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« Free Reads -- Amy Sohn on Hasbians | Main | Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi Redux »

February 07, 2003

Guest Posting -- Andrew Takeuchi

Friedrich --

Andrew Takeuchi, who wrote an article I cited some time ago about cinematography, digital technology, and movies, spotted the posting and left a terrific comment on it. I found it so interesting that I asked Andrew if I could use the comment as a new posting here, and he agreed. Here it is:

I stumbled across this discussion tonight during a break from writing - In a moment of boredom I googled myself and was surprised find that someone had actually read a recent article I had written on the emerging field of electronic cinematography.

My training and passion has been in the field of analog film so it was fascinating to talk with a few seasoned veterans about HD video and its use in motion picture and television production. Recently I had the opportunity to shoot a project with the Sony HDW-F900 camera (the same system used by Lucas on the latest Star Wars movie) and was generally pleased with the results.

Yes, it is in some ways cheaper to shoot in HD as the tape stock is considerably cheaper than 35mm raw stock. But when it comes to post-production, costs are not necessarily that much lower. Also, the cameras are considerably more expensive to rent, body without lens runs in the $1000/day range versus around $500/day for a state of the art 35mm camera. And let's not forget about the importance of having a skilled crew to dress the sets and light them - those costs remain the same.

Beyond issues of resolution and more importantly, dynamic range (tonal range from light to dark) HD has other limitations including its lack of depth of field fall-off due to the smaller size of the imaging chip and the cumbersome nature of the equipment.

But enough with the technical details. I agree that advances in digital video have opened the door to a wider range of filmmakers, but I think that what is often forgotten in these discussions is that filmmaking, like any other art form is a craft with fundamental skills that must be mastered.

I regularly make short digital movies with a local film club - shot primarily on Mini DV and edited on Macs. Occasionally movies made by novices will capture attention with a breath of originality, but more often than not pieces made by novices are hard to watch, lacking the sense of composition, pacing and dramatic direction that is only learned with experience.

Of course the ability to make short pieces with friends certainly allows one to polish skills without too much financial commitment and this is one reason I participate.

There are an increasing number of outlets for the works produced by the new breed of digital filmmakers including the proliferation of digital "film" festivals and the occasional DVD magazine featuring short work. But in many ways I think the situation is akin to the independent music scene, made possible in part due to the arrival of affordable home recording equipment - Small college radio stations play the music, but mainstream radio (to say nothing of the video networks) pretty much ignores the work.

So yes, there maybe a large pool of talent out there, but in large part I think we will continue to see movies made for the 14 year old male market, with plenty of car chases and gun fights and little cultural/intellectual content.

Does this mean I think the glass is half-full?

Many thanks to Andrew Takeuchi.



posted by Michael at February 7, 2003


Mr. Takeuchi's comments were informative, interesting, and pleasantly down-to-earth. Thanks for posting them.

Posted by: Clint Meyer on February 7, 2003 11:26 PM

It's nice to see people like Mr. Takeuchi addressing the topic of how digital technology may (or may not) impact the commercial cinema. But I think he tends to look at cinema "technique" in the same way as the books I used to eagerly devour in the late 1960s (in my days as a budding filmmaker); that is, as something that is fixed, understood, unchanging. I strongly believe that the general conventions of narrative cinema are only one of may alternatives that could be pursued; indeed, only one of various alternatives that have been pursued (think of a network news broadcast, for example as an alternative way to convey information.) One of the more surprising disappointments of my adult life is watching the experimental attitude of Sixties film towards film conventions evaporate; it's as though people haven't realized that the words you speak control the thoughts you can have, or at least express. An unquestioning (or worse, reverent) attitude toward film grammar goes a long way toward explaining the continuing predominance of films for the "14 year old male market, with plenty of car chases and gun fights and little cultural/intellectual content."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 9, 2003 2:03 PM

While my interests lie in still imaging, I find that many of Andrew's assertions ring true in that field as well. As one may expect, the controls afforded by the traditional analog camera and film are simply unmatched by digital imaging processes.

It is true that in a controlled, perfectly lit, and sterile commercial studio the results from analog and digital still imaging will be quite difficult to distinguish in the finished product. Newer digital products, especially in professional medium format, have been able to achieve a range of tonality and color rendition that easily rivals their analog counterparts. However, the cost of much of this equipment is astronomical in comparison.

The real difference remains in the realm of the imperfect and unpolished, when the lighting is extremely challenging or the desired image is not intended to utilize features of a normal image. Analog film, and the cameras that capture images on that film, simply are not matched in every way by their digital counterparts in this regard.

It isn't much of a stretch to actually delete the references to filmmaking in Andrew's article and simply replace them with a generic term for art. I find that the same issues Andrew discusses above are conceivably true across all forms of artistic expression, in generalized terms. Andrew's article focuses on the recent rise of digital processing in filmmaking, but in many other forms of art the digitized media has been taking over for many years. For instance, the literary world has been nearly absolved of its dependence on pen and paper with the rise of digital word processing, and yet again it demonstrates the case that "easier" rarely equals "better".

I strongly agree with Andrew's assertion that art forms are crafts with fundamental skills that must first be mastered. The ease with which a digital work can be produced can often bypass the need for any fundamental skills, and it shows in the finished product. While many artists may successfully produce works of astonishing creativity and originality without having any of the fundamental skills of their medium, in terms of producing a lifelong body of work, and a lifetime of artistic expression, there is undoubtedly a need for strong knowledge of the fundamental skills of that medium in order to fully explore the medium's potential for expression.

In short, while these digital processes have certainly made it far easier to produce works for general consumption, such as popular film or daily newspapers, and these processes also allow for a wider participation rate, for pure artistic expression there is more at stake than merely the finished work. It is the process of creation which is usually the most satisfying to the artist, regardless of medium.

Posted by: Kenneth Loen on March 29, 2003 11:56 AM

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