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kye

Vloggers aren't crazy (speed and control of film-making)

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Vloggers aren't crazy....  but there sure is lots of debate around the topic!  

My theory is that they are making films in a different situation and the fact they have different needs is why they appear to be crazy to film-makers from other situations.  This is my attempt to explain it.

I think film-makers fall across a spectrum of the speed of film-making and the amount of control over the environment that exists.

Situation A: low-speed / high control.
In situations where things happen very slowly (eg, on a controlled set, or perhaps shooting landscapes and B-roll) you can have everything on full-manual and get the best results because you're in full control of what is happening.  This means time to level a tripod, setup whatever lights you want, use a light-meter, adjust all camera settings, setup and rehearse camera moves, etc etc.  In this setting having the camera do things for you is counter-productive because you want to have full control over everything.  Therefore things like autofocus and IBIS are unwelcome, camera weight and size might not matter, but image quality probably matters a lot, and cinema-primes are a good fit.  I think the GH5s / BMPCC4K are aimed more at this type of application.  There is always room for a sound-person and various crew here.

Situation B: moderate-speed / moderate control.
In situations where things happen faster but you have a good degree of control there is value in having some 'helpful features'.  This might be something like run-and-gun film-making where you have time to setup an interview station where you have a moderate amount of control.  Things like manual focus can still be used, but reliable face-detection would be useful.  You might set shutter speed and aperture but have auto-ISO enabled.  Camera size and weight potentially matter because you might be filming B-Roll or featuring clips of things that aren't in your control (eg, shooting an event) so having a lighter tripod setup you can carry around and shoot with quickly is useful.  Having a sound-person and other crew also works here.

Situation C: high-speed / some control.
In situations where things are happening in real-time but you have a degree of control over some aspects the priorities shift again.  This might be something like ENG film-making where when the action happens you have to capture it with no second chances, but you might also be interviewing people and have some degree of control about how the interviews are done.  For example if you were covering a building fire you have no control over when or how the fire will burn, what the responders will do about it, etc, so you need to be able to move very quickly, having a rig that can be hand-held (shoulder rig normally) and also having a tripod that is quite portable.  In this situation IBIS, reliable auto-focus, an all-in-one zoom lens, etc become desirable features. However, during the interview situation you can still have input into what is asked, where it is (interviewing the fire chief with something burning in the background makes a nice shot) but if people fumble their replies you can often ask them to repeat something or prompt them in a variety of ways.  These can have crew, but often due to the economics of the situation there isn't budget.

Situation D: high-speed / no control.
I add this mostly for myself and my home videos, where my priority is to capture what happens without directing anything, as I prioritise the experience over the film.  This is 'fly-on-the-wall' film-making in a sense.  Technically this is within the previous situation, but I choose not to exert most / all of the control I have.

I teased that this discussion was about vloggers, so I think they sit across situations A-C, but the controversy comes in when vloggers are in situation C.  There is a hierarchy of needs for vloggers in situation C:

  • They REQUIRE that the camera be small and not attracting the wrong attention because situation C is about shooting in public (I've posted elsewhere about being stopped by authorities when shooting in public) and they require that the camera be able to be turned on and recording at a moments notice and they are almost exclusively a self-shooter with no allowance for any dedicated 'crew'.  This is basically iPhone / RX100 territory, and creates films where the content better be great because the picture will be shaky and the audio will be noisy and full of ambient sounds.
  • They often WANT to improve the basic quality and so they add a directional microphone of some kind (typically Rode VideoMicro or Rode VMP+) and try to make it more stable by adding a handle (typically a gorillapod).
  • However (and this is where we get the controversy between vloggers and other film-makers in situations A and B) they LUST after having more 'cinematic' videos, which drives them towards higher-bitrate codecs and large aperture lenses (which means they're now looking at the same cameras - 5DIII, 1DXmII, A7SII, BMPCC4K, XH-1, etc), and they want 'buttery smooth footage' which means world-class stabilisation.  Film-makers in situations A and B get these by having setups that are have at least one of the following challenges: slow to setup, cumbersome to use, large and attract attention.  When a vlogger looks at a high-end DSLR and sees that it doesn't meet one of the basic things they require (small, inconspicuous, no-setup time) they see it as a fundamental flaw in the camera.  This perspective makes no sense to a film-maker who places these features of a camera quite far down their priority list, and this is where the controversy occurs.  
    Of course, vloggers often don't know a single thing about how the pros do things, are often self-centred and unwilling to learn about other styles of film-making, which enrages the pros and thus flame wars ensue.  (Of course, exactly the same can be said of a minority of film-makers who are uninterested in how vloggers do things, are self-centred and self-important because they view their film-making as somehow better than other types, and are equally as responsible for the flame wars as the vloggers...).

