Category Archives: Cinematography

Fear the Walking Dead: Encore colorist teams with DPs for parched look

The action of AMC’s zombie-infused Fear the Walking Dead this season is set in a brittle, drought-plagued environment, which becomes progressively parched as the story unfolds. So when production was about to commence, the show’s principals were concerned that the normally-arid shoot locations in Mexico had undergone record rainfall and were suffused with verdant vegetation as far as the eye could see.

Pankaj Bajpai of Encore, who has color graded the series from the start, and the two new cinematographers hired for this season — Christopher LaVasseur and Scott Peck — conferred early on about how best to handle this surprising development.

It wouldn’t have been practical to move locations or try to “dress” the scenes to look as described on the page, nor would the budget allow for addressing the issue through VFX. Bajpai, who, in addition to his colorist work also oversees new workflows for Encore, realized that while he could produce the desired effect in his FilmLight Baselight toolset through multiple keys and windows, that too would be less than practical.

Instead, he proposed using a technique that’s far from standard operating procedure for a series. “We got ‘under the hood’ of the Baselight,” he says, “and set up color suppression matrices,” which essentially use mathematical equations to define the degree to which each of the primary colors — red, green and blue — can be represented in an image. The technique, he explains, “allows you be much more specific suppressing certain hues without affecting everything else as much as you would with by keying a color or manipulating saturation.”

Once designed, these restrictions on the green within the imagery could be dialed up or down, primarily affecting just the colors in the foliage that the filmmakers wanted to re-define, without collateral damage to skin tones and other elements that they didn’t. “I knew that the cinematographers could shoot in the location and we could alter the environment as necessary in the grade,” he says.Bajpai showed the DPs how effective the technique was, and they quickly got on board. Peck, who was able to sit in on the grading for the first episode, recalls, “One of the things I was concerned with was this whole question about the green [foliage] because I knew in the story as the season progresses, water becomes less available. So this idea of changing the greens had to be a gradual process up to around episode nine. There was still a lot of discussion about how we’re going to do this. But I knew just working with Pankaj at Encore for a day, that we could do it in the color grade.”

Of course, there was more to work out between Bajpai and the cinematographers, who’d been charged by the producers with taking the look in a somewhat new direction. “Wherever possible I want to plan as much with the cinematographers early on so that we’re all working toward a common goal,” he says.

Prior to this season’s start of production, Bajpai and the two DPs developed a shooting LUT to use in conjunction with the specific combination of lenses and the Arri sensors they would use to shoot the season. “Scott recommended using the Hawk T1 prime lenses,” says LaVasseur, “and I suggested going with a fairly low-contrast LUT.” Borrowing language from the photochemical days, he explains, “We wanted to start with a soft image and then ‘print’ really hard,” to yield the show’s edgy, contrasty type of look.

Bajpai calibrated the DPs’ laptops so that they’d be able to get the most out of sample-graded images that he would send them as he started coloring episodes. “We would provide notes when Pankaj had completed a pass,” says LaVasseur, but it was usually just a few very small tweaks I was asking for. We were all working toward the same goal so there weren’t surprises in the way he graded anything.”

“Pankaj had it very quickly, especially the handling of the green,” Peck adds. “The show needed that look to build to a certain point and then stay there, but the actual locations weren’t cooperative. We were able to just shoot and we all knew what it needed to look like after Pankaj worked on it.”

“Communication is so important,” LaVasseur stresses. “You need to have the DPs, production designer and costume designer working together on the look. You need to know that your colorist is part of the discussion so they’re not taking the images in some other direction than we intended. I come from the film days and we would always say, ‘Plan your shoot. Shoot your plan.’ That’s how we approached this season and I think it paid off.”

The A-List: Director Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Dell 6.15

The A-List: Victoria & Abdul director Stephen Frears

By Iain Blair

Much like the royal subjects of his new film Victoria & Abdul and his 2006 offering, The Queen (which won him his second Oscar nomination), British director Stephen Frears has long been considered a national treasure. Of course, the truth is that he’s an international treasure.

The director, now 76 years old, has had a long and prolific career that spans some five decades and that has embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules. He made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career.

Stephen Frears with writer Iain Blair.

In the mid-1980s, Frears turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, which starred Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career.

Since then, he’s made big Hollywood studio pictures, such as the Oscar-nominated Florence Foster Jenkins, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, as well as Mary Reilly and Hero. But he’s probably as well-known for smaller, grittier vehicles, such as the Oscar-nominated Philomena, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Cheri, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity, Prick Up Your Ears and Snapper, films that provided a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience.

His latest film, Victoria & Abdul, is a drama (spiced with a good dash of comedy) about the unlikely but real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Muslim Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

I recently spoke with Frears about making the film, which is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz, especially for Dench.

This seems to be a very timely film, with its race relations, and religious and class issues. Was that part of its appeal?
Absolutely. When I read it I immediately thought it was quite provocative and a very interesting story, and I always look for interesting stories, and the whole relationship was part of the fun. I thought it was a brilliant script, and it’s got so much going on – the personal story about them, all the politics and global stuff about the British Empire.

You’ve worked with Judi Dench before, but she had already portrayed Victoria in Mrs. Brown back in 1997. Did you have to twist her arm to revisit the character?
I said I’d only make this with her, as she’s a brilliant actress and she looks a bit like Victoria, but I think initially she passed. I’m actually not quite sure since I never had a conversation with her about it. What happened was, we organized a reading and she came to that and listened to it, and then she was on board.

