March 21, 2014

Which Cameras Were Used By the 2014 SXSW Filmmakers? We Asked, They Answered

Sure, we're all a bunch of gear junkies, but in some ways we know, a camera is a camera is a camera. It's just as important for every production to have a good (or at least decent) concept, and therefore, a good reason to use one camera over the other! From scrapping a 3D production to saving up for six years to buy a RED EPIC, the excerpts below from a handful of different, but very talented, SXSW filmmakers are centered around one question: what did you shoot on and why?

One of the coolest things about covering SXSW 2014 for No Film School was getting to meet an array of talented, eccentric, and altogether fascinating filmmakers, and share with you what they had to say about independent filmmaking. Check out this diverse sampling of filmmakers who screened at SXSW, and hopefully they'll stoke your imagination into how to achieve your vision by looking at their strategies -- and cameras! (Click the titles for a link to the cameras.)

Panasonic AG-3D

Panasonic-AG-3DA1

The Immortalists

The directors of this futuristic doc on how they chucked their 3D camera a third of the way through production:

NFS: You guys started filming in 3D, then switched to DSLR?

David Alvarado: Absolutely.

NFS: Please explain!

David Alvarado: The Panasonic AG-3D had just come out, and it was a prosumer level 3D. In our minds at the time, we thought the medium would match the message. Like, these guys are talking about the future, sci-fi concepts, so the idea was to show them in 3D interviews and animate in 3D what they were talking about. But it turned out that the restrictions of 3D weren’t really working with documentary. We knew this at the time, but after a while the technical limitations became so severe, we thought, maybe the world they live in isn’t 3D.

Jason Sussberg: About a third of the way through we switched to DSLR. All of our principal interviews were shot in 3D. I always see them come up, and say, “That one’s 3D.”

David Alvarado: Me too. In the end, we just used the left eye of the 3D camera. We sold the camera, made our money back. It might work better for a sports documentary.

NFS: What did you switch to?

David Alvarado: First was a Canon 7D, 80% of the film was on that, then a 5D, and then our pickups were with a C100.

NFS: And how did it compare?

David Alvarado: The 7D was so much better!

Jason Sussberg: Our film is really focused on the personal lives of the scientists -- so we wanted to get intimate, and the 7D just allowed for a completely different production style that allowed for that intimacy.

Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens

Buzzard

The epitome of guerrilla filmmaker, director Joel Potrykus needed a camera that could be concealed in a backpack when filming at McDonalds and the Greyhound station with nobody the wiser:

All my short films were Super 8, but then I wanted to do a feature. I like the look of film and everything, and I don’t like what video looks like, but the first time I saw footage from like, a Canon 7D or something, I was fooled. I thought it was 16mm, and I was like, "Ok I’m in." Shooting on film, sync sound is a problem, with Super 8 sound it’s a nightmare. Once I saw DSLR, I was in. We shot Ape on a Canon 60D, we shot Buzzard on Canon 5D Mark III with a little Tascam audio recorder. Then I just sold it on eBay -- the next version is just gonna be cheaper and better!

Big in Japan

Another Canon 5D proponent, director John Jeffcoat on how he came to see the Mark III as a low-light capable, cost-effective option for shooting:

I had come off doing these little documentaries for MTV where I was shooting, directing and editing, just one man band kind of thing, and that was the first time I ever used a Canon 5D. I was just really excited about the low light capabilities, so I could just work with the available light. I thought it would be really fun to take that into a narrative world and use it for a feature -- How small can we go without it affecting production value to the point where I'm not happy with the way it looks? So that was the challenge we set up for ourselves.

ARRI ALEXA

Hellion

Director Kat Candler on how she managed to convey the intimate world of rebellious kids in an east Texas refinery town using the flexibility of the ARRI ALEXA:

We shot handheld, which was twofold in having that energy and intimacy with the characters. But also, we were on such a tight schedule and we were shooting with 5 kids, who you only get to work with so many hours day. Shooting on the ALEXA allowed us to not have to set up a million lights. So, it allowed us to move quickly, but also keep the energy of the film -- Brett Pollock, who shot Short Term 12, came on board, and he’s great on handheld. He has this sweet kind of dance with actors, allowing them space in the room to do their best work, and feel like the camera is not there.

Sony PMW-F3

Sony F3

The Frontier

Director Matt Rabinowitz on borrowing the camera that would give him the closest look to shooting on film:

Matt Rabinowitz: We shot on a Sony F3 that was really graciously donated by Ben Johnson of Upstream Media, who does a lot of video work and has worked with Neil Young since the 1960s. He was nice enough to let us borrow it for a month. Without that, I don’t know if we could have afforded a good camera!

NFS: So you had a good experience, you’d shoot on the Sony F3 again?

Matt Rabinowitz: Absolutely! It doesn’t look like film, but in terms of digital photography, it’s about as good as you can do for the price.

