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November 5, 2011

Why I'm Ordering a RED SCARLET-X, and How it Relates to My Feature 'Man-child'

In a post about the new RED SCARLET-X, I mentioned that I ordered the camera myself. First of all, some context: I've been a "professional" in video (since apparently we need to distinguish between professional and amateur) since I was hired as a video editor in 1999, at the age of 18. Since then, save my four year stint in college, I've made my living in and around the industry, shooting, editing, directing, producing, designing, etc. for hire (here's a resume). Yet I've never owned a "professional" camera. So I got all excited on Twitter about the prospect of finally being able to own and operate a camera of the SCARLET-X's caliber, after twelve years of working my way up to this point. But I've been surprised at the number of people who have left comments questioning this decision, accusing me of misspending the Man-child Kickstarter funds, or writing critiques with me at the center. So here are a dozen points of clarification:

  1. I have not touched a penny of the Kickstarter funds and would never betray the trust of the 2,336 individuals who are making my dream possible. Anyone who knows me, and I hope any of my readers, would back this up times a thousand. I'm in this for the long haul, and misappropriating the funds would not only go against my own sensibilities and honor, it would also be the stupidest thing I could do for my career and this website. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not thinking straight.
  2. The decision to buy this camera has to make sense for my larger film career regardless of whether we use it on Man-child, because I'm probably not DPing Man-child myself (I'll have my hands full writing and directing, especially when working with child actors). That's why I'm not spending a penny of the Kickstarter funds on the camera. This purchase should benefit the film, however, because if I own a SCARLET, I can rent it to the production for free (or a deferred fee), which will allow us to put more of the Kickstarter funds on screen. Not sure how there's anything wrong with that.
  3. Ordering a $15,000 camera does not mean you have $15,000 to blow, just as buying a $300,000 house does not mean you have $300k in the bank at the time. If you have good credit, you can get a credit card with 0% APR for 12 months and pay off the camera over a full year with no penalty. If you spend $25k on a RED including lenses, that's an extra $2,000 a month you're on the hook for. Can I afford this over the next year? By not having a family, by not owning a house, by not owning a car (or paying car insurance), by refraining from moving into a new apartment, by saving money living out of a suitcase for a year, by not going on extravagant trips or buying really nice clothes, and by not having health insurance for the last two years: yes, I hope so (see the notes below about partnerships and renting it out as well). But only because of these sacrifices. Which is what irks me when people say "cameras don't make a movie!" I know, man, I've arranged my entire life around this. And I've spent a lot more time over the last year writing the Man-child script than I've spent writing about cameras (or anything else, for that matter). The script wouldn't have gotten into, for example, IFP's Emerging Narrative program if I hadn't worked my ass off on it (and I continue to do so, and will up until we roll camera).
  4. "I'm ordering a SCARLET-X" does not mean "I'm spending $15,000 today." You put a deposit down in order to get in line, and given RED's site was slammed with orders and I couldn't get through for a few hours, I'll be lucky to get a camera before 2012. You're charged 10% up front and the remainder when the camera actually ships. Which, as many RED owners have found, could be a while (even if it says they start shipping on November 17th).
  5. On top of this, "I'm ordering a SCARLET-X" also does not mean "I'm ordering a SCARLET-X and am going to pay for everything alone." I may or may not be going in for a SCARLET with one or more NYC-based filmmaking partners, wherein we split the financial commitment. Most filmmakers are not shooting twelve months out of the year, after all.
  6. On top of this, buying a "professional" camera means you could/should rent it out. For many this is the main way of recouping their investment, though I do think the market is going to be flooded with SCARLETs over the next year and, similar to what happened with the RED ONE rental market, prices are going to be driven down a lot. But due in part to this website, I should certainly be able to make my rental package more visible than others.
  7. If I'm not planning on DPing Man-child myself, shouldn't it be up to the DP to choose the camera? Absolutely, but as I said in my multimedia lookbook, I expect we'll shoot it on a RED because of the slow-motion sequences in the script. If we can find a discount on an EPIC package, then it would make sense to shoot A cam with a rented EPIC and B cam with my SCARLET-X. They're actually the exact same camera, the only difference is the ASIC included in the SCARLET can't handle the higher frame rates of the EPIC.
  8. For the people questioning why I would order a camera without getting my hands on it first: let me repeat, it's the exact same camera as the EPIC, but the circuit boards are spec'd lower. Same body, same sensor, same dynamic range, same accessories, same everything. I've handled an EPIC and I've seen it projected at 4K, so it's not as if this is a brand-new camera that I'm unfamiliar with.
  9. Now that Sony, Canon, and Panasonic have played their cards, the indie feature film camera market is pretty set as far as the next year is concerned. I'm in love with the colors of the ARRI ALEXA but it's a $75k camera and renting one is around $1,400 a day. Using one rental house as reference, with support gear and lenses that's $2,460 a day. A three day week is $7,380, and so a month of shooting would work out to roughly $30,000. Is that $30k that I'd rather spend on owning a camera that can be used for future productions? Yes. Are there also advantages to the RED, like its small size, resolution, and (in the case of an EPIC) frame rates? Also yes.
  10. That said, if the DP wants an ALEXA, and he or she can convince me we'll be able to get some of the shots I have in mind despite its larger size, we'll try to find a way. Whatever it takes.
  11. If I'm not DPing Man-child, why do I need to own a camera? Well, I have DP'd things in the past, and I probably will again in the future. Getting familiar with a camera's ins and outs is useful regardless of whether you're operating, DPing, or directing.
  12. Buying a SCARLET-X is committing to the RED ecosystem: learning the RAW workflow, REDCINE-X Pro, etc., and it's an ecosystem I believe will continue to improve. RED also does what other camera companies do not, which is to release new sensors for existing hardware (the first example is the M-X chip for the RED ONE, and the SCARLET will be eligible for the forthcoming Dragon sensor in a year or so, which should improve its low-light capabilities among other things). There's a certain element of future-proofing built-in with the RED, and while I think the new Canon EOS C300 is a nice camera, I also think there's an element of planned obsolescence at work there. I'm a big fan of the Sony F3, but the 720p/60p limitations hurt Man-child in particular, and it's actually significantly more expensive than the SCARLET-X once you include the the $3,500 S-LOG firmware and an uncompressed external recorder.

