms and complain “It’s too dark.”

With an estimated 160 million Netflix viewers worldwide consuming content on HDR-configured tablets or mobile phones, the issue of image quality being compromised is a serious one, panel members all agreed.

Fusil called the problem “a really unfortunate story and not a new one.”

Another technical concern is the debate over whether DITs, or digital imaging technicians, should be present on set during filming to advise on workflow, camera settings and image manipulation. Many producers still don’t budget for DITs, filmmakers complained.

Such budgetary squeezes can indeed challenge cinematographers’ work, said Bradford Young, DP of the sci-fi feature “Arrival” and Netflix mini-series “When They See Us,” based on the wrongful prosecution of the Central Park Five, a group of young black men in New York accused of rape in 1989.

“I am a warrior,” he said. “I know my purpose.” Producers “have other interests,” he added. “They have to respect the bag of money.”

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