RED EPIC

redepic-lg1

DamNation

With a background in still photography, the directors of documentary DamNation saved money for years and years in order to shoot (and edit in) beautifully composed RED 4K:

Ben Knight: At the filmmaker lunch, we talked to other doc filmmakers, and they looked at me pretty weird when I said we shot on the RED EPIC. It’s not exactly a run-and-gun system -- but the film is not shot that way. Everything’s locked off. I honestly tried to shoot the film like a still photo. Slow things down, give a lot of thought to composition. My hope was that would be just as strong as a dolly shot or a crane move.

Travis Rummel: I think it was back to total classic, all primes, no zooms; we shot everything raw in 4K or 5K.

Long Distance (10,000km)

A narrative feature that used the EPIC, the director (Carlos) and DP (Dagmar) talk about collaborating on the style of Long Distance (10,000km) and intentionally avoiding too many lens changes on the RED:

Dagmar Weaver-Madsen: The thing I like about working with you is that sometimes you push me out of my comfort zone. Like I don't want to do that, and I do it. Later I'm like, "I'm so glad we did that. It was such the right thing to do!" And that's what's so cool, to collaborate with someone who respects you, but also wants to try to go further. You end up growing as an artist.

Carlos Marques-Marcet: She does that to me, too, because, for example, I hate using too many lenses. Dagmar would have to narrow it down to two lenses. This time, we used three lenses, and I was like, "Oh wow." [Furrowing brow.] I don't like to change lenses often, because it feels too arbitrary -- it takes away form the feeling that we want to create. To me, changing lenses too often drags your attention to the image instead of letting it flow.

NFS: What were the lenses you narrowed it down to, and what did you shoot on?

Dagmar Weaver-Madsen: The 35mm & the 50mm are probably always going to get used by us. The 35mm is your favorite and 50mm is my favorite. We shot on the EPIC with the 5K. We shot 5K for some scenes, but not for the others. So, it actually sort of looks like a different lens, but nope but it's still the same lens.

Sony PMW-EX1R

sony pmw ex1r

Born to Fly

Director Catherine Gund on filming at the London Olympics with her cinematographers, including legendary Albert Maysles, operating anything from a GoPro to the Sony PMW-EX1R:

Al Maysles said he wanted to go to London and film that, and see that, and be there. He came, and that shoot -- 15 minutes of the film -- was done in one day. The two of them [Albert Maysles and DP Kirsten Johnson] were like a Vulcan mind-meld. We had five cameras and a dancer who had a GoPro on his head -- so six cameras. It was a long day, but that’s why we finished this film so fast. We filmed in one day what you’d normally film in a course of 12 months! And it was fabulous to work with Al. I’ve been guided by him my whole career, and on this whole film I kept hearing his patience in my ears -- "Just don’t stop the camera.”

ARRI SR3 (Super 16)

arri sr3

I Believe in Unicorns

Director Leah Meyerhoff on choosing Super 16 to create a colorful, fantastical, analog world:

Nobody shoots [Super 16] anymore. Fuji donated a bunch of film to us. We shot on Fuji and Kodak -- but mostly Fuji -- right before they basically stopped making 16mm film. For principal photography we shot mostly on the ARRI SR3. We also had an Aaton as well -- we had the Bolex, we had the Canon Super8 -- so we had multiple cameras at all times. And we had an intervalometer that we used for the Super 16 camera which allowed us to do time-lapse photography as well as the stop-motion animation.

Canon C100

Que Caramba Es La Vida

Director Doris Dörrie on developing a Buddhist sensibility in regards to filming:

Doris Dörrie: I always use one small camera. I try to keep it very small. I shoot my feature films this way too.

NFS: The images look great, what’s the one small camera you used?

Doris Dörrie: We shot on the Canon C100. As far as deciding what to shoot, I consistently whisper into the cameraman's ear, and I drive him nuts. I’m on their shoulders, whispering "Go there," "go there," this and that. I come across very patient guys to do this for six weeks straight!

---

Thanks to all the filmmakers! I genuinely can't wait for all the full interviews to be rolled out, as everyone had tons more interesting notes and explanations to give about the process of making their films.

Who has used any of the cameras mentioned above for any similar reasons as these directors and cinematographers? How did it work out?

[Header image: Ben Knight on the set of DamNation]

Your Comment

25 Comments

DSLRs with a very strong showing. I'm curious to see how this list looks next year with all the new camera companies to the market. My prediction c100 by a landslide for docs and c500 or Alexa for features. It seems ease of use trumps all with the film makers listed here. We've reached a point where it all looks good or at least good enough. Moving forward the question won't be "What are you shooting with?" It will be, What are you going to shoot?

March 21, 2014 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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CC

I understand a new Canon cinema camera is coming at NAB. It will be very interesting to see what is obsoleted or adjusted in terms of price.

March 21, 2014 at 2:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Saied

I'm very interested in hearing what canon has to offer. I know there are a lot of other interesting cameras on the market right now i.e. blackmagic, red, bolex, Silicon Imaging etc. But I don't like the bata testing on the public attitude most of them have adopted. Releasing flawed cameras with the promises of firmware fixes at an unknown time. Canon for the most part has always come out of the gate strong, with a fully functioning product.

March 21, 2014 at 3:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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CC

In other words, the usual suspects. Moving right along ...