So that's why I ordered a SCARLET-X, and how it relates to Man-child. I could go on, but this should be enough to clarify some of my logic behind the purchase. And hopefully some of these thoughts are helpful for anyone else considering the new cameras.

While I hope to share what I learn along the way with the RED, don't worry, No Film School will not be turning its back on DSLRs and lower-end projects/shooters/budgets. More on this soon!

One RED thing I would like to share at present: the idea that you need a $5,000 RED ROCKET in order to edit 4K files is apparently not true. Via commenter RebelPhoton, check out this $3,500 homebuilt PC editing 4K .R3D files in Premiere Pro in real time without any special hardware other than an nVidia graphics card for CUDA acceleration:

From the vimeo page, here are the specs, courtesy editor Tom Lowe:

As computers get faster, and as interfaces like Thunderbolt find mainstream acceptance, this will become more and more viable. Hey, now we're back to discussing something productive that is useful to other people! Great, that's why this site is here.

[original basketball photo by The Tattered Coat]

Your Comment

164 Comments

With Premiere Pro CS5.5 you can always adjust the playback resolution to say 1/8, making it a lot easier. I do it with an iMac (the fastest however).

November 5, 2011

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Simon Falkentorp

I can see no reason to buy this kind of a camera when DSLRs at 1/15th of the price produce beautiful results. Nothing you've written appears to come close to justifying the decision. Now, I don't even pretend to tell you what to do, but it seems like a fairly indefensible thing to do when making a film like yours.

November 5, 2011

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David

Wow, "indefensible," seriously? Try shooting a fast action feature film with a DSLR's slow CMOS readout and tell me how it looks.

November 5, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

You can use the money to buy it if you want. Even though you won't do that and I totally understand. I think you did a great job with this website. If you have a need for money for another project on kick starter I will back you up again. I want people to give you a break.