What did she bring to the role?
Complete believability. You absolutely believe in her as Victoria. She can do all that, playing the most powerful woman in the world, and then she was also human, which is why she was so fond of Abdul. It’s the same as directing someone like Meryl Streep. She’s just so skillful and so intelligent, and their sense of their role and its direction is very, very strong, and they’re so skilled at telling the story.

This doesn’t look like your usual heavy, gloomy Victorian period piece. How did you approach this visually?
I have a wonderful production designer, Alan MacDonald, who has worked with me on many films, including Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Queen. And we shot this with DP Danny Cohen, who is so inventive. From the start we wanted it to feel period but do it in a more modern way in order to get away from that lugubrious feeling and the heavy Victoriana. When we got to Osborne House, which was her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, it’s anything but heavy and lugubrious. It’s this light and airy villa.

Fair to say the film starts dark and gets lighter in tone and color as it goes on — while the story starts lighter and more comical, and gets darker as it goes along?
Yes, because at the start she’s depressed, she’s dressed all in black, and then it’s like Cinderella, and she’s woken up… by Abdul’s kiss on her feet.

Did that really happen?
Yes, I think it did, and I think both servants kissed her feet — but it wasn’t under a table full of jellies (laughs).

You shot all over England, Scotland and India in many of the original locations. It must have been a challenge mixing all the locations with sets?
It was. The big coup was shooting in Osborne House, which no one has ever done before. That was a big thrill but also a relief. England is full of enormous country homes, so you just go down the list finding the best ones. I’ve done Balmoral twice now, so I know how you do it, and Windsor Castle, which is Gothic. But of course, they’re not decorated in the Victorian manner, so we had to dress all the rooms appropriately. Then you mix all the sets and locations, like putting a big puzzle together.

How was shooting in India?
We shot in Agra, by the Taj Mahal. The original statue of Victoria there was taken down after independence, but we were allowed to make a copy and put it back up.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was about five months, all in London, and we cut it at Goldcrest where I’ve done all the post work on my last few films. Philomena was not done there. It all depends on the budget.

Do you like the post process?
I love being on location and I enjoy shooting, but it’s always hard and full of problems. Post is so calm by comparison, and so different from all the money and time pressures and chaos of the shoot. It’s far more analytic and methodical, and it’s when you discover the good choices you made as well as your mistakes. It’s where you actually make your film with all the raw elements you’ve amassed along the way.

You worked with a new editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, who cut Les Mis and The Danish Girl for director Tom Hooper and Anna Karenina for director Joe Wright. How did that relationship work?
She wasn’t on set, but we talked every day about it, and she became the main conduit for it all, like all editors. She’s the person you’re talking to all the time, and we spent about three months editing. The main challenge was trying to find the right tone and the balance between all the comedy, jokes and the subtext — what was really going on. We went in knowing it would be very comedic at the start, and then it gets very serious and emotional by the end.

Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?
I always use the same team. Union VFX did them all, and Adam Gascoyne, who did Florence Foster Jenkins and Philomena with me, was the VFX supervisor. The big VFX shots were of all the ships crossing the ocean, and a brilliant one of Florence. And as it’s a period piece, there’s always a lot of adding stuff and clean up, and we probably had several hundred VFX shots or so in the end, but I never know just how many.

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both hugely important, even though I don’t really know much about music or sound mixing and just depend on my team, which includes supervising sound editor Becki Ponting. We mixed all the music by Thomas Newman at Abbey Road, and then we did the final mi

Iain and Judi Dench

x at Twickenham Studios. The thing with composers like Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat who did The Queen and Florence is that they read me really well. When Alexandre was hired to score The Queen, they asked him to write a very romantic score, and he said, “No, no, I know Stephen’s films. They’re witty, so I’ll write you a witty score,” and it was perfect and won him an Oscar nomination. Same with this. Tom read it very, very well.

Did you do a DI?
Yes, at Goldcrest as usual, with Danny and colorist Adam Glasman. They’re very clever, and I’m not really involved. Danny does it. He gets me in and shows me stuff but I just don’t pretend to be technically clever enough about the DI as mine is a layman’s approach to it, so they do all the work and show me everything, and then I give any suggestions I might have. The trick with any of this is to surround yourself with the best technicians and the best actors, tell them what you want, and let them do their jobs.

Having made this film, what do you think about Victoria now?
I think she was far more humane than is usually shown. I never really studied her at school, but there was this enduring image of an old battleaxe, and I think she was far more complex than that image. She learned Urdu from Abdul. That tells you a lot.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Mother! director Darren Aronofsky

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/producer Darren Aronofsky made a big splash when his debut feature Pi won the prestigious Director’s Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He then quickly followed that up with 2000’s acclaimed drama Requiem for a Dream.

But his hot streak and momentum came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Brad Pitt dropped out of his expensive and ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain just weeks before shooting was due to start. Aronofsky scrambled to completely rewrite and retool The Fountain, this time starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Since then, Aronofsky has regained his momentum and continued to make visually audacious films as 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan (he got a directing Oscar nom, and star Natalie Portman took home the gold) and 2014’s Noah.

His latest film, Mother!, is another hard-to-categorize film — part horror story, part comedy, part fable, part psychological thriller — that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple whose relationship is severely tested when uninvited guests suddenly arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence and ultimately turning it into a literal war zone.

I recently talked to Aronofsky about making the film, and why he ditched the score.