Hopefully this helps to explain some of the key differences and why we keep tripping up on these topics.

I know that this is a huge simplification of the variety of situations, that this is a spectrum and film-making can exist anywhere between the four situations I listed above, and that many film-makers have projects that are on different parts of the spectrum and require equipment that is flexible.  However, each film-maker and each purchase decision will be made by prioritising the features in one category against the others.

BTW, the entire DSLR revolution (ie, the vast majority of people on this board) probably look like vloggers in the eyes of those shooting on big-budget sets with the $50-100K setups and equipment that requires a truck to lug it around.  Anyone criticising the BMPCC4K is going to look like a spoiled millennial when we criticise a $1300 camera that shoots 4K RAW!

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1 hour ago, kye said:

 

BTW, the entire DSLR revolution (ie, the vast majority of people on this board) probably look like vloggers in the eyes of those shooting on big-budget sets with the $50-100K setups and equipment that requires a truck to lug it around.  

$50K?! That is nothing. I've been on shoots where just a single lens costs that. 

And yeah, some folks coming from that world might do shoots they call "Situation D / C" yet from your perspective it very much "Situation A". So even simply classifying different types of shoots isn't always straight forward. 

And even within "Situation A" there is a tonne of variety, from shoots which might want to get a couple of dozen pages of dialogue done in a single day, vs others which are only aiming to complete a couple of pages worth per day. 

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1 hour ago, IronFilm said:

$50K?! That is nothing. I've been on shoots where just a single lens costs that. 

And yeah, some folks coming from that world might do shoots they call "Situation D / C" yet from your perspective it very much "Situation A". So even simply classifying different types of shoots isn't always straight forward. 

And even within "Situation A" there is a tonne of variety, from shoots which might want to get a couple of dozen pages of dialogue done in a single day, vs others which are only aiming to complete a couple of pages worth per day. 

Absolutely :)

I mention $50K because I thought that was expensive enough to distance it from what we're talking about (mainly GH5 / GH5s / BMPCC4K / A7 series) which aren't anywhere near $50K.  Also, a production that large is outside my experience :)

I watched the ARRI Academy HDR Masterclass series and just about had to poke myself with pins to stay awake, the pace of the guy running it was so slow that I would consider him a fire risk - ie, if the place caught on fire I'm not sure he would be capable of leaving the premises fast enough to make it to safety!  During a real shoot he might move faster, but it's hard to drive a Ferrari at walking pace so...

I'm aware that one metric is 2 minutes of final footage a day for a feature film and that's not a case of going fast by rushing, it's a case of going fast by being thorough and doing things right the first time, so that pace is understandable and I'm not criticising it at all.  However, if you compare a big film set like that where a squillion people worked a 12+ hour day to capture 2 minutes of final footage with a production like event or documentary shooting where a single operator captures 2-10+ minutes of final footage in a day the ratio of speed is huge....  (maybe 50-100 times?) .....Let alone a vlogger like Casey Neistat who captured, edited and published videos 5-15 minutes long every day without a break (with no gaps for planning) for months at a stretch then the ratios may as well be in parallel universes because you have to include all of pre and post-production person-hours.

In terms of people thinking their situation in C or D but it's really situation A, yeah, that's inevitable.  Film-making is an industry so big that people can be involved in part of it but be completely unaware that other parts of it even exist.  One of the challenges I have with home video stuff is that because it's mostly kept private there's very little visibility of it.  Just like how many people use fancy DSLRs to take pics of their kids - it's hard to understand how many are doing it because people don't publish photos of their kids much - it's an iceberg where only a little of it is visible from the surface.

I should also add that in a sense the people operating in a faster environment need to demand more from their equipment rather than less, high DR is useful when you're not in controlled lighting, higher resolutions / bit-rates are useful when you want to punch-in digitally in post instead of changing lenses and doing another take, etc etc.

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1 hour ago, kye said:

I mention $50K because I thought that was expensive enough to distance it from what we're talking about (mainly GH5 / GH5s / BMPCC4K / A7 series) which aren't anywhere near $50K.  Also, a production that large is outside my experience :)


Quite easy to reach $50K of gear in total even when just shooting with GH5/a7Smk2/BMD cameras.