November 5, 2011

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Menelikk

@Menelikk: +1

November 5, 2011

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Hampus

That doesn't appear to be the project for which it will be used, does it? One can make up hypothetical films to justify just about any expense.

November 5, 2011

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David

He's making a feature film about a basketball player. I'd say that does qualify as fast action.

November 5, 2011

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Actually, he could very well use a DSLR for the regular scenes, and rent a RED or something more capable for the fast action scenes. Unless of course this movie is going to be fast moving all the time (like, Run Lola Run perhaps?). Weren't DSLRs used on the fast action motorcycle chase sequence in Captain America?

November 6, 2011

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studio17b

Good god, are you people serious? Firstly, "indefensible" - to whom, exactly, does he need to defend spending his own money? Secondly, if you don't think the Scarlet will be a significant improvement over a DSLR for this kind of project then you're an idiot. Yes, DSLRs are fantastic, I adore mine, but get with reality.

November 6, 2011

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Luke

Putting aside whether or not a DSLR would give an acceptable result for a film like this (and I don't believe it would), how is it any of your business what kind of cameras Koo and his DP use to shoot "Man-Child"? Koo is in no way compromising the production by wanting to either buy a Scarlet or rent an Epic. There is still plenty of cash left for all the other areas of production. He was upfront about wanting to shoot on the RED too. If you didn't agree with his choice then you shouldn't have backed the project. If you didn't back the project then maybe you shouldn't be commenting on this at all.

November 5, 2011

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Shooting on DSLR versus Scarlet is indefensible? I'm taking a wild guess you're not a shooter or editor.

The differences are insanely well documented across there inter webs but here goes:

Try: picture quality, build quality, edit workflow to start. Add to that time burned on set and in edit. And your math is really off-- a Scarlet setup versus a commensurate Canon 5Dm@ setup with Zacuto accouterments (necessary to keep things in focus and moving on set)... I'd say 15K versus 8-9K thereabouts.

Basically-- if you're making a movie, you're making deliverables. That's what you sell to distributors (or what you make consumer units from). The better the deliverables, the better the price you can get, the more chance you have of making back your investors' money. There's always cheaper ways to go on any set, but you have to choose what you *should* be paying for-- a good DP, good sound, decent technical fundamentals.

November 5, 2011

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Can I chime in here as an AC?

DSLRs provide many obstacles for us on set. Batteries go quickly, external monitoring is cumbersome, and focus pulling is frustratingly tough, amplified by a large sensor and very few lens markings. These difficulties tend to roll uphill into the production. The DP has to wait longer or do more rehearsals and thus the director gets fewer takes.

Over a one or two day shoot, you can make do with this. Many commercials I've worked on are DSLR. But over the course of a feature, those little things add up.

It's true the results of the two cameras can be similar and, with the right application of whichever tool, will provide images that are beautiful. But there are practical considerations to have when you are living with the camera for 12 hours a day over a month-long shoot.

If your budget is limited, it's hard to justify the cost in exchange for practicality, but if your budget is more open -- as Koo's is -- then the cost isn't as large of a factor.

November 5, 2011

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I was going to write a list of all these things, but previous posters hit the nail on the head. In terms of being on a fully functioning set, a Pro Camera just makes everything less complicated.

November 5, 2011

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Obviously like some ppl here you don't know what you are talking about. Each filmmaker has a goal. I don't see what is wrong in getting a Red scarlet x of 15k when you can afford it.
Let me tell you some , DSLR camera shoot good images. But it has never been used as main camera for serious projects.
I support Koo in his choice..

November 5, 2011

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Menelikk

Fantastic post.

And I certainly hope that in line #2, about how you're "probably" not DPing yourself, turns to "definitely" not DPing yourself. Speaking from personal experience, it's always better to get a great DP, esp on a first feature-- and there are plenty of awesome ones in NYC (email me if you need a couple names). And get a great editor too.

November 5, 2011

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I'm not planning on it by any means, and I don't want to. Figured I'd leave the window open an inch since nothing is firm at this point...