This isn’t just a horror film. What sort of film did you set out to make?
After Black Swan I wanted to return to the horror genre, and I felt the home invasion genre hadn’t been used well in a while — and we can all relate to having house guests that overstay their welcome. So I felt that was a great starting point, and I also wanted to deal with larger issues — the planet we all live on, as guests in a sense. But I’m not really a genre filmmaker. For me, Pi was a thriller at its core, but I added lots of stuff and it became something else. I think I always do that. When I pitched Black Swan they felt it wasn’t enough of a ballet movie or horror film. It didn’t fit into any one genre. I just do what I think is cool and interesting, and then I start adding stuff.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning comedy and the increasingly dark, serious nature of the film?
It was tricky, but I think I was just truthful to what I’d written, and the intent of the characters does not change. They’re all very bad guests, and the level of the badness is what shifts, and the pitch changes. It’s like speeding up an old vinyl record — it just gets crazier and crazier, and more and more intense.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Technically, it was one of the hardest things me and my team have ever tried to do, because the last 25 minutes — the fever dream — were so demanding to choreograph and to maintain that nightmare fever-pitch for that long and have it build and build needed every department to work together in perfect sync.

The house is like another character. How did you deal with that?
It was vital to me that the film felt realistic and grounded for the first half, at least. I don’t think we could have pulled that off just shooting it on a stage, and we couldn’t find a real house that worked, so we went to great expense and effort to actually build the house up in Montreal where we shot. We actually built the house twice — the first time with just the first floor out in this beautiful field, which allowed us to do all the daylight sequences in natural light, and we shot those all in order. Then we built the full three-story house in a soundstage in Montreal for all the interior and night sequences, and as the house is like another character that morphs and changes, it really had to be a real house with all the plumbing and wiring, so that when it starts coming apart, it feels very real.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, and we did it all in New York at Sixteen 19. This post was very difficult and it ended up being 53 weeks – by far the longest I’ve ever done.

You cut this film with editor Andrew Weisblum, who collaborated with you on Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. How did that relationship work?
Editing was very tricky, because I wanted to pull the audience into Jen’s experience and not give them a chance to breathe, so we shot the film exclusively from her point of view, with hardly any wide shots, which usually allow you to get out of any sticky situations. Basically, the film is either shot over her shoulder, on her face or at what she’s looking at. This gives you incredibly limited coverage to work with in the edit, and Andy was forced to work with that. He began in preproduction, and we did three months of rehearsal which DP Matty Libatique, who’s shot most of my films, shot as a test. We then cut it together so we were able to look at a 100-minute rough version and get a sense of the camera movements and placement and how it would all look and learn from it. That was very helpful.

One of the biggest shocks of the film is that there’s no music. Can you talk about that decision and the importance of the sound design in the film?
It was a shock to me too! I’d hired composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s done films like Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and he wrote a wonderful score, and we worked on it for five months, but it was really weird — every time we played it to picture, it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then he said to me, “The score’s actually taking away from Jen’s performance, and pushing the film in another direction.” He was right. So we decided that the best score for the film was no score at all, which was pretty tough after all that work — and it scared the hell out of me, since I’ve always relied on music to be a major part of my films.

So I then turned to my longtime sound designer Craig Henighan and told him to just go for it, and that then became a huge part of the film. We actually kept some music cues all the way up to the mix stage, which we did at Warners, but ultimately realized we didn’t even need that because they suddenly stuck out.

Can you talk about the VFX, and working again with VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker.
Dan and I were roommates at college, and he’s done all my films. We had a huge number of shots — over 1,200, more than we had in Noah, although not so complex. We had a lot of different houses working on them, including ILM, Hybride, Raynault, and it was a mad rush at the end because the studio changed our release date, so we had to do two months of VFX work in just one month.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan who’s done all my films, and we worked very hard on the look to get this great, warm, lightly burnt butter look, so the DI was crucial.

Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
It’s always a constant evolution, and the colors a film takes on constantly shift and change, depending on the cast and production design and so on, but I’m very happy with it.

All Photos: Niko Tavernise


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Sony adds 36×24 full-frame camera to CineAlta line

Sony has introduced Venice, the company’s first full-frame digital motion picture camera system and the newest of its CineAlta camera lineup, which is designed to expand the filmmaker’s creative freedom through immersive, large-format, full-frame capture of filmic imagery that enables production of natural skin tones, elegant highlight handling and wide dynamic range.

Venice was officially unveiled on September 6 to American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) members and a range of other industry pros. Sony also screened the first footage shot with Venice, a short film, The Dig, that was produced in anamorphic, written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, and shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC.

The new sensor.

“We really went back to the drawing board for this one,” says Peter Crithary, marketing manager, Sony Electronics. “It is our next-generation camera system, a ground-up development initiative encompassing a completely new image sensor. We carefully considered key aspects such as form factor, ergonomics, build quality, ease of use, a refined picture and painterly look — with a simple, established workflow. We worked in close collaboration with film industry professionals. We also considered the longer-term strategy by designing a user-interchangeable sensor that is as quick and simple to swap as removing four screws, and can accommodate different shooting scenarios as the need arises.”

Venice features a newly developed 36x24mm full-frame sensor to meet the demands of feature filmmaking. Full frame offers the advantages of compatibility with a wide range of lenses, including anamorphic, Super 35mm, spherical and full-frame PL mount lenses for a greater range of expressive freedom with shallow depth of field. The lens mount can also be changed to support E-mount lenses for shooting situations that require smaller, lighter and wider lenses. User-selectable areas of the image sensor allow shooting in Super 35mm 4-perf. Future firmware upgrades are planned to allow the camera to handle 36mm-wide 6K resolution. Fast image scan technology minimizes “Jello” effects.

A new color management system with an ultra-wide color gamut gives users more control and greater flexibility in working with images during grading and post production. Venice also has more than 15 stops of latitude to handle challenging lighting situations from low light to harsh sunlight with a gentle roll-off handling of highlights.

Venice uses Sony’s 16-bit RAW/X-OCN via the AXS-R7 recorder, and 10-bit XAVC workflows. The new camera is also compatible with current and upcoming CineAlta camera hardware accessories, including the DVF-EL200 full-HD OLED viewfinder, AXS-R7 recorder, AXS-CR1 and high-speed Thunderbolt-enabled AXS-AR1 card reader, using established AXS and SxS memory card formats.

Venice has a fully modular and intuitive design with functionality refined to support simple and efficient on-location operation. It is the film industry’s first camera with a built-in stage glass ND filter system, making the shooting process efficient and streamlining camera setup. The camera is designed for easy operation with an intuitive control panel placed on the assistant and operator sides of the camera. A 24-V power supply input/output and LEMO connector allow use of many standard camera accessories designed for use in harsh environments.

Users can customize Venice by enabling the features needed, matched to their individual production requirements. Optional licenses will be available in permanent, monthly and weekly durations to expand the camera’s capabilities, with new features including 4K anamorphic and full frame sold separately.

The Venice CineAlta digital motion picture camera system is scheduled to be available in February 2018.


Director Philippe Falardeau takes on boxing with Chuck

By Iain Blair

On the surface, French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau — whose drama Monsieur Lazhar was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards — might appear to be an unusual choice to helm a boxing film. But in his inspired hands, Chuck, the true story of Chuck Wepner, the first man to knock Muhammad Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title, lands a lot of impressive punches. Wepner was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning Rocky franchise.

Director Philippe Falardeau

Set in the early ‘70s, Chuck tells the unlikely story of Wepner, who was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey and also sold liquor on the mean streets when he got his big shot to fight Ali. Ultimately, he didn’t win the fight, but he found instant fame as the underdog who lasted 15 rounds in the ring with Ali. That was nothing compared to when Rocky came out. Wepner quickly attained hero status as the real-life inspiration for Stallone’s script and was quickly anointed King of the Jersey shore.

However, just when Wepner thought he was invincible, life set him up for the ultimate K.O. The aftermath of that fight triggered a series of events and numerous legal struggles that led to Wepner grasping to stay in the limelight. These obstacles led to sobriety and redemption after serving five years in prison for cocaine possession.

Liev Schreiber stars as the flawed but charismatic boxer opposite Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan. The IFC Films release is also on Blu-ray presented in 1080p HD with English 5.1 DTS HD master audio, and on DVD and digital HD from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

I recently talked to Falardeau — whose films include The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge, which won Best Canadian First Feature at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival; the Warner Bros. release The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon; and My Internship in Canada — about making the film.

Were you always a big boxing fan?
I was neither a fan or not, but I remember watching boxing at the 1984 LA Olympics and thinking there was something noble to it, and in sports I like duels between two people, like tennis. I don’t know a lot about boxing, and the script first caught my eye because I felt it’s not a typical boxing film at all. The big fight is in the middle of the film, and then there’s no big redemption fight at the end as usual.

Is it true you initially turned this down?
Well, I questioned if I was the right person for it. But as I read it the first time, I realized there was all this stuff I didn’t know about it, and it was a real page turner. It was more about the mythology of boxing and a cautionary tale about fame, which seemed very relevant in our era of social media when everyone wants to be famous.

There have been so many films about boxers, so what sort of film did you set out to make?
I was fascinated watching the actual fight on YouTube, and then I looked at a lot of archival footage since the script allowed for us to use some of that alongside what we had shot. All that really excited me, but the actual fighting sort of scared me. The thing is, the boxing you see in movies isn’t like reality, where it’s slow and messy, and nothing happens and then boom! Something happens.

So I wanted to make a film that showed the reality of boxing, not the movie version. After the whole fun ride of the first act, I think the story gets even more interesting when Chuck gets caught up in his whole new image and all the attention. Chuck really enjoys life. He’s a fun, playful, optimistic guy, sure of himself — really the opposite of Rocky Balboa. So the film had to be very playful — a drama that also didn’t take itself too seriously. So I tried to craft a movie where the rhythms, the editing, the archival footage and the tone all contributed to that feeling.

You got an amazing cast, with Liev Schreiber as Chuck, and Naomi Watts and Elisabeth Moss as his wives. What did Liev bring to the role, considering he looks nothing like the real man?
He brought so much, and he really agreed with my approach — let’s make it messy, not spectacular and just real. He spars a lot and really likes the sport, and he trained hard, so he was a great collaborator on this and he was very into it. And, of course, he’s a great actor, so we were able to explore a lot of levels.

Do you feel more of a responsibility when a film is about real people?
I do. I come from a documentary background, and I left documentary filmmaking because of the difficulty with that moral contract you have with the people you film. You want to make the best film possible, and that might mean making it more dramatic in the edit. That’s why I migrated to fiction.

With this, I met Chuck and his second wife, who are still together, and we all became friends. Chuck still calls me at home and keeps in touch. So it’s tough sitting next to him in a theater watching this, because at the same time you need to tell the truth of his story and shoot him in his underwear, snorting cocaine. But he knows he was no angel and we had to show that side.

Did you talk to Stallone at all about Chuck being the real-life inspiration for Rocky?
No, but the production needed his approval, and we got a few notes from him. We did get his direct help with the statue of Rocky at the end. It’s in his personal memorabilia collection, which he keeps at his LA office.

You shot this on location in New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria. Why Sofia?
That’s exactly what I asked when the producers told me, but in hindsight it was the right decision considering our budget. I ended up having double the time to shoot the Ali fight, three cameras, four times the extras for the crowd scene at the fight and a very competent technical team over there. So in all fairness, when producer Avi Lerner said we’d shoot in Bulgaria, he made the right call. I had to find solutions for the particular constraints, but half our job is always to find a way around new constraints. And, as it’s a period piece, that was a major challenge. For instance, finding old typewriters for some scenes.

Where did you post and do you like the post process?
We did all the post in Montreal at Technicolor, including the color correction. The sound was done partly in Sofia and partly in Montreal. The VFX was done in LA. I love post and always have. I also think people don’t have a clue just how much the success of a film depends on good post production, how much of a story you can build during the editing, and how much you can enhance your film in mixing and color timing.

The color and sound is vital in conveying a sense of intimacy, humanity and emotions. To get it right you need to work with artists in post. That’s why I love it so much. For me, the worst part of post is that first assembly. I always hate it! You can really measure the gap between your vision and your talent. I get really depressed and start looking for a new job outside film.

Can you talk about working with editor Richard Comeau, who’s cut over 60 films. Was he on the set?
No, he doesn’t care about your best takes, and he’s right because that’s completely irrelevant. So he’d start cutting as I shot, and we’d start the assembly. But an editor is not in your head, and to get the right POV and tone on a film you have to get in the room yourself. An editor can really help with restructuring and moving scenes around, but to get that specific tone you have in mind, you have to work on it with the editor.

Can you talk about using all the archival footage and making it seamless.
It wasn’t too tricky because I knew I’d be using archival stuff, and we also used a real 35mm grain in both the color and B&W bits, which also helped. The colorist, Nico Illies at Technicolor, did a great job on the DI. He used Filmlight’s Baselight.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, it’s a period piece, so you must have needed some VFX?
Quite a few, like the bear he fights, and then we had crowd enhancement at the fight. But all the hits we see on Liev’s face are real. They’re not enhanced.

What’s next?
I’ve got a couple of projects. One is a gold rush film, and the other is My Salinger Year, which I hope to start shooting early next year.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Agent of Sleep: The making of a spec commercial

By Jennifer Walden

Names like Jason Bourne and James Bond make one think “eternal sleep,” not just merely a “restful” one. That’s what makes director/producer/writer Stephen Vitale’s spec commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses so compelling. Like a mad scientist crossing a shark with a sheep, Vitale combines an energetic spy/action film aesthetic with the sleepy world of mattress advertising for Agent of Sleep.

Vitale originally pitched the idea to a different mattress brand. “That brand passed, and I decided they were silly to, so I made the spot that exists on spec and chose to use Tempur-Pedic as the featured brand instead. I hear Tempur-Pedic really enjoyed the spot.”

In Agent of Sleep, two assailants fight their way up a stairwell and into a sun-dappled apartment where their altercation eventually leads into a bedroom and onto a comfy (albeit naked) mattress. One assailant applies a choke hold to the other but his grip loosens as he falls fast asleep. The other assailant lies down beside the first and promptly falls asleep too.

LA-based Vitale drew inspiration from Bourne and Bond films. He referenced fight scenes from Haywire, John Wick and Mission Impossible too. “Mostly all of them have a version of the action sequence in Agent of Sleep — a visceral, intimate fight between spies/hired guns that ends with one of them getting choked out. It was about distilling this trope, dropping a viewer right into the middle of it to grab them and immediately establishing visuals that would tap into the familiarity they have with the setup.”

Once the spy/action foundation was in place, Vitale (who is pictured shooting in our main image) added tropes from mattress ads to his concept, like choosing a warmly lit, serene apartment and ending the spot with a couple lying comfortably on a bare mattress as a narrator shares product information. “The spies are bursting into what would be the typical setting for a mattress ad and they upend all of its elements. The visuals reflect that trajectory.”

To achieve the desired cinematic look, Vitale chose the Arri Alexa Mini with Cooke anamorphic lenses, and shot in a wide aspect ratio of 2:66 — wider than the normal cinemascope. “My cinematographer David Bolen and I felt like it gave the confined sets and the close-range fist fight a bigger scope and pushed the piece further away from the look of an ad.”

They shot in a practical location and dressed it to replicate the bedrooms shown in actual Tempur-Pedic product images. As for smashing through the bedroom wall, that wasn’t part of the plan but it did add to the believability of the fight. “That was an accidental alteration to the location,” jokes Vitale.

The handheld camera movement up front adds to the energy of the fight, and Vitale framed the shots to clearly show who is throwing the punch and how hard it landed. “I tried to design longer takes and find angles that created a dance between the camera and the amazing fight work from Yoshi Sudarso and Cory DeMeyers.”

In contrast, the spot ends with steady, smooth shots that exude a calm feeling. Vitale says, “We used a jib and sticks for the end shots because I wanted it to be as tranquil and still as possible to play up the joke.”

Production sound was captured with a Røde NTG-2 boom mic onto a Zoom H5 recorder. The vocalizations from the two spies on-set, i.e. their breaths and efforts, were all used in post. Vitale, who handled the sound design and final mix, says, “I would use alt audio takes and drop in grunts and impact reactions to shots that needed a boost. The main goal was that it felt kinetic throughout and that the fight sounded really visceral. A lot of punch sounds were layered with other sound effects to avoid them feeling canned, and I also did Foley for different moments in the spot to help fill it out and give it a more natural sound.”

The Post
Vitale also handled picture editing using Apple Final Cut Pro 7, which worked out perfectly for him. Editing the spot was pretty straightforward, since he had designed a solid plan for the shoot and didn’t need to cover extra shots and setups. “I usually only shoot what I know I will use,” he says. “The one shot I didn’t use was an insert of the glass the woman drops, shattering on the floor. So structurally, it was easy to find. The rest was about keeping cuts tight, making sure the longer takes didn’t drag and the quicker cuts were still clear and exciting to watch.”

Vitale worked with colorist Bryan Smaller, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. They agreed that fully committing to the action film aesthetic, by playing with contrast levels and grain to keep the image gritty and grounded was the best way of not letting the audience in on the joke until the end. “For the stairwell and hallway, we leaned into the green and orange hues of those respective locations. The apartment has a bit of a teal hue to it and has a much more organic feel, which again was to help transition the spies and the audience into the mattress ad world, so to speak,” explains Vitale.

The icing on the cake was composer Patrick Sullivan’s action film-style score. “He did a great job of bringing the audience into the action and creating tension and excitement. We’ve been friends since elementary school and played in a band together, so we can find what’s working and what’s not pretty quickly. He’s one of my most consistent collaborators, in various aspects of post production, and he always brings something special to the project.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer. Follow her at @audiojeney on Twitter.

FMPX8.14

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.


Behind the Title: Harbor Picture Company’s DP Greg Wilson

NAME: Greg Wilson

COMPANY: Harbor Picture Company

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Harbor Picture Company is a post production and production company based in New York City. We help content creators — studios, networks, directors, brands and agencies — execute high-caliber content efficiently and at scale. The company offers a range of services, including sound mixing, color, ADR, picture editorial and VFX, housed across five facilities, including the largest ADR soundstage and largest theatrical mix stage in New York.

I’m part of Harbor’s DP Collective, a group of elite directors of photography who specialize in bringing a cinematic style and quality to any screen.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Photography

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is to create the look and feel of a film or commercial through lighting, camera direction, lensing and blocking to best fit the story the director is trying to tell. This revolves around communication with the department heads to build towards a unified goal and create the right tone for the story.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think people would be surprised by the amount of time and perseverance some projects can take from concept to final product, but anything that’s worth doing is going to take a lot of energy and effort. For example, the project I did for National Geographic Magazine, Cheetahs on the Edge, took more than nine months to produce and put together.

With the folks over at DoggiCam I designed a 410-foot dolly to use on a shot of a sprinting cheetah. The goal was to mimic the perspective that Eadweard Muybridge achieved in the late 1800s when photographing a running horse. He invented motion picture with those images, and I wanted to take a similar approach by using the most modern technology available at the time.

I wanted to move a camera alongside the fastest land animal in the world, giving a unique perspective on how they move. I believed in this project very much but it was a challenge to get it off the ground, I worked with National Geographic Magazine to raise the money and obtain all the proper permissions to build this dolly system and secure the access to the cheetahs at the Cincinnati Zoo. Once we were green lit, we spent four months acclimating the cheetahs to the sounds of the high-speed camera system, which was very loud. I played a pre-recorded sound for them while they ate to build positive reinforcement, so they wouldn’t be frightened by the noise or speed of the system when we actually started shooting.

From there, we had to design an arpeggiation device to trigger the three DSLR cameras that were on a sled with the high-speed Phantom camera. This arpeggiation device created a seamless looping of the shutters on each Canon D1x, each running at 14fps, giving us 42fps at 20.2MP for still photographs to put in the magazine. This is just one example, but I work on many challenging technical jobs that require a lot of prep time to design new techniques, overcome hurdles and, ultimately, ensure that we’ll get the best images we can.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being around tenacious and engaged people working as a team to create something that didn’t exist beyond a script until you start to roll the cameras. Being able to work in so many different environments and in and out of unique stories constantly keeps things fresh and exciting.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The schedule can be a challenge. It can be tough being on the road so much, but there’s a give and take. For as much as I’m away, I try to have a balance of time off so I don’t get burnt out.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
A cold, misty morning is my favorite, but it’s so fleeting. Magic hour is the best to shoot in.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d still be working as a photojournalist and in the darkroom as a black and white printer.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
This is my third career, believe it or not. I turned pro as a snowboarder when I was 15 years old and went to the Olympics at 22. After a very bad injury, that left me in the hospital for many months and unable to walk or do much of anything for nearly a year, I found my way into still photography and worked for six years as a photojournalist for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wired, Spin, Fader, NYT and other newspapers and magazines.

I also worked as a traditional black and white printer in New York after working as a platinum printer for more than two years in Massachusetts. I found cinematography after seeing some films that really rattled me and made me see the world in a way that I understood, one of which was the Brazilian film Pixote.

I wanted to understand how to create the same emotions and tone I was after in my still photography and apply it to motion. Music was a huge part of this interest as well. The fact that you could use sound to influence the picture was a major eye opener early on. Even though I didn’t get into motion pictures until I was 30, I think my past experience in other fields has greatly influenced my life behind the camera and given me a perspective on the subjects that I photograph.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently finished a documentary that I’m really excited about called Zion. It’s about a young black wrestler who was born without legs into the foster care system in Ohio. It’s a powerful story and really resonated with me. The director Floyd Russ and I have a few more sports films coming down the line soon.

I also finished up a Netflix Original feature, Amateur, with Director Ryan Koo about a young basketball player dealing with the trials and tribulations of NCAA rules and corruption inside the sport. Lately, I’ve been working on a mix of documentaries, feature projects and commercials — with a lot of them coincidentally surrounding the sports world.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m not sure what I’m most proud of. I don’t like to think about it like that. But one project that I was very happy to have been involved with was another recent collaboration with Floyd Russ and NFL Films for the Ad Council’s campaign, “Love Has No Labels.” The spot used the iconic Kiss Cam to showcase love. Period. It was a real pleasure to be a part of that project and see the overwhelming response to the spot. It was great to work on a commercial project with such a great message behind it.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Wireless video, my light meter and, unfortunately, my cell phone.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty active on Instagram, you can follow me at @greg_wilson_dp

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I am constantly listening to music. Lately, for writing, it’s been Stars of the Lid. Otherwise I’ve been listening to Billy Swan, Kendrick, The Bats and Mogwai.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to spend time in the darkroom printing. I like fishing, being outdoors, riding my bike and woodworking. I like old processes, things where I use my hands and take a step back from technology.

Review: Sony’s a6300 E-mount camera

By Brady Betzel

It’s fair to say that the still and motion camera market isn’t boring. Canon and Nikon have been the huge players in the market, more so a few years ago when Canon introduced the landscape-changing 7D and full-frame 5D cameras. The 5D was the magic camera for the filmmaking community. Over the years, other companies have been breaking the 5D mold with cameras like Blackmagic with its Pocket Cinema Camera, but once the filmmaking community started lusting for higher frame rates that filmed at higher than 1920×1080 resolution, along with a Log or Log-like color space, the field began to really open up.

It seems that’s when Sony started taking the prosumer camera market seriously and doubled down on the Sony a6000 mirrorless E-mount camera, which eventually led to the 4K (technically UHD) recording-capable a6300 and a6500.

Once people started seeing the images and video that the APS-C-based a6300 produced, mixed with the awesome low-light capabilities and wide dynamic range using picture profiles like SLog2/3 — Sony had a bonafide hit on their hands. And if you still wanted more sensor size than the a6300 can provide with its crop sensor, you have the full-frame A7SII and A7RII (and, hopefully, soon the A7R/S III).

In this review, I am going to cover the Sony a6300 and explain why it’s a good value for anyone looking to make some great content, or even just have top-notch 4K home videos. The image fidelity that comes from the Sony a6300 is truly incredible. It’s a little hard to quantify for me, but I think that the Sony a6300 has a look from the sensor that is superbly unique to a handheld camera. The Sony a6300 delivers a top-notch product for around $949.99 (not including lenses) or $1049.99, which includes a 16-50mm lens… but more on pricing later.

Technically, the Sony a6300 is a handheld camera camera with an interchangeable E-mount lens system. Since this is an APS-C crop sensor camera, it is not full frame. The sensor will record images at 24.2 megapixels and up to UHD (3840×2160) resolution when recording video, and since I work in video I am focusing on that aspect of the a6300. It records in the Sony created xvYCC color space — essentially an extended gamut color space that allows for more saturation but is compatible with existing YCC color space. Short answer: more saturation. It accepts Sony Memory Stick Duo or SD memory cards to record on, but do some research on your memory card as not all will allow for UHD recording at the full 100Mb/s. In movie mode you have an ISO range of 100-25600, which really shines in the high ISO range when filming in low light.

In terms of video recording formats, the Sony a6300 stays in the family with its XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4 all of which are 8-bit out of the camera. Keep in mind that if you edit a lot of footage in XAVC- or AVCHD-based codecs, your computer will need to be on the higher end and/or you will want to create proxy media to edit before finishing and color correcting. The XAVC and AVCHD codecs allow for pretty good quality video to be recorded, but this really stresses editing systems because of the way interframe codecs work. If you notice your system can’t play down your clips, it might be time to think about transcoding them to a more edit-friendly codec like ProRes, Cineform or DNxHR.

When recording in XAVC S 4K/UHD (3840×2160) you can shoot in multiple framerates and bitrates — 24p @ 100/60Mbps; 30p @ 100/60Mbps; XAVC S HD (1920×1080) 60p/30p/24p @ 50Mbps and 120p @ 100/50Mbps as well as many other options — but for this review those are the ones that really matter. The real beauty in the Sony a6300 is the ability to shoot in Log color space, which in very basic terms is a video with a grayish-flat color that allows for advanced color correction in post production because there is more information to pull out of the shadows and highlights aka dynamic range.

S-Log 2 split screen.

To enable the Log color spaces, find the Picture Profile menu under menu five and select PP7, PP8 or PP9. This is where you will find the Gamma menu and S-Log 2- or 3-enabled by default. There are more options but the next one that concerns a lot of people is the Color Mode, which can be changed to S-Gamut, S-Gamut3.Cine, S-Gamut3 and more. These are a little tricky, and my best piece of advice is to try each combination in different lighting environments like sunset, a bright blue sky with gradations and low light to see which works best for each situation. I noticed I got a good amount of noise in S-Log3 S-Gamut3.Cine, but I really tried to push the low light in that mode. I fixed excessive shadow noise when I was color correcting by using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite Denoiser — read my review.

I noticed S-Log2 left me a little more detail in the highlights, while S-Log 3 gave a little more detail in the shadows; that may have just been my experience, but that is what I noticed. In addition, when shooting in S-Log 2/3 I noticed some macro-blocking/banding in shots that had color gradations, like a blue sky turning into white or even very bright lights — this will look like square digital artifacts or bands arcing across the gradient. I even saw a dead pixel flash when shooting some really low-light footage. The real test is to watch this footage on a huge TV or output monitor above 32-inches because you will really start to see the noise and banding that is present. I did some testing with noise removal, and with a little bit of noise removal elbow grease you can get a great picture. Overall, I am very impressed with the Log type images I was able to pull out of the a6300 and how well they held up in color correction. Typically, a camera that can pull this type of image would be at least over $5,000-6,000 or more plus lenses, so the a6300 is a steal.

After all that S-Log talk you might be asking, “What if I just want to shoot great video and not worry about Logs and Gamuts?” Well, you can set the Picture Profile to 1-6 and get a great image with little to no color correction needed. Specifically, Picture Profile 1 is really the automatic setting to use; it is described by Sony as being the “Movie Gamma,” which basically means your video will look good.

For more descriptions on the Picture Profiles of the Sony a6300, check out their help guide. You will need to test out all of the Picture Profiles though as they all have different characteristics, such as more detail in the shadows but less accurate color in the highlights. Just something to take a few hours and test out.

More Cool Stuff
The internal microphone on the a6300 is ok, but probably shouldn’t be used to use as your primary audio recording. I would suggest something like the Røde VideoMic Pro. Unfortunately without being able to monitor your audio by headphones you will definitely need to test your external microphone to check whether you need a pre-amp, or if something like the VideoMic Pro +20dB boost will be enough or too loud.

One thing that really stuck out to me was how fast the automatic focus was on the Sony a6300. I am used to using a Canon EOS Rebel t2i camera, and the Sony a6300 is lightning fast, almost instantaneous. It really impressed me. I was visiting Disneyland when I had the a6300 and was taking some stills and video around the park, I took a picture of my son, but the Sony a6300 had accidentally caught a bubble in the autofocus and very clearly took a picture of that bubble. It was accidentally incredible.

In addition to the camera, Sony let me borrow a few lenses when I tested out the a6300, including the 50mm f1.8 ($249.99), E 35mm f1.8 ($449.99) and E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 ($349.99). While the 35mm and 50mm are great , I felt that the 16-50mm zoom lens did the job for me overall. In low-light situations it definitely helped to have the f1.8 prime lenses in my bag, but during daylight, and even dusk, the zoom lens was great. However, when taking portraits or footage where I wanted a nice bokeh background, the prime lenses were what I had to use.

If I was going to buy this camera for myself I would weigh the idea of spending a little more money and grabbing a really nice lens, whether it be a prime or zoom. The only problem with that is most of the upgraded lenses are for full-frame cameras, which brings me to my next point: Would I just go all the way to a full-frame Sony A7rII or A7sII camera? In my mind, if I have enough money to get a full-frame camera I do it. The quality, in my eyes, is far superior. However, you are going to be paying an extra $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the lenses, whether you buy new or used. So a middle ground might be to buy the full-frame lenses like the G Master series for the a6300. This way when you find the right Sony body you don’t have to upgrade lenses as the full-frame lenses will work on the a6300. Keep in mind you will have a crop factor of 1.5, which means a full-frame 50mm lens will actually be a 75mm lens. That might be more confusing than helpful, but it is a constant fight for Sony a6300 owners after they see what the Sony cameras can do. Another option is to take a look at Craigslist or Ebay and see if anyone is selling a used a6300 or A7srII. I did a cursory search when writing this article and found a Sony a6300 with four lenses and extra accessories for $1,300, and another a6300 for sale with one lens for $700, so there are options for used cameras at a great price.

So what didn’t I like about the Sony a6300? There is no headphone jack to monitor your audio. That’s a big one, but one possible solution is using the micro-HDMI port. If you use an external monitoring solution, like an Atomos or a SmallHD monitor, you will be able to use their audio monitoring. Also, I just can’t get used to Sony’s menu and button setup. Maybe because I’ve been used to Canon’s menu, button and wheel setup for a while, but Sony’s setup for some reason throws me off. I feel like I have to go in to one or two extra menus before I get to the settings I want.

Summing Up
The bottom line is that the Sony a6300 is an incredible UHD-capable camera that can be purchased with a lens for around $1,000. It lacks things like proper audio monitoring but gives you great control over your color correction when filming in SLog 2 or 3, and with a little noise reduction you will have clean low-light footage in the palm of your hand.

There is a newer version of this camera in the a6500, which has the following upgrades over the a6300 — 5-axis image stabilization, touchscreen LCD (can swipe to change focus on an object or touch to set focus) and improved menu system. The a6500 costs $1,399.99 for the body only. The image stabilization is what really sells the a6500 since you can now use any lens (with adapters) that you want while still benefitting from image stabilization. Either way, the a6300 is the best bet to get a great UHD-capable camera at a great price, especially if you can find someone selling a used one with a bunch of lenses and batteries. The video that comes from the Sony line of cameras is unmistakable, and will add a level of professionalism to anyone’s videography arsenal.

You can see my Sony a6300 Slow Motion SLog 2/SLog 3 test as well as my UHD tests on YouTube.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.