I'm 100% certain the feature film I just finished up working on had greater than $50K worth of gear used on it, and this was an ultra low budget film shot with Panasonic GH5

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4 hours ago, IronFilm said:


Quite easy to reach $50K of gear in total even when just shooting with GH5/a7Smk2/BMD cameras.

I'm 100% certain the feature film I just finished up working on had greater than $50K worth of gear used on it, and this was an ultra low budget film shot with Panasonic GH5

$1M?

:)

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1 hour ago, kye said:

$1M?

Ha! No. We're still just talking the GH5 camera, even with quite nice lenses and lots of other extra support gear it is hard to push it that high.

We're talking maybe mid tens of thousands for the camera department gear, then low tens of thousands for my sound gear, plus some tens of thousands for the lighting gear, and I dunno for the make up department (mid thousands? I dunno, truly wild guesses here!) Anyway, is very easy to see how you end up going past $50K of gear used on that feature film. 

However I've been on short films with around a million ish (NZD) in camera department gear, once you factor using ARRI bodies with high end PL lenses and all the other support gear around that then everything adds up fast. 

 

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12 hours ago, kye said:

I mention $50K because I thought that was expensive enough to distance it from what we're talking about (mainly GH5 / GH5s / BMPCC4K / A7 series) which aren't anywhere near $50K.  

I think you're right to emphasize incredibly low budget films. Given the amount of excitement that the gx85 generated on this forum I think a lot of people here work on productions well below a $50k budget. Casey Neistat is a great name drop for a situation D filmmaker because his work is definitely cinematic, whatever that means. His frequent user of time lapse allows him to inject high quality images, in terms of MP and dynamic range, into his vlog. I also think there are many situation D/C filmmakers who are not vloggers. I have a friend who primary produces music videos. While he likes to control everything, he often works with artists who have limited availability and don't have the patience or control of actual actors. Because of these and other factors he adopts a situation D style of filming. Likewise in some documentary settings I've felt that using a larger camera or additional lighting would have really changed the behavior of the people I was filming.

With respect to situation A, I think it's easy to find examples of people working with budgets less than $50k. The classic example is Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, which was shot on a $7000 budget. My favorite director, Maya Deren worked with relatively small budgets. Both of these directors shot film rather than digital, but these are very dated references. Personally I still get the impression that most indie situation A folks prefer film over digital, but I'm also fairly out of the game at this point. @IronFilm made a good point because the second I hear someone's shooting digital on a budget I assume they are in situation D/C, but they may very well be in situation A from your perspective. I like the idea of developing different categories of filmmakers' needs, but the more I think about it, it seems impossible. Maybe we can make relative assessments such as: person 1 works more in situation A-like settings than person 2. These relativistic claims could be made without committing to person 1 being considered a situation A filmmaker in all contexts... Have you ever read Wittgenstein? Trying to reduce a concept or phenomenon to a set of necessary and sufficient conditions is almost always problematic.

I've really got to find a way to write shorter responses. Sorry again.

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3 hours ago, Nathan Gabriel said:

Personally I still get the impression that most indie situation A folks prefer film over digital, but I'm also fairly out of the game at this point

 

Nope, not even high end productions in my country get shot on film. 

Indie? Forget about it!

It is mainly a weird and very rare niche that shooting on actual film lives in now. 

And even then, mainly stuff like S8/S16 for the weird artiness and novelty of it. 

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4 hours ago, Nathan Gabriel said:

I think you're right to emphasize incredibly low budget films. Given the amount of excitement that the gx85 generated on this forum I think a lot of people here work on productions well below a $50k budget. Casey Neistat is a great name drop for a situation D filmmaker because his work is definitely cinematic, whatever that means. His frequent user of time lapse allows him to inject high quality images, in terms of MP and dynamic range, into his vlog. I also think there are many situation D/C filmmakers who are not vloggers. I have a friend who primary produces music videos. While he likes to control everything, he often works with artists who have limited availability and don't have the patience or control of actual actors. Because of these and other factors he adopts a situation D style of filming. Likewise in some documentary settings I've felt that using a larger camera or additional lighting would have really changed the behavior of the people I was filming.