November 5, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

you don'tu need to explain your self for this people man!... anyway thanks A LOT for your comments respons you always been helpful.. you're a good man.

November 5, 2011

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You were excited about the RED release... and you got flamed. Philip Bloom was less excited about the release... and he got flamed. Moral of the story is you get flamed no matter what side you take sometimes. Funny how the release of these cameras brought out all the haters.

November 5, 2011

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Clayton

Dude don't worry about defending yourself... in my humble opinion, you're at a point where you can (within some limit of reason, and this camera purchase does not come near that limit) do what you damn please as long as you think it's a good choice.

Now go and make that film already!

November 5, 2011

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A lot of good points here. The fact remains that while these people are flaming at you for your decisions, no one cares what the f*** they do. Maybe they should spend less time spewing their ignorant, ill-thought-out opinions on the internet and try to actually accomplish something.

November 5, 2011

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Brian

Hey thanks for the mention, I didn't expect that :) The reason I linked to the clip without adding words was that I felt the need to add hard FACTS among so many legends, rumours, and irrational BS. I've noticed a strong tendency towards irrationality growing in the last few years in the camera world, and it saddens me, although I can understand the many reasons why it happens. Cognitive dissonance ("I bought this camera and I must be right, everyone else is wrong"), financial interest ("I rent this camera and my clients have to think it has no flaws"), group dynamics (the dark side of forums, blogs and social media, throwing around fallacies like arguments of majority, or arguments of authority), inexperience or lack of knowledge (relying on rumor and legend, how many times have you heard that the RED ONE overheats and needs ice packs? that the workflow is hard? it's 2011, wake up guys) and many other reasons. It's become a hard job for anyone in charge of choosing a camera system to cut through the FUD and get to the facts. Don't listen to those spewing irrational BS, not even if they have overrated and noisy blogs.

Another fact: if you're not DP'ing, as the director you want to monitor the picture that's being shot. I've been on some DSLR feature sets and I can tell you that the #1 source of technical problems and delays has been the HDMI output and cables. Throw a teradek cube on top of your Red(s) and get an ipad and you have some pretty incredible wireless video assist solution.

Good choice and good luck.

November 6, 2011

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RebelPhoton

errrr, sorry, meant to reply to the original post ;)

November 6, 2011

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RebelPhoton

maybe this critique on the decision to buy the RED is a good example of a caveat in the kickstarter process, by giving away money to fund a kickstarter project the donators think they can 'bitch' and 'moan' when they don't agree with a production decision, well i say tough shit to you all, you gave money because u believed in the kickstarter campaign from the get go, koo is not buying a porsche cayenne he is buying a top notch camera for his film, it is a FILM after all. and seriously i dont think it warranted an entire post in 'defending' yourself. i wouldn't have defended such decision.

November 5, 2011

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Harry

Haters gunna hate. I've been following your site for about a year and never commented until now. I think you've done something amazing so far in your pre-prod for Man-Child and I think your decision to purchase a Scarlet for yourself is completely logical. I'm a college student currently directing my thesis film and I've taken a lot of insight and inspiration from your site. I bought a T2i last winter, with the intentions to shoot my film on it, and the freedom of not having to rely on rentals and used gear is amazing. I can relate to being on a small budget and having to make big decisions. Good work so far and please stop feeling like you have to justify everything to people who just want to complain for the sake of it! Thanks for what you do and good luck!

November 5, 2011

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Cameron

While I agree that Koo has no responsibility to explain what he does with his own money, I think it shows incredible character that he did. As for DSLR Vs Red and the Cost/Quality Argument on top of the editing workflow... I think there is a disconnect with some film people (fans, makers, producers, etc) from what the shot is, what it could be and why it is what it is. Can a 5DII capture slow motion, sure. But are you able to get the shot with the right speed, lighting, resolution, focus, etc. I think the choice of the Red will give you a much greater versatility in shots. It will be up to the filmmaker to get the most out of their choice of equipment. Using a RED to get shots that are easily captured on a DSLR is what would be "indefensible". Buying a good Pro camera for your personal and long term business needs no defense as it is your money. =D

Personal opinion outside of logic and wider pressures. Use the money from Man-Child to buy a Red if you want, i really dont care. =D Just make the movie and make it well. =D

November 5, 2011

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I really don't think you need to justify yourself like this!!!!! If you want to buy a Scarlet X then that's your business and you shouldn't feel you need to justify yourself to anyone.

November 5, 2011

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Daniel Remer

Andrew from EOSHD is a douche...

I look at it this way. You had your kickstarter campaign, people liked what they saw and they invested in your project. Done deal.

If you want to blow 95% of it on crack, that's fine if you still deliver on what you promised.

November 5, 2011

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Ben

HOW DARE YOU WANT YOUR MOVIE TO LOOK GREAT. I supported you as one of the couple thousand who donated to the kickstarter campaign, and i'm 100% behind you. True feature films should be shot on true cinema cameras. Shoot it on your own terms, and don't listen to all the crap people are going to throw at you.

November 5, 2011

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Jake Kilgore

when you raise more money than anyone ever for a film on Kickstarter people are gonna hate

November 5, 2011

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Brian

Even charities tell their donors what they are using the money for when people have concerns about where the funds are going.

Koo understands this. Those who don't, may not get additional donations down the line for future projects.

November 5, 2011

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moebius22

My thoughts exactly Moebius. Its not that he has too, its that he understands that people with a vested interest in you appreciate being in the know.

November 5, 2011

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The funds (115k) were contributed to Koo and his project Man Child in order to produce a better looking independent film than, say a $1500 film will look. With the Canon C300 & the Scarlet X being reasonably priced for mid level productions, I would be highly upset if Koo didn't get one of these cameras to shoot. I would really wonder where did the funds go. (side note: 100k is still considered low budget, especially if you are paying professionals for every stage, including prints and distribution) Besides, he was probably going to rent the more expensive cameras anyway, so at least he can save and still shoot non fast moving shots with a 5D..That advice was free Koo...lol

November 5, 2011

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I really don't understand why some people have to be haters, Koo is Awesome and he is going to be on the top of the game, I can't wait for the haters to see this.
Don't give a f*** about this haters man, just do your thing!!

November 5, 2011

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Kirubel

Wow this David guy is out there, but obviously he knows something the rest of us don't. I am a pretty lowly shooter and even I could probably scrape together enough money to buy this camera. As one poster said he's not buying a Ferrari and driving it to a Starbucks. He's buying a camera the help build his life and passion.

Cheers

November 5, 2011

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Wow I can't believe your getting grief for this purchase. Part of the reason we are in this field I'd because we are all tech junkies! This camera is a great purchase and investment! A company that believes in future proofing their products and offering upgrades for equipment you have already purchased awesome!! It's not the camera but the story but if you have a kick ass story and kick ass camera...that's one kick ass movie!!

November 5, 2011

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Dathan Graham

Good post man. I appreciate the accountability. Keep it up Koo! Point one should be satisfaction enough for all the whiners out there worried about where the kickstarter funds are going. It's obvious you've got respect for the community you've built here. Beyond that, it's your money man. And I don't see why a personal investment, in a potentially career-broadening piece of tech, is point of contention for anybody. Haters gon' hate i guess....

November 5, 2011

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Matt

Hey Koo,

Could you potentially give us an article that breaks down how we could rent out our cameras without having the expensive equipment stolen from us? I don't think most of us can afford credit card machines to run plastic, so what are the alternatives?

Thanks!
Brendan

November 5, 2011

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How about this. Koo ordered a RED Scarlet-X because he wanted one. Why should he have to justify any of these choices to anyone. I donated because I believe in Koo and the story he has to tell. Reading Koo's background I know he's not going to screw up the chance to make his movie so cut the guy some slack.

November 5, 2011

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Odd that anyone would make an issue out of this. Don't sweat it - buying a camera is incredibly useful for working independently, and will save you money in the long (and short) run. I don't even think it would be an issue to do this with the kickstarter funds, but whatever. Looking forward to seeing it in action.

November 5, 2011

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I would typically be for not justifying, but I can understand in your case, having just campaigned for backing for your film.
Hey, one good side job and you can cover the cost (or at least the depreciation).

November 5, 2011

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Granville

Concerning EOSHD (now that name dropping is allowed) ... the dude never mentioned "Man-child" or your Kickstarter campaign on his website before. But when the opportunity to hate came before him, he didn't hesitate to mention your name without doing any fact checking whatsoever. Pathetic.

It is you film and you have the right to choose any equipment you need for it ( especially when the money come from your own pocket ). So don't be distracted by those TMZ type of "article" and get busy !!!

November 5, 2011

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Melas Kizawa

Crazy that you're having to do this.

November 5, 2011

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Andy Smith

TLDR! lol, jk

Just go for it Koo, it's a passion that you dont have to justify! Looking forward to seeing the first shots.

November 5, 2011

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Why are you justifying spending your hard earned cash?
Congrats, good luck with Manchild

November 5, 2011

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Nicely written article, Koo. Some other bloggers can get so angry and pretentious. It's nice to read one that restrains from getting so fired up.

November 5, 2011

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Iain

Agreed. I think you'll be happy with your choice.

November 5, 2011

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Perhaps we should have a go at Peter Jackson for shooting with so many Epic cameras. then we can shoot Jim Cameron in the head for not shooting avatar on a 5d, Bastard!.

We invested in Man-child to see a good movie. If shooting it on a Scarlet-X is what it takes, so be it.

November 5, 2011

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SebT

Respect to you Koo! It's so strange that in this "community" that you can come under fire for "betraying the brotherhood" simply by using certain gear (ie. not a DSLR). If "Someone" would rather shoot static shots of buildings with a GH2 then good on them, you shouldn't have to justify your choices to anyone. You buy the tools you need to get your dreams made, I know I will! Good luck man, can't wait to see the finished product!

November 5, 2011

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Nick

I read your blog to keep up with news on lower end camera systems. Like DSLRs and Red. Quite useful.
I direct commercials and music videos and have been doing so for more then 15 years.I never owned a professional film camera since graduating from filmschool, but I directed stuff that has been shot on almost every high end (film)camera available the last two decades. Just to show it's not necessary to own your own camera.

I do understand the critics. Although I believe you should buy whatever you want to and make whatever you want, I also do believe that when you are asking for funds for a film project you have a certain responsibility to the community that decided to back your project. And not have any doubts going around that those funds are not being used in a proper way. Any confusion would not only harm you, but also the general audience' trust in crowd funded films.

I would expect some people to say that if you can max out your credit card as you have explained, why didn't you do that for your project instead of spending it on a camera. If you really want to make your movie, the comment can be made, that you would have put every penny towards your film. Like all the other sacrifices you've made already.

If you like the Alexa (or any other camera for that matter) and believe that is the best camera to shoot your film on, rent an Alexa. Doesn't your project deserve the best that your budget can afford? 30K for the Alexa or 25K for the Scarlet. Don't compromise on your film because you want to own that camera so bad. You owe it to your backers and yo yourself for all the hard work you already put in the project. And in the process don't hurt the general opinion on crowd funding.

I wish you all the best of luck in getting your film made. But never compromise. Only the best and most original make it.

November 5, 2011

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Delano

Give me a break! When you donated, you donated to support his vision of the film. I don't recall seeing a part of his pitch that said "If i take your money, I promise to dedicate my life to this film and not spend any of my own money on anything else ever again." Moreover, your donation does not entitle you to scrutinize the director's personal financial decisions. His money is his money. The donated funds should all go to fund the film, but beyond that, I don't think donors have any right to complain about/influence how those dollars are spent.

As a donor myself, I have to say I couldn't possibly care less that Koo bought a Scarlet with his own money. Even if he'd spent 20k of his own money on a worn-out shoe, I wouldn't care. That's his money and it's none of my business.

MY money went to help finance his film, so I do expect to see a top-quality final product. But beyond that, it's not my right to say how Koo spends the money, beyond that what was donated goes toward the film in one way or another.

November 6, 2011

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