Sunday, October 4, 2009

FIlm vs HD -- impact on acting

There is much debate on film versus HD in shooting a feature these days. But one thing I've never come across is how the difference can effect the actors. I have directed three 35mm and two HD features.

Film can be very expensive. Cost is measured by the foot of film. First it cost anywhere from $.16 to $.50 a foot to purchase (new stock on the higher side, short ends and re-cans on the lower). Then you have to process the film. Then you have to transfer it to video. On one feature, I calculated the real cost as $1 per foot, all in.

We had a long steadicam shot, a "one-er" as we call it, and it went on for seven takes. Each take chewed up 300 to 400 feet of film. So just in film alone, the cost for that little bit of shooting, in the middle of a long day, was around $2,500.

With those kind of stakes, film directors will rehearse and rehearse, only rolling camera when it's for sure down. Also, there will be a much quicker pace on calling the roll, the slate and the action. Each frame of film costs a lot of money. Don't want to waste it with stammering on the mark of the slate.

Then there's HD. Some goes to tape, but more and more, it's being recorded to hard drives. If you over-shoot, oh bummer, go buy another $200 hard drive for the week's worth of shooting. I know, you're thinking what about backups? Okay, another $200 for a week.

As you can see, the director on a HD shoot can well afford to shoot rehearsals. Let the camera roll. This presents unique challenges for the actors (and later the editor who is swimming in a sea of footage).

If you're shooting the rehearsal, things change. You decide to walk a little further, sit down a little earlier, pick up the bottle a little later. These are some little things you work out in the rehearsal. Later, in post, the editor will be pulling his hair out because on the Master shot (done first), you sat down before a specific line, but then on the close-ups, you didn't sit until much later.

And this is not on you. The director has got to realize that if he's going to shoot the rehearsal, but later changes blocking, it can hose the earlier shots. He needs to make sure he gets a real master in the can.

For me, I like to shoot the rehearsal. By this point, we've already had a "blocking rehearsal" (before lights were set, etc). So when an actor sits or stands has been established. And I find that the first take very often has some magic, that a director might spend another six or seven takes trying to just recapture what he saw in the rehearsal.

So when you arrive on set, if it's a film shoot, prepare for lots of rehearsing without the cameras rolling. Know that there will be a quick call and people will seem even more pressured for every frame advancing through the camera.

For a HD shoot, it's slightly more relaxed, but you need to settle on your choices as an actor early, often without extensive rehearsal. With both, have fun!

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