Description image

Sundance-winning ‘Like Crazy’ DP Shares Lessons Learned Shooting on HDSLR

It’s easy to forget just how liberating shooting with HDSLRs can be — you can follow your characters down a crowded street, get B-roll while your crew is setting up lights, and generally have the flexibility that a small camera allows you.  Last year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Like Crazy , got a lot of press for the fact that it was shot on a Canon 7D and was acquired by Paramount for $4 million – but less discussed was why it was shot on a 7D and what the challenges and advantages of doing so were.  In an interview with HD Magazine, DP John Guleserian delves into these questions and more — revealing how shooting with a HDSLR has impacted his way of shooting in general:

First, in case you haven’t heard of the film, here’s the trailer:

Shooting with HDSLRs can be challenging: from dealing with moiré issues and rolling shutters, to limited exposure latitudes and mounting film lenses on a still camera.  Guleserian points out that although you can manage many of these issues by doing your homework ahead of time, at the end of the day they’re still going to impact your shooting — and that’s ok.  Because the camera opens up other opportunities that he and director Drake Doremus took advantage of — like improvised shooting:

Like when we were in London, shooting.  Right when we got off the plane, we were just going to get dinner.  Drake decide[s] …  to put the actors in the wardrobe and we’ll just follow them as we go to dinner, and they’ll walk through these crowds of people and maybe we’ll get something that we can use in the movie.  And that was literally me with a 7D body and a 32mm lens and a Zacuto viewfinder finding my own focus, leaning on things to be stable, and hoping for the best.

In the end, not only did they have a film that captured spontaneous performances, but they were pleased at how well the images stood up on the big screen.  Guleserian reasons:

A lot of people can figure it out right away, [but] … most people have no idea what it was shot on or care. Storytelling isn’t about resolution or compression.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the next biggest, greatest camera, but there is plenty we can do with the cameras available to us today.  In the end, these are tools with their own pros and cons, and part of the craft of filmmaking is figuring out how we can make these tools’ features work for our stories.  One of the HDSRL’s greatest assets is the shooting flexibility they offer, and it’s an asset we sometimes forget in trying to make them more like their bigger more film-purposed camera brethren.

For the full article go here, the full interview (not quoted in its entirety in the article) is included as an audio file, so make sure to check that out as he goes into more detail about how they managed the DSLR’s limitations by way of their shooting style.

[via HD Magazine]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 37 COMMENTS

  • There are great examples of TV shows like The Borgias and Luck on HBO that shoot mainly on something like an Alexa, yet use a Canon 5D or 7D for shots where the camera may be damaged or needs to go where the big camera can’t fit. It does take some extra work to make it fit in with the other shots, but most people will not notice the change to the Canon in an hour long show.

  • Yeah it shot was on DSLRs, the film was OK photographed, everything else, plot, story, acting were utter garbage, no clue how they won any awards or any publicity. I hated the characters and the whole visa thing was retarded, she couldn’t leave and come back as a tourist? no she couldnt because then the filmmakers wouldnt have any ‘premise’ for the ‘conflict’.

    • enooesiweht on 04.1.12 @ 5:24AM

      If you lived and loved abroad you’d know it’s actually a pretty big deal.

    • Since it was actually based on a real visa incident with the director’s now-ex-wife, I’m pretty sure it’s not a third world thing: Saying you didn’t like the characters, story, or whatever is one thing. Saying that it could never happen, however, is just not true. Especially after 9/11.

    • What?, harry, you know Adam sandler’s twin sister is him. He doesn’t have a twin. It won best movie of the year. So much for your opinion of a movie needing to be credible.,what? It didn’t win best movie??hey Harry ‘ guess what? You can make a professional looking movie and have it released for next to nothing. Really. Welcome to the world of no more excuses for really talented people.

  • 5 seconds behind guy on 03.29.12 @ 9:35PM

    Another fine example of style over substance. Sadly, it seems that HDSLR films and lack of content go hand in hand. How many times can we see pretty shots of people standing around, walking around, not doing much else. Snore.

  • John Jeffreys on 03.29.12 @ 9:43PM

    The latitude is “limited” relative to 35mm, or the newer digital cinema cameras (that were made as a reaction to DSLR’s), but it absolutely blows away the crap camcorders that we had to tolerate for years and years

  • Wheer is the link to the audio interview? Cant find it….

  • I shot this movie a few years ago on the Canon 7D.

    We shot on DSLRs for budgetary reasons. It was an improv comedy that was usually shot with 2-3 cameras exploring a scene in a documentary fashion, watching and moving with the talent as they grew and changed their performances from take to take. Some people thought it was shot on the RED (not saying that it looks great) but I’m proud of what we did on a small budget. I think this is one of those indie films that is much better than its cinematography. The end product was both funny and moving and the storytelling was solid.

  • Flexibility is really great about DSLRs. I was shooting a film in which birds play a little but distinct role and all off them, we knew, had to be done digitally. I made my homework on how to create them in CGI and they look convincing, especially because they just fly by in the blurred background or get reflected in a car window. But I knew that having NO real birds in this film at all would make my efforts to make the artificial ones look real seem a bit bashful. Also it was winter – not the season of birds. Yet, one day in January I sat in a friends room, eating noodles and this flock of sparrows suddenly occupies the tree right in front of his rooms window. Luckily, a DSLR is something that I can always take with me and mostly do so, and suddenly I had beautifully fitting footage for my film with the background even matching the location I had shot my film on. Of course you rarely have such luck, but when you do, it’s great to have a camera around that shoots footage that will even stand the test of the big screen.


  • Hey David blue Garcia.Do you use ProRes?

  • Whether or now people think this film is ‘garbage’ or ‘style over substance’ is completely irrelevant for this article (I, for one, found the film to be a refreshing slice of reality, very well acted, and I’m also aware that these visa issues happen with an alarming frequency, so it’s hardly “retarded”). The fact that a film was made on a 7D and garnered so much interest is a testament to the DP and the director’s vision. It was a risk, and it paid off. It was also a very inspirational move, which I’m sure has inspired many, and convinced many others that the DSLR can compete with the ‘big boys’. I’ve worked on films where a 7D or 5D2 has been used as a second camera to an Alexa or Red One, and when done right the results have been excellent.
    People already seem to forget that it wasn’t very long ago when the ‘filmic look’ was out of the grasp of the budget filmmaker. I’m only a few years out of film school, but would have sold my granny for a small, affordable camera capable of these results!
    Hats off to John Guleserian, I say!

  • David, loved the trailer of your film ‘An ordinary family’! Is there any way to see it? :-)

    • Sadly, the only way to see it right now is in film festivals. The producers are seeking distribution. With so many indies being made it’s hard to get a foot in the door. The Director had some success with his previous film “Chalk.”

  • I have had several situations where i have to work with the Red One camera and Canon 5D, but in all those situations, most people can’t even tell the difference. With a little color grading here and there, the pictures look pretty much alike. I think we (filmmakers) should concentrate on getting the best stories out, regardless of the tools.

  • Gandu an Indian underground film from Bangladeshi filmmaker Q was shot 7D few years ago, I think he literally was the crew. Did major film festivals last year.

  • In terms of stealth shooting in the airport — that’s nothing a “Side handled” Scarlet or Epic can’t do. Though they do it with real cinema quality.

    • John Jeffreys on 03.30.12 @ 1:59PM

      RED’s are just not cut out for natural, handheld, spontaneous shooting. The batteries dont last very long, it has a fan which could pick up on the audio (and it has moving parts = more stuff to break), and to top it off when you shoot in public with a big shiny grey and black brick that looks (and is) expensive, you’ll be a target of not only pigs/security who ask for permits, but also people that want to jack your stuff. A DSLR looks like any other still camera, and people dont pay much attention to it.

  • It’s all about coming up with a concept that is engaging. People keep thinking that you need a $10,000+ camera to get into the big leagues. Get a studios attention, and you won’t have to worry about such things.

  • I would like to watch this movie now, but that seems impossible as I live in Norway.
    I don’t own a Blu-ray player (and can’t find a reason to), so the only option is to buy the dvd.
    It says it comes with a Ultraviolet-license, but that appears to only work in the US and the UK.

    The time it took me to find out that I can’t watch this movie now is probably the same it would take me to download it in blueray-quality from a torrent.

    Please, can someone throw the old DVD-regions overboard.

      • Can you point me in the direction of affordable editing software options? Looking to buy a laptop and software. I see a lot of production accessories on your site but not much post.

    • Will Gilbey on 03.31.12 @ 11:53AM

      Reasons to own a Blu-ray player? Watch Blade Runner on Blu on a good system and you’d find it hard not to be a convert. As for regions – they need to go. Drives me crazy and definitely leads to torrenting from people who’d be happy to buy.

      • Yes, it would be great to see good movies in better resolution than DVD, but I have no need for a physical disc. Therefore I would rather download the movie in HD-quality than buy another shelf and a player for blu-ray.

        Would it be almost legal if I buy the DVD and then download it from a torrent site?

  • I think Zeiss Ultra Primes should have some mention somewhere, it might change a few perspectives

  • nate martin on 04.2.12 @ 1:21PM

    I watched “Like Crazy” because of this post and wanted to see for myself whether the content was that bland or not. The trailer was great and really sparked my interest also. My first impression as of the end credits was that it was a cool concept and I was a fan of the choppy style which I think really brought out the emotion of the film. I’m not an expert on acting so I thought it was pretty good but nothing really blew me away about it. I would say it was a good indie film that had appeal.

    Although I would agree with those above comments regarding the over abundance of films shot on DSLR’s with people just standing around in various places looking cool. I’m so thankful that we live in a time where amateurs like myself have the access to the tools and resources to create great media. But on the other hand it also opens the door for people to want to create good looking media with little concept of content and style. I try to be respectful to the online media world by keeping my average videos offline and working towards creating something that is worth other peoples time to watch.

    Some people think they are suddenly a filmmaker because they can turn the dial on their DSLR to video mode, slap on a 50 mm lens and have background blurred out like in real movies.

    So “Like Crazy” was a good movie that I would recommend watching because it has great style and an interesting concept behind it. It could have been a great movie if they would have had stronger conflict between all of the characters.

  • Hey guys!

    I just watched the movie. Can somebody explain me what would be their exporting workflow with the compressed h264 files? They got so sharp slow-mo (60p) in a scene that it looks so much different from my Canon 60D exported files…