We can probably all agree that every film requires a different set of tools.
This is certainly clear at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, with films being shot on anything from an iPhone 5S, a burgeoning arsenal of Blackmagic cameras, to regular (that is, 4:3) 16mm. Although all feature films eventually ended up as digital in the festival's first ever year with no 35mm masters, there's no shortage of different shooting formats. Here is a smattering of excerpts from our soon-to-be released video interviews with Sundance filmmakers, compiled to give you insight into not only what they shot on, but why.
Academy Award-winning director Daniel Junge on the shooting of his Sundance U.S. Competition doc about the life and times of Evel Knievel:
We had to shoot all over the country and take four cameras. We had a four camera set up and we also needed decent color space and good resolution, so we chose Black Magic cameras because for the price, to buy four cameras for the production, we couldn't beat that, for the quality that we got from that camera. We were shooting direct to ProRes, so it helped our workflow in premiere and after effects and then ultimately throughout the post process...We're shooting all 60 interviews from four angles. There is a little bit of a Rashomon thing going on -- different perspectives on history -- so we wanted that staccato cutting as well, which you see in the film.
Queer cinema mainstay Jenni Olson had this to say on the reason to shoot her Sundance New Frontiers feature on regular 16mm:
I just love 16mm for so many reasons, but it is also very intertwined with this whole topic of nostalgia in multi-layered ways. Not only is it 16mm, it's a regular 16mm. People shoot on super 16mm, which mimics 35mm. I shoot regular 16mm, so you have this 4:3 aspect ratio, which in-and-of-itself creates for the viewer some kind of nostalgia. What I'm seeing is from the past or has these associations. I read an interview with Wes Anderson about The Grand Budapest Hotel where he talked about that. At one point in the film he uses a 4:3 aspect ratio for that very reason, to evoke something.
Director Patrick Brice on the shooting of his Jason Schwartman-Adam Scott uncomfortable romantic comedy film in U.S. Dramatic Competition:
I knew I wanted to shoot the film hand-held. Me and my DP, John Guleserian, who shot like crazy, and about time, is a master of things coming in and out of focus. We also really wanted to use practical lighting or as little lighting as possible. I mean, with the technology nowadays, it's real easy to get a beautiful image like that. Well I don't know if it's easy, but there's an opportunity to get a beautiful image using the bare essentials tools for us. We shot on Canon C500's. We had two cameras, which was exciting. I mean, it's the first thing I've ever made incorporating two cameras. I was just like a kid in a candy store. We wanted each shot to have intention behind it. Even though they're with this B camera, we wanted this B camera to essentially feel like another A camera.
Director Jennifer Phang of this indie Sci-fi flick in U.S. Dramatic Competition said this:
We shot on the RED Epic. We also had pickups with Blackmagic and the Alexa. I think we had some pickups from the Scarlet as well. I think we're pretty happy with the dynamic range in the raw, in the log files we got. I was really happy to use the RED. We used a lot of 5K for a lot of the interiors and it allowed us to do some re-framing which was important for us. I had to be resourceful and so being able to speed along the process allowed for re-framing sometimes was important. It's an indie film. It gave me more time with the actors and since this is an actor-performance driven film, that's what I prioritized.
Co-Director along with Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin had this to say about filming on an expedition in sub-zero temperatures for this U.S. Competition doc:
I've shot on a lot of expeditions, so this wasn't my first. You bring a whole arsenal of equipment to base camp and solar panels. When you're climbing and weight is a major issue, you cut the labels off your jacket to save weight. Everything you do in planning and preparing for the climb is about weight. Then you add 1 camera body and a lens, that's more than a day's worth of food for 3 climbers. Then you have to have backup batteries. Then you have another camera. So, the goal is certainly to impact the climb and expedition as little as possible, always...We shot the first expedition of 2008 on a point-and-shoot Lumix and a little handycam. Then the second expedition we shot with the 5D. We brought 2 lenses and a nicer Panasonic handycam. And then the interviews and footage we shot off the climb were on the RED Epic.
Along with co-director Evan Johnson, cult auteur Guy Maddin said this about production of his film in the New Frontiers section:
We shot on various digital cameras [a Sony PMW-F3, Canon 5D Mkiii, and the above pictured retro-digital Zumi 2++]. I haven’t worked on film since 2007 when I made My Winnipeg. That was a mixture of stock footage, film, digital, still photographs, animation, the kitchen sink. Then I made a feature in 2011, Keyhole. It was all digital, but it was black-and-white and then it was finished on film so that it would look filmic...We wanted to make sure that this thing [The Forbidden Room] was aggressively modern. It was conceived in the digital realm, meant for the internet originally. Now it’s a film, but it’s shown from DCP, not a film can like everything else here at Sundance. Yes, the footage looked like raw video, and then Evan color-toned it, gave it it’s look.
Kenny Riches, the director of the magical-realist Miami feature film in the Sundance NEXT section, said this:
We shot on the Canon C300. Well, we shot with a C100 for the Salt Lake City stuff, just a few pick up days. Then our backup camera was the Black Magic Production camera. The Canon, to me, the C300 is such a great camera. Canon's color is so awesome, and it really was the perfect tool. We knew we didn't want to shoot it in 4k or anything like that. We had talked about doing the C500, but just the workability of that camera, and on set, as well as the back end, just made it the perfect camera. I am a huge fan of the C300.
Thank you, Sundance 2015 filmmakers!
These are all excerpts from full-length video interviews that No Film School did on the ground at the festival this year. Stay tuned for the full interviews of these and other filmmakers from the festival, including a special NFS roundtable discussion with Sundance cinematographers!