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Production sinks its teeth into On-Set Dailies
Interview with "Innocence" Line Producer Gary Guidice
1. What was your budget?
I'm not at liberty to say exactly. It's a low budget independent film. Which is a crucial piece of information – it means that we're always looking for creative solutions to make the movie at a first class standard.
2. Why did you decide to shoot digital?
Certainly budget played a large part in it but, in particular, the ARRI ALEXA has really revolutionized filmic imagery in a way that no other camera system is doing right now. If it was strictly a cost issue I don't know that the decision would have been as straightforward. But the fact that you can create beautiful and cinematic imagery with the cost and convenience of digital made it an easy decision for us.
3. Why did you shoot on SxS cards (instead of ARRIRAW)?
Cost was a factor. Convenience was a factor. But also David Morrison the DP knew that he wanted to do a lot of hand held on the movie. And we did do a lot of hand held on the movie. Our operator Alan Pierce ("Winter's Bone") is probably one of the finest hand held operators in the business. I think we felt that the added weight of the ARRIRAW recording systems might limit the cameras agility in a way. This also had a lot to do with why we went away from a traditional tethered DIT scenario. ARRIRAW vs SxS was not a simple decision for us though. We have a lot of VFX in the movie and there was a thought that we needed to shoot ARRIRAW in order to give our VFX Supervisor the room he needed to do his work. With ARRIRAW, reframing, blowing up, depth of image is practically limitless. With ProRes there are definite limitations but, with our research and some testing, we concluded that ProRes would sufficient for us.
4. Why did you decide to use an on-set solution as opposed to a lab?
We weren't at first until Gus (Rental Manager ARRI Rental), Chris MacKarell (Digital Workflow Supervisor ARRI Rental) and Ryan Dwork (Rental Agent ARRI Rental) brought it up. I think we were back and forth about a traditional DIT or a loader/lab when they brought the idea to us. With some exploration and research – time was of the essence because it was very late in our prep period at the time these conversations started – we concluded that the on-set solution that ARRI Rental was proposing offered us the same reliability, service, quality, and, affordability as a loader/lab scenario. And this seems to be the direction that production workflows are going so I'm keen to be ahead of the curve or at least current. And the producers were very supportive of the idea so that made it easy.
5. Could you talk more about the "immediate" feedback that having this cart on set provided? (The value to crew – DP/ Gaffer etc.)?
Sure, the prescribed way of using the system (near set) I don't think allows for that. I guess it is usually set up at the production office or at editorial and the operator's hours are slightly askew from productions. And the loader/lab scenario never really allows for any shooting crew to be involved in the timing of the dailies – perhaps the DP can send some stills of what he's expecting or there can be some conversation via email, perhaps by phone at lunch. In any case it is very minimal. With a DIT you get that immediacy but you are tethered and the DIT's focus is usually on that so they usually won't go so far as creating editorial files too. With us having the cart on set it was kind of the best of both worlds. Ben Schwartz was creating our editorial and dailies files and we were literally coloring footage within minutes of shooting it. The DP and/or the gaffer could walk over to Ben and grade with him, which is impossible in a loader/lab scenario. And they could walk over and solicit Ben's advice and have all of the tools of the cart at their disposal to verify what had been shot – is the lighting too low, will we be able to time this out in the DI the way we want to at this exposure, etc. This can all happen in a few minutes while they are setting up the next shot or while the actors are getting changed. And our project hasn't yet seen the full spectrum of this benefit yet as we are still editing. I suspect when we get into the DI later this year there will be some scenes where our DI colorist can just plug in the look that they created on set and work from that instead of starting from scratch or from the very generic Rec709.
6. Were editorial happy with the files generated by the cart?
Yes. When exploring all of the different options around production workflow, inevitably one of the questions is is the assistant editor going to do the transcoding for editorial. That would occupy a significant amount of an assistant editor's day and also delay the editor being able to work with the footage. Relieving our editorial team (Peter Frelik, Assistant Editor and Keith Reamer, Editor) of that duty was huge for them. We had happy editors. The footage always arrived in great shape. We had thorough technical conversations in pre-production about how they wanted to receive their dailies – there are a lot of details to decide on and having that tight communication with everyone during prep really set the stage for a smooth work flow once we started shooting. Keith and Peter are old pros and they would have been vocal if anything were amiss.
7. Did the images and metadata meet production's expectations?
Yes absolutely. First and foremost our DP David Morrison was capturing beautiful images on set which is something no technical advancement should ever try to circumvent. Ben was able to dial in David's desired look the rest of the way. Everyone was happy with the footage. In fact, we just screened the assemblage for the producers and the director with the editorial footage and everyone is over the moