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Can You Shoot a Feature with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera?

Can You Shoot a Feature with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera?

Horror Feature ‘Kill Game’ Screened at Cannes Shot with Blackmagic Cinema Camera


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One of the most prevalent criticisms of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera revolve around the myth that no one is using it for feature production. Questions such as, “Can it hold up to the rigors of feature production”, “Does its workflow pose a problem” and the like have plagued the camera since it’s release in 2012. The problem is feature films simply take a long time to make.

However, in the 2 years since its release, many feature films have been produced using the BMCC, and this fact is starting to come out in a major way.  ‘Kill Game‘  which enjoyed a screening at the 2014 Cannes film festival, is about a a group of good looking, shallow, and at times cruel high school pranksters who are stalked by a masked killer.

Vantage Media International, president Andre Relis who acquired Worldwide Rights to ‘Kill Game’ had this to say,“VMI is thrilled to acquired worldwide rights to Kill Game, a bold, original and terrifying horror film that delivers something both fresh and scary that genre fans have come to expect.”  Murray, a seasoned producer and stuntman has produced 5 features to date, and this beckons the question, “Why trust a feature to such an unknown and unproven camera system?”  According to Murray, this is due as a whole to ‘Kill Game’s’ Co-Producer, 2nd Unit Director, Steadicam/B-Camera Operator, Underwater Camera Operator and Colorist, Ari Golan.  Golan, is also owner of Atomic Imaging/Golan Studios which provided the sound stage, green screen cyclorama and the entire equipment package.  I had an opportunity to sit down with Golan to talk about ‘Kill Game’ and why he wholeheartedly recommended the BMCC to be the A, B and C cameras for this feature.

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Taking a ride with the BMCC on the set of ‘Kill Game’

Clint Milby:  Why did you recommend the BMCC for ‘Kill Game’?
Ari Golan: My digital camera of choice (if I had my choice) is the ARRI Alexa. However, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s look is the closest thing to the Alexa look but at 1/30th of the price. When the producers first came to me, and we were discussing the project they were interested in shooting with the RED as well, but I told them “We can shoot with two or three BMCCs instead for the same budget”.

That intrigued them, but they were a little nervous because at the time no feature films had been shot with it. So the DP, Andrew Strahorn, came to our studio, and we did some camera tests. Once he saw what the the camera actually looked like shooting objects and people in a variety of different lighting scenarios, he was blown away. Add the fact that he could get two to three cameras for the price of one RED and it really made the decision quite easy.

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The “Tarantino” Trunk Shot

CM: How does the BMCC hold up to the rigors of feature film production?
AG: We shot for four weeks, and these were six day weeks with over 36 locations.  For four of those days it was over 105 degrees and the humidity was about 100%. Inside, the AC was off for sound and the windows were closed, making it quite warm. With some of those shots, the rooms were in excess of 90 Degrees and very humid.

One day we were shooting the underwater scenes and the housing had a leak. It filled up to about a quarter inch deep of water. So the camera was sitting in a quarter inch of water and I quickly pulled it out and dried it off and it was fine. We even had a camera cart break loose on the camera truck, which flipped over the camera cart that had two cameras mounted on it. There was no damage to the cameras though, the cameras are little tanks. I certainly don’t recommend people do that or suggest that it is waterproof, but between the temperature, humidity, torture test onset and the unintentional water torture test, the camera is very robust.

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“The cameras are little tanks…” -Ari Golan

CM: What were the pros and cons of working with the BMCC on this feature?
AG: The pros are the image quality, dynamic range and RAW file format. As for cons,I would like to say (even though we did not need it on this particular film) some higher frame rates for in camera over cranking for slow-motion is probably the single biggest thing the camera is lacking. You don’t want to rent a whole different camera package just for one slow-motion shot. Also it would be nice to have some LUTS available in camera and some additional, customizable white balance/color temperature settings.

The ergonomics of the camera are not the best, as it was originally designed as a field recorder. Then they [Blackmagic] thought “Well let’s put a sensor in there with the lens and sell it as a camera”. That’s why it has such an unusual footprint and the connectors are on the left side of the camera. Which is a bit annoying for handheld because they go right into your face.

But of course there are always work-arounds for all these things. All of our cables have white angle connectors so they come off perpendicular to the camera instead of going in the operators face. And a lot of the other things that you would do in camera you can do within DaVinci, but it would be nice if you had some of the capabilities within the camera itself. I really like to storage media, the SSD drives. They are very high-performance and quite affordable compared to other types of media with that capacity and data rate.

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Examples of the BMCC’s RAW image highlight recovery

CM: I’ve heard from some people that the files the BMCC creates are much larger and more difficult to work with than RED, do you find that to be true? 
AJ: Yes, the uncompressed Cinema DNG are larger files than the compressed RED files. The  uncompressed files are much cleaner and the file sizes are not really an issue for the workflow however. I find the RED workflow more cumbersome. The Cinema DNG files the BMCC produces go right into DaVinci Resolve without any transcoding. You can work with them directly, and now you can edit, color grade and output without ever transcoding anything. In the case  of ‘ Kill Game’ we transcoded to Apple ProRes for editing in Final Cut Pro. Then we went round-trip via XML back into DaVinci Resolve for final color grading and finishing. I became such a fan of the new editing power of DaVinci Resolve, on another project, we didn’t even round trip to ProRes – just RAW straight into DaVinci, cut on the timeline and then output from there.

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CM: I’ve heard some editors say that they would consider it insane to work directly with the RAW files. But what I hear you saying is it’s not a problem..?
AG: It’s insane on a laptop or a home system, but if you’re in a facility with a workstation with the best GPU and raid storage drive then you’re working in real-time. It becomes a matter of drive space and that’s about it. If you’re counting pennies then every little bit makes a difference. But, if your time is more valuable than the cost of a few more drives, or you’re on a deadline…editing the RAW files in DaVinci makes perfect sense. If I was shooting a commercial I wouldn’t even consider doing it transcoded, I would just do it sticking with the RAW file format.

Shooting and editing in RAW is not necessarily the right way to go for every project either, especially long form documentaries. 90% of all of your episodic television shot on program is not on Ari RAW , but shot on the Alexa and straight to ProRes. They do this because of the time constraints of episodic television. In a controlled studio environment, you don’t need to shoot RAW.  It really comes into play when you’re doing effects and compositing a lot of green screen. When you’re shooting in extreme contrast situations or extreme lowlight, you really want the cleanest sensor data you can get so that you can push it. Yes the dedicated NLEs have significantly more features than DaVinci Resolve, but it has come a long way and should not be regarded as an insignificant tool for editing. Most feature editing is limited to cuts, dissolves and trims. In DaVinci, you’ve got that and a lot more.

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CM:  The BMCC shoots 2.5K. With the world screaming for 4K did you feel like you missed the pixels?
AG: The BMCC is 2.5 K just like the Arri Alexa. The majority of films that won the Oscar for Best Cinematography have been shot on the Alexa. 99% of episodic television is shot on Alexa. Alexa has made the decision that your dynamic range and image quality far outweighs resolution. And I agree with that.  Just being at NAB and looking at 4K imagery on 4K monitors, you have 13-year-old girls looking like old women because every wrinkle and blemish and pore of their skin is visible. For me cinema is for escapism and transporting the viewer to a different time and place, and a lot of people have a romantic attachment to the film look. I’m attached to whatever tool makes sense for the job. I feel that the Alexa and the BMCC have more of that cinematic quality about them than the high-resolution format. 4K just looks too real.  4K has the “live TV look, which is great for sports, gaming and simulations, but not cinema, in my opinion. I’m really not looking forward at all to seeing movies in 8K.

CM: What lens systems did you utilize?
AG: The lenses we used for this project were primarily Canon L glass. The ‘A’ camera was generally using a 16 to 35mm F2 .8 and the ‘B’ camera either had a 24 to 70mm or a 28 to 135mm. We also used some Rokinon prime lenses.

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CM: What are people saying about the image quality of the picture? Surprised that it was shot on a BMCC?
AG: People that worked on the film or have come to our facility and seen some of it have been absolutely blown away by the quality. Blackmagic has done a very good job of marketing the cameras so a lot of people have heard about it and are already wanting to see if it’s living up to all the hype.

CM: With the Alexa being your first choice you see yourself working with the Blackmagic Cinema camera in the future?
AG: Absolutely! We have multiple BMCCs at our facility and we will continue to use them. I would even shoot them without hesitation with an Alexa. If a production can only afford a single Alexa, we can throw 2 or 3 BMCCs in without any trouble matching the shots.

Find out more

Atomic Imaging and Golan Production, go to their website:  www.atomicimaging.com
‘Kill Game’ – go to the VMI website at:  vmiworldwide.com
Producer Marty Murray his website is: www.fullthrottlepictures.com
Blackmagic Design, go to their website at: www.blackmagicdesign.com 

 

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