March 21, 2014 at 12:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

The most interesting stuff here is how and why each camera was used -- like why one director won't change lenses, or another will lock down everything on tripod to slow down composition. The cameras are just a means to organize their directing strategies. If you skim through the models, looking for something new, you're going to miss the best part!

March 21, 2014 at 2:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

Oakley, I am not saying yours is a superfluous article - quite the opposite, in fact, and precisely for the reasons you presented - it's just that the article is not about the cameras in and of themselves. OK, someone got a free-be for a month. Great. Now, how did the filmmaker use what he got free of charge? That was a more interesting part.
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BTW, the part that caught my attention was the 6-camera single day doc. I mentioned on a different piece that a "soap opera" style multi-cam production can save a lot of time for an independent. These folks were thinking along the same lines I was.

March 21, 2014 at 5:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Right on, DLD, so we agree afterall! If the six camera shoot on "Born to Fly" interests you, I bet you'll like the rest of the interview. And it's not mentioned in the excerpt above but the director and the DP talk about it later -- the first 20 minutes of "Long Distance" is actually one continuous shot! (There's something pretty cool about that creatively, but also one crazy way to save time on an independent production...)

March 21, 2014 at 6:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

The funny thing - meaning oddly coincidental - is that i was just reading up on the "Song Remains the Same" production. Three nights live. So, one estimates the total shooting time of about 6-7 hours. As far I could figure it out, the director Joe Massot had a jib based camera behind the stage, a jib mid-house left, a hand held in the first row (that shot straight at Robert Page's crotch) and a hand held stage left. The assembled footage was deemed inferior and the band got together a year later at a stage near London to re-shoot the closeups. Of course, I doubt there was any blocking involved there because improvisation was required from and by the musicians.
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BTW, by comparison, AC/DC Live at River Plate - also shot over three nights in 2009 - used 32 cameras and, speaking of continuous shots, David Mallet cut footage every second and a half. A quarter hour into the concert and I was dizzy.

March 22, 2014 at 4:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

For some reason, they couldn't keep cutting back to the crotch shot??

March 25, 2014 at 2:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

The Sony F3 with slog must be the most underrated camera on the market.
It may look like a giant Handycam, but the sensor is pure gold.
S35, 13.5 stops, uncompressed 444 slog, HD, sees in the dark.
It's a bargain for any indie filmmaker.

March 21, 2014 at 1:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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F3

+1 for confusing the hell out of me for a split second by typing "slog" instead of "S-Log".

March 21, 2014 at 4:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Nick

Fore the price of the F3 you can get a Red Scarlet, which does 4k raw at 30p as well as 1080p up to 60p. The F3 may be a good camera, but it's not really underrated.

March 21, 2014 at 10:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bertzie

You can purchase the F3 for under 6K, as I am typing this there is one on sale for under 6K. Where do you live where you can find a Scarlet for 6K please let me know.

March 24, 2014 at 9:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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NDB

+2. I liked the look it produced even before the the S-log upgrade. It's a camera that produces images beyond the sum of it's spec's, so pixel peepers tend overlook it when making their camera selection.

March 26, 2014 at 10:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marc B

Did you guys ask what they edited on? Curious about that.

March 21, 2014 at 3:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dave H.

Off the top of my head, FCP, Premiere Pro. The directors of DamNation edited themselves in Premiere Pro -- I remember this because I was quite surprised they edited in 4k! (No prores conversions or lower res intermediaries!) We will be rolling out each individual interview on its own, and I will make sure to sort through what was said about editing.

March 21, 2014 at 3:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

As someone shooting their short on an Alexa: Good god, handheld is rough on the body. It's so worth it - is what I keep telling myself.

March 21, 2014 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex

Check this one out!

March 22, 2014 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Que Caramba Es La Vida looks like it was shot on the C300 not the C100 judging from the BTS photos, or they attached a monitor to the handle...

March 22, 2014 at 12:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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SpartaBear

I'll double check with the director on it. She has a lovely German accent, so I could very well have misinterpreted her!

March 23, 2014 at 12:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

Not one BMCC...

March 22, 2014 at 1:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael Hawk

Too early for that, making movies takes time, next year we will start to see the BMCC in action more and more...

March 22, 2014 at 6:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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SpartaBear

...So did anyone try out a dozen different cameras, and then specifically chose one camera to use for their SXSW film, or is this just a bunch of random cameras that just happened to be available when they shot?

I strongly suspect that some film-makers shot with what was available, so their camera choice may not be that meaningful.

March 27, 2014 at 5:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Guy McLoughlin

THAT GUY DICK MILLER was all but 2 shots Canon 7d, with 2 shots from the AF-100. And it looked gorgeous on screen at the Alamo!

March 28, 2014 at 2:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Elle

Nice to read: I own a Sony PMW-F3 and a PMW-EX1 - I wish I could chuck the EX1 (for it's inferior codec) but the damn thing is just so handy!! I also own a BMPCC (great idea but terrible to use unless it's on specialised shoots) and a GH2 (which I'm getting better at, but it's hard to go from an F3 to my GH2!) and have just pre-ordered a GH4. Toys, toys, toys!

March 30, 2014 at 6:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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