With respect to situation A, I think it's easy to find examples of people working with budgets less than $50k. The classic example is Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, which was shot on a $7000 budget. My favorite director, Maya Deren worked with relatively small budgets. Both of these directors shot film rather than digital, but these are very dated references. Personally I still get the impression that most indie situation A folks prefer film over digital, but I'm also fairly out of the game at this point. @IronFilm made a good point because the second I hear someone's shooting digital on a budget I assume they are in situation D/C, but they may very well be in situation A from your perspective. I like the idea of developing different categories of filmmakers' needs, but the more I think about it, it seems impossible. Maybe we can make relative assessments such as: person 1 works more in situation A-like settings than person 2. These relativistic claims could be made without committing to person 1 being considered a situation A filmmaker in all contexts... Have you ever read Wittgenstein? Trying to reduce a concept or phenomenon to a set of necessary and sufficient conditions is almost always problematic.

I've really got to find a way to write shorter responses. Sorry again.

My reference to $5M was actually about camera equipment, and was around the point that anyone using a >$5M camera setup would think of the entire DSLR revolution in the same way that this board seems to talk about vloggers..  basically as spoilt whiney teenagers :)

You're right that the situations I describe don't have anything to do with budget.  You can shoot in a highly controlled environment with a phone, a couple of desk lamps and a wired lav mic if you wanted to.  On low budget films as soon as you don't pay people minimum wage you can get away with spending almost nothing (except lots of social capital!).  I co-produced films at $2K and $5K that were absolutely situation A with months of pre-production, >20 cast/crew, and one of them had >10,000 person-hours in it (I didn't estimate the other).

I understand that my post is a huge simplification, but I think the principle stands.

As someone who shoots at the C/D end of things its amusing/frustrating when I mention a challenge I have in shooting my home videos and the reply is to add crew (take extra people on my holiday), to multiply the weight of my rig by three (or more!), or to get my family to repeat parts of the holiday over and over until I get a shot with the right lighting!  

This topic is an attempt to get people to understand that there is a huge variety in film-making outside of the niches they seem to live in.

1 hour ago, IronFilm said:

Nope, not even high end productions in my country get shot on film. 

Indie? Forget about it!

I was going to say this!  Film is too slow for most commercial shoots, and for indie it is too expensive!!! :)

I think I heard somewhere that it's cheaper to rent a RED than to shoot on film these days?

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4 hours ago, Nathan Gabriel said:

@IronFilm wow I just did some research and you are totally right! I had no idea. I was certain the most recent Jim Jarmusch films were actually film, but apparently they were digital. It seems like just a few years ago it was a totally different story. 


As soon as the HDSLR Revolution hit in 2008 that was the start of the death bell ringing for any ultra low budget indie film to ever shoot on film. 

Then when the BMCC launched in 2012 that was the final strokes of the clock counting down until it was time over for even more "mid budget" indie level films. 

This is not even counting the impact RED and ARRI had, and honestly today an indie film can totally shoot on a RED or ARRI camera if they really really want to. I've worked on plenty of ultra low budget films using a RED or ARRI. 

Of course the other impact RED and ARRI had, is as the bulk of the high end productions switched over to them and away from film, that then dried up the source of work for the film processing labs. 

Once the last film processing lab is gone in your country (like is the case in New Zealand. Park Road Post closed its film post-production facilities in 2013, that is a looooong time ago!) then it becomes very very hard to produce a film film.  At least in the USA they're massive enough I think there is still a couple of commercial scale ones left. 

Another big impact upon indies this switch from film to digital at the high end is that in the past indie filmmakers would beg/borrow/steal/scrounge the ends of rolls of film, and thus at least have the raw beginning materials to make their film with (but have to work around the hassle of having incomplete rolls of film as they're short ends). Which would help bring down costs for them. Of course today there is much less opportunity to source these, as there simply are less of these film ends around. 

I looked up Jim's films: The Limits of Control (2009 released, so perhaps actually filmed a couple of years earlier in 2007? Maybe, could be more, could be less), then Only Lovers Left Alive (2013 release, but again the actual production would have been earlier).

First of those two was filmed with an ARRI film camera, the 2nd of those two with an ARRI digital camera. And those two dates aligned up with my earlier comments about the timing of the transition. 

3 hours ago, kye said:

I think I heard somewhere that it's cheaper to rent a RED than to shoot on film these days?

Am sure of that.

 
An old RED ONE is practically free to rent. Heck even say a Scarlet MX (maybe even Dragon) you can get owner OPs throwing it in extra for nothing at all. 

Even at the highest end of RED cameras, they've always been cheaper than the high end latest ARRI digital cameras. 

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