Since the early 1980s, Ken Burns’ name has practically become synonymous with the historical documentary genre. He is best known for the epic multipart miniseries he’s shepherded in his various capacities as executive producer, producer and/or director: The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994, adding two more episodes in 2010), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009) and last year’s Prohibition. His latest, which recently aired on PBS (his home for decades), was a two-parter called The Dust Bowl.
Yes friends, that’s me. I’m asleep and getting paid for it. I’m outside on our deck doing a Rolf.
That’s me, doing a Rolf
My client knows Final Cut Pro and I’ve left him to it. He works, I sleep. Clients love it when they are allowed to operate the camera or do some simple in-out editing.
From time to time he phones. “Hi Rolf, sorry to wake you but I need ...”
In one l-o-n-g drop on Oct. 14, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner proved that a man in a spacesuit could fall safely back to Earth from more than 24 miles up. He also proved that it’s possible to get outstanding video of the event and broadcast it live to millions on the internet.
Back in my day (yes, you can visualize me sitting in a rocking chair with a smoldering pipe in one hand and an afghan on my lap, peering out at you over the tops of half-moon spectacles, if you so wish) the light meter was a cinematographer’s best friend: a primary tool and an invaluable asset. Although there were exceptions—the late Douglas Slocombe, ASC, BSC, could famously call out the exposure based only on looking at the scene—they were extremely rare. Even the most experienced and revered cinematographers used a light meter to evaluate the exposure levels of their scenes.
I was introduced to the world of lighting in high school with legitimate (live) theater. There we had four primary types of lighting fixtures: the Fresnel, used on stage and over stage for general wash, backlight and some selected area lighting; the cyc light, used primarily for color wash on the rear cyclorama; large scoop lights, used primarily for work lights; and ellipsoidal reflector spotlight (ERS) fixtures, used for more focused and shaped light, generally from the front-of-house position.
A number of readers have asked that I repeat a tip from several years ago about how to perform a back focus, so here goes. If you have interchangeable zoom lenses for your video camera and they don’t hold focus when you zoom in or out, the back focus is probably out of adjustment. The easiest way to fix the problem is with a back focus chart. If you don’t have a chart, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, put “Back Focus” on the subject line and I will send you a free PDF file.
Once you’ve downloaded the file, print some hard copies, which I suggest carrying in your camera and lens cases.
To use it:
1. Place the chart about 12 feet from the camera.
Large-format single-sensor (LFSS) cameras are touted for their high resolution, ability to mount cine lenses and film-like depth of field. But these LFSS cameras also present some design challenges for manufacturers and face some natural disadvantages to the long-serving three-sensor camera design—a design that stretches back to the tube camera era and birth of color television.
The Mosaic Effect
I was sitting at the dog park with some friends and we were discussing the high-frame-rate 3D used for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This was one of the first times I could remember—maybe even since the release of Titanic—that something that was incredibly interesting to me was even mildly interesting to people not in my universe … otherwise known as the real world. (My dog park friends have a median age of 70. I’m not kidding—Cloris Leachman is the unofficial mayor of this park.) This time around, literally everyone and his Bubbe has an opinion.
HFR 3D is now in the real world, not just the province of people who follow sensor size, 4K content or RED’s development cycle .
Few films have the potential to be as politically charged as Zero Dark Thirty. Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, K-19: The Widowmaker) and producer/writer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, In the Valley of Elah) have evaded those minefields by focusing on the relentless CIA detective work that led to the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs. Zero Dark Thirty is more of a suspenseful thriller than an action-adventure movie. It seeks to tell a raw, powerful story that’s faithful to the facts without politicizing the events.
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 war drama The Hurt Locker swept the Oscars for its powerfully realistic portrayal of an Iraq war bomb squad unit. Bigelow’s follow up this year, the even more ambitious war-themed feature Zero Dark Thirty, is receiving the same kind of accolades. The film, which starts with the 9/11 attack and concludes with the Navy SEAL’s raid of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound, is told in a very straightforward way; Bigelow embraces a style designed to make viewers feel like they’re observing real life unfold without the traditional trappings that indicate that we’re watching a war movie.
Myriad lighting fixtures are available for digital video shooters in the modern marketplace and it can be a challenge to keep track of them all. Fortunately, the team at Enlightened Shenanigans has created an app for just that purpose. It’s called SetLighting.
On the same day Apple launched the iPad mini, the fourth generation iPad, a refresh of the iMac line and a 13” MacBook Pro with Retina display, Apple also quietly released the 10.0.6 version of Final Cut Pro X. By the end of the day, the App Store lit up and the various online forums were buzzing.
The Four Bullet Points
Sony Electronics recently introduced two new 4K cameras, the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5, that can shoot HD, 2K and 4K. TV Technology’s Craig Johnston spoke to Sony Electronics senior product manager Juan Martinez and director of marketing for large image sensor cameras Rob Willox about the new cameras.
Where do these two new CineAlta cameras fit into the Sony 4K camera lineup?
After weeks of teasing, Sony finally revealed its expanded F Series ecosystem of products at the end of October. Sony’s expanded CineAlta ecosystem centers around two new 4K cameras, the PMW-F5 and the PMW-F55. They share an identical modular form factor differentiated only by the silver PL locking ring on the F55. The shape of the cameras very much resembles an Aaton film camera or even an ARRI Alexa, except smaller, shorter and lighter.
Every once in a while a film comes along that requires a bit of reflection to get the full meaning. Often you need several screenings to understand all the clues and story details you might have missed the first time. Cloud Atlas is such a film. It’s based on the multi-threaded best-selling novel by David Mitchell and is the latest theatrical release from writers/directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy). The Wachowskis are joined by co-writer/co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) for a unique three-director production endeavor.
Editor Alexander Berner
Director Barry Levinson is best known for big-budget features including Diner, Rain Man and Bugsy, but his latest endeavor, The Bay, released this month through various streaming and VOD options, was made for $2 million and shot in 18 days primarily on low-cost consumer cameras, iPhones and webcams. The feature, which he described to the Los Angeles Times as an “eco-thriller/horror film,” is part of the “found footage” genre. (It shares producers with the Paranormal Activity franchise.) The story follows the progress of a bizarre outbreak that starts in the bay adjoining a small Maryland town using the points of view of multiple characters, their home movies and web chats.
With a Christmas Day release date, this month’s must-see film is the documentary feature West of Memphis, which details the celebrated case of the West Memphis Three—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley—three young men falsely convicted and imprisoned for the murders of three young boys in rural Arkansas in 1993. Fueled by a combination of poverty, corruption, religious bigotry and political ambition, the story is an all-too-common tale of the American justice system gone awry.