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Matt Kieley

What makes an image cinematic?

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So, two years ago I bought a Samsung NX1. Then I sold it, so I could have some money in the bank when I moved in with my girlfriend. I still owned the GH1 I bought four years earlier. I convinced myself that I could get equally cinematic imagery out of either camera with good lighting and cinematography. Then I bought a GX7 months later, since it as cheap, we were doing okay financially, and it had microscopically better image quality. Then I sold both cameras and got a BMPCC. Last year we needed some extra cash to get us through a financial rough spot. I convinced myself that I could get just good imagery out of the T2i I bought. Then I get a Nikon D5200 because it had better low light performance and didn't seem to have the moire problems. Then I got the BMPCC camera again because the DSLRs just weren't good enough. I needed the dynamic range, Prores, 4:2:2 color space, etc.

Then I watched a video by a filmmaker explaining why he hasn't, and still won't "upgrade" from his T3i. And his argument had little to do with his particular camera at all. It was the same old mantra of "story over equipment". Instead of spending $3K on an A7S, he could use that money into paying good actors, paying for a production designer, etc. And this is the first time, I think, that I've finally started to believe what I told myself repeatedly about gear not mattering. The idea that the color space and dynamic range of the BMPCC will give me a more cinematic image is the same foolish idea that "shallow depth of field = cinematic" when shallow DOF is just one effect you can use in a shot. But what about the framing, composition, lighting, movement (or lack of), color, focal lenght, production design, costume design? These are still the most superficial aspects of what makes something cinematic. The story, and more specific moments, the acting, direction, music, plus the cinematography, and actual EVOCATIVE IMAGERY itself, the kind that really sticks with you. Like this:

sw1.jpeg

halloween1978.jpg

Taxi-Driver.jpeg

the_graduate_ending_shot_elaine_and_benjamin_on_bus.png

antoineD.jpg

I started thinking "If I sell my BMPCC kit, and my Nebula 4000, and bought a used GH1 or GH2, I would have at least a little money leftover for a short film I've been trying to get done for a while now. It requires a special costume that needs to be fabricated. And that costume is practically the whole movie. I haven't had the extra money to pay someone for their time and materials. And I'd probably still have money leftover after that for the rest of the film. The idea that I can only shoot great images with the BMPCC or a Red is as ridiculous as thinking shooting on film will allow you to create great images. The format/capture medium is at the bottom of the list of what makes a great image. It's hardly even relevant. I've seen terrible indie movies shot on Super 16, and what made them even worse was knowing the director and/or DP who made that choice probably thought they were a fucking artist for shooting on film, even though they couldn't create a single memorable image in their film.

I have recently been hired to direct and DP an episode (and possibly more) or a web series. This is not the first time I have been asked to be a director and direct someone else's script, it's not the first time I've DP'd for someone else, but this is the first time I'm about to be paid actual money to do what I love. Previous episodes were directed and shot by another filmmaker with the BMCC and BMPC4K, so I was considering keeping my BMPCC to at least somewhat match. But...it doesn't really matter. The producer/writer doesn't give a shit what I shoot with, as long as it records moving images. He wouldn't even know the difference between the cameras--he's not technical, which is why he hires other people to direct and shoot. Now I'm kind of getting excited by the challenge of matching a GH2 to BM cameras. I want to put the specs and camera aside and focus on the direction, lighting, and imagery. I've always believed what I'm saying, but now I'm finally taking the truly important filmmaking shit to heart. And I'm not trying to convince everyone here to sell their stuff in favor of older, cheaper stuff. I'm just trying to explore what makes an image unforgettable, or "cinematic". 

Here's the video that actually explained this philosophy in both artistic and practical ways and inspired this wall of text:

 

I've really come to love this youtube channel. His older videos are more about tips and gear, but his more recent stuff is all much more about creativity. It's inspiring me. Maye I just needed to hear all this in a British accent for me to take it seriously.

TLDR: I'm selling my bmpcc and getting a GH2.

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

I cut a concert film once where the two main cameras were a 5d and a gh1.  Liked the gh1 image more, but they were close enough IQ-wise that it didn't really matter. 

"Filmlook" really comes down to other things beside the sensor. 

I truly believe sensor preference is akin to choosing a particular film-stock. No more, no less. 

So...maybe you don't have the fastest and cleanest "film" for your movie, doesn't mean jack-squat that it would stop you from making a cinematic production.

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I'm not sure it's a good idea to be selling and buying new equipment all the time. You'll probably lose money that way. You have a great camera in the bmpcc, why don't you stick with that? Do you have anything else you have lying around that you don't need that you can sell? It's amazing how selling stuff we don't use can add up to a bigger sum quite quickly.

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10 minutes ago, Thpriest said:

I'm not sure it's a good idea to be selling and buying new equipment all the time. You'll probably lose money that way. You have a great camera in the bmpcc, why don't you stick with that? Do you have anything else you have lying around that you don't need that you can sell? It's amazing how selling stuff we don't use can add up to a bigger sum quite quickly.

I think you're missing the point of the post entirely.

@Matt Kieley Great post, thank you. Heaven forbid someone were to suggest that instead of purchasing a brand new $2,000.00 USD camera, that you'd be better off investing in some lighting or sound gear, or, unthinkable, watching some editing tutorials online or taking a filmmaking workshop, it would be dismissed as the words of a fool. So many complaining about not being able to assign every menu item to function buttons or manufacturers crippling their cameras by not offering 4K 12 bit 4:4:4, not enough meaningful content being produced.

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There are just too many films out there for the term Cinematic to have any real meaning or relevance to filmmaking. Personally, I think the term should really refer to any film that gets shown in a Cinema.

The way the term is thrown about in forums makes me laugh, because every film is different & so the requirements are also different. So, basically if you want your film to have a documentary feel to it, it will be pointless to make it look like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster with fancy lighting etc. & vice versa.

As far as a camera goes, the term that should be used is Filmic & by this I mean a digital camera that tries to or does replicate celluloid/film [without it being so].

If you only watch Hollywood films or big blockbusters, then you really can't have a good grasp of how many films are out there, with so many different styles of cinematography!

Remember The Blair Witch Project? Shot for the price of a used car, got shown in cinemas all over the world & made a shed load of money - cinematic? Who cares - it got made for the price of a used car, got shown in cinemas all over the world & made a shed load of money!

2 minutes ago, Thpriest said:

I'm not sure it's a good idea to be selling and buying new equipment all the time. You'll probably lose money that way. You have a great camera in the bmpcc, why don't you stick with that? Do you have anything else you have lying around that you don't need that you can sell? It's amazing how selling stuff we don't use can add up to a bigger sum quite quickly.

This & only this!

Stop worrying & shoot something!

ATM i'm editing up some footage shot on a Canon 60D from years ago & it's not the greatest IQ wise. The main thing is...I don't care what people think of the footage, it's not important to me, the only thing that matters is if the story/idea for the film works.

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9 minutes ago, jonpais said:

I think you're missing the point of the post entirely.

@Matt Kieley Great post, thank you. Heaven forbid someone were to suggest that instead of purchasing a brand new $2,000.00 USD camera, that you'd be better off investing in some lighting or sound gear, or, unthinkable, watching some editing tutorials online or taking a filmmaking workshop, it would be ignored as the words of a fool. So many complaining about not being able to assign every menu item to function buttons or manufacturers crippling their cameras by not offering 4K 12 bit 4:4:4, not enough meaningful content being produced.

Sorry Jon, I think you missed the point of my post! He has a good camera, he might not need to sell it to buy a cheaper one to fund his film. What else has he got lying around that he can sell? Sell your iPod, get a cheaper phone...whatever, fund your film that way.

It's true that story, light etc all count more than the camera. It's seems his problem is not the camera, as he has a good one, but funding.

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2 minutes ago, Thpriest said:

Sorry Jon, I think you missed the point of my post! He has a good camera, he might not need to sell it to buy a cheaper one to fund his film. What else has he got lying around that he can sell? Sell your iPod, get a cheaper phone...whatever, fund your film that way.

It's true that story, light etc all count more than the camera. It's seems his problem is not the camera, as he has a good one, but funding.

Maybe I was wrong, if so, I apologize. But I think he already realizes that buying and selling gear all the time is a waste of time and money. 

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Exactly. He has decided to sell his bmpcc for a gh2. I'm not sure of the logic in that. I'm suggesting that he looks at other ways of getting the money together to fund his film.

Anyway, good luck with your choices and project!

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I think composition, lighting, movement (or as you say, lack of) and sound* are the big factors. Camera aesthetics do play some part, especially dynamic range, highlight rolloff and colour.

*Obviously sound doesn't affect the image, but it is a massive part of making something cinematic.

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Once you have Professional actors,light,etc and suffer the whole crappy experience it is to work with people who are over their limits (you included) most of the Time near an anxiety attack, 6000$ for a Camera are nothing, and at least it will give you some good files. 

Unless you really have something to tell, I don't think it's worth it. Unless you enjoy posing, of course.

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Just remember, you don't have to spend a fortune on lighting etc... & you don't have to buy the brand new stuff.

You've got a great [cheap] camera in the BMPCC & buying a cheaper one will probably cause you to spend more on the other stuff in the long run.

The whole point of that guy's video, is that he has a camera & instead of buying a new one, he spent some money on lighting, sound etc...

So, you've got a really nice camera, with great dynamic range (you don't need to shoot RAW, the ProRes HQ is amazing!). Why not go to IKEA or somewhere similar & buy some China Balls for lights & if you can get your hands on some old filament light bulbs great - or you could just put stronger light bulbs in & shoot with natural light with some boards. You can buy some secondhand cinema mics for under £100 & a simple analogue field mixer, which you can plug into your BMPCC & get great sound with the right lead.

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Interesting topic that comes around time and time again. I think it's one of those eternal questions that has no real answer but here is my take.

Yes you can produce amazing work on a GH2 or an iPhone but there's a reason professionals use professional cameras. I shoot most days largely as a one man band shooting events, sports and interviews and when you use a tool every day you really get to know it's shortcomings and it's the same when you're shooting dramatic work. The point of a more Pro camera like an Alexa, or an Ursa mini, and a BMPCC certainly has more in common with these cameras than with a GH2, is not that it's a magic fix that gives you instantly cinematic results, although in some cases that is true. The point is that it won't let you down if you use it right, and it gives you far more options in post later.

Unless you're a world class cinematographer you will likely screw something up on set from time to time, exposure or colour balance are particular issues. And a camera like tweet BMPCC will give you a far better chance of fixing or hiding the error, which leads to a better result, which leads to a more 'cinematic' result. I believe that cinematic can often just mean professional. If your work looks like the work of a pro, you're more likely to provoke suspension of disbelief and that's the point at which an audience stops caring about the image and starts getting invested in your story.

But a GH2 or iPhone or Canon Rebel create all kinds of issues that you might not be able to handle on set or in post, thereby leading to an image which looks compromised or amateurish, and thereby reduces the audience's trust in you. An Alexa is so expensive because it largely gets out of the way and allows you to work with complete trust that the tool is gathering all the correct information, while you can get on with directing and shooting.

In summary, you can get great results with cheap DSLR style cameras, but it takes a lot of work and fiddling and mental energy, while raw and 10 bit log may not make your film great but will make it a hell of a lot easier to achieve greatness.

Take from that what you will.

1 hour ago, jonpais said:

I think you're missing the point of the post entirely.

@Matt Kieley Great post, thank you. Heaven forbid someone were to suggest that instead of purchasing a brand new $2,000.00 USD camera, that you'd be better off investing in some lighting or sound gear, or, unthinkable, watching some editing tutorials online or taking a filmmaking workshop, it would be dismissed as the words of a fool. So many complaining about not being able to assign every menu item to function buttons or manufacturers crippling their cameras by not offering 4K 12 bit 4:4:4, not enough meaningful content being produced.

 

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3 hours ago, Jimmy said:

*Obviously sound doesn't affect the image, but it is a massive part of making something cinematic.

You bet, and it even has been proven scientifically. It was a report in a german magazine for cinema owners some 20 years ago, so I have no links for you to read, but let me explain the method: 

The same film was shown to big audiences various times in the same cinema, in mono and surround, with different sound levels. Right afterwards, the people were asked to sum up the plot on one sheet of paper. The most accurate and most detailed descriptions came from those who listened to the loudest surround screening. A good sound mix also emphasizes emotions much better than the best graded images. Those audiences also generally liked the film more.

Personally, I often think that very much stylized and abstract images with very rich and atmospheric sound and music work best to trigger the 'suspension of disbelief' and let the viewer invent his own, deep and emotional story. Much in the way you lie in your bed and listen to your grandma's voice who reads you a fairytale. Is what you imagine then less intense than the latest Hobbit? I don't think so.

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Yes, if one has the means to acquire the best camera, then maybe use the best --but look at the images posted by the OP, do any of them look like they'd be impossible to capture/create with modern/cheap gear?

"400 Blows" especially. 

The more wonderful and advanced consumer gear gets, the sillier we all look [points finger at self] hanging out on-line talking about things rather than doing things.

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This is a great post, especially for a Sunday... but seriously I am going through a similar thought process. I have bought, tested and returned/sold about a dozen cameras over the past year and a half. And the one thing I have learned is that no camera is perfect. all of the cameras at the $1000 or less price point are flawed in one way or another. They're all capable tools though, as many have proven over the years. However, it's easy to say that I can make my films with a t2i, or a GH2... of course you can... but what's the point? How will a t2i or a GH2 help you make your film? How will they hinder you? Movies are hard enough, practically impossible if you reside within the... "I have absolutely no fucking budget to make this movie but I am going to try anyway because I am a masochistic asshole" budget, so your tools must be tools... no more and no less.

For me, there are specific features that I have come to rely on in a camera... focus peaking being one of them... but I don't need it. What features have you come to rely on... do you need them? The problem really is that the BMPCC is not that expensive of a camera and I'm unsure it would be wise to sell the camera to pay for one costume, for one short. In 3 to 6 months when that short is done and you are looking toward your next project... then what camera will you want... or need?

With that being said... yeah fucking sell the BMPCC. Get a GH2, or a G7, or better yet get an AF100... I've seen them selling for around $500. Go bold and tell a cool story and when you're doing junkets at a festival tell them why you chose to make your short with a 5 year old camera... just make it sound cooler than I wanted money for a costume.

Actually this would be a cool challenge for those who still have access to their t2i, or GH2, or D5xxx... make a 3 minute short, in a month, and post it in the shooting section... we'll vote on a winner, but to keep it fair, only the members with a hundred posts or more can vote so we don't have a bunch of people signing up to vote for their friend... the winner gets one of Reid's cameras... LOL. 

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56 minutes ago, mercer said:

All of the cameras at the $1000 or less price point are flawed in one way or another.

Of course they are, you got the right idea.  What do you really need a camera to do -or even NOT do?

I used two GX85's to create six episodes for a documentary series on PBS.  (unfortunately I didn't write it, direct it, or have final say on the color grade. boo!)

Regardless, I firmly believe they were close to the perfect camera for such an assignment.  I'd rather shoot with that gear 9 times out of 10 over an Alexa.  Sounds weird, but it's really true.  The stuff is just so innocuous that I could capture stuff and stay out of the way of the subject and director.  (wish she could have stayed out of her own way, but so it goes)

And, holy moly, at one point I had to edit in some previous footage from a RED, and, ugh, that footage was a disaster.  Ugly as sin.  That was mostly the ops fault though.

Anyway, once done, I sold those GX85 cameras on ebay.  Moving on....

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14 minutes ago, fuzzynormal said:

Of course they are, you got the right idea.  What do you really need a camera to do -or even NOT do?

I used two GX85's to create six episodes for a documentary series on PBS.  (unfortunately I didn't write it, direct it, or have final say on the color grade. boo!)

Regardless, I firmly believe they were close to the perfect camera for such an assignment.  I'd rather shoot with that gear 9 times out of 10 over an Alexa.  Sounds weird, but it's really true.  The stuff is just so innocuous that I could capture stuff and stay out of the way of the subject and director.  (wish she could have stayed out of her own way, but so it goes)

And, holy moly, at one point I had to edit in some previous footage from a RED, and, ugh, that footage was a disaster.  Ugly as sin.  That was mostly the ops fault though.

Anyway, once done, I sold those GX85 cameras on ebay.  Moving on....

I'm actually in a very similar place as Matt. I've been chasing the perfect camera for a year and in all of that chasing, I like the footage from the BMPCC/BMMCC and D5500 the most. But more importantly I have yet to finish a short with any of them. And if I had, would the short have been better with the BMPCC instead of the D5500, or with the a6500 instead of the BMPCC? In a lot of ways they all kinda suck, so the answer lies in the question... which sucks the least?

Btw @fuzzynormal congrats on the PBS doc. Has it aired yet?

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Well to me, that guy lost all credibility, when he sold the BMPCC and bought a freaking Canon T3. If you can't make damn near a feature film with a BMPCC you need to find a new hobby!

Blackmagic gave us poor folk a gift of a lifetime with both the BMPCC and the BMCC. And this guy sells it and buys a God Damn cheap ass Canon!! What the Hell! We are talking ProRes HQ, and Raw! That is what the big boys use. And you can also do it for maybe 650 bucks for the BMPCC, to a grand for the BMCC. And have a beautiful, creamy output. Jesus what does this guy want?? Now he has a GH2, Oh boy that ought to work. Mpeg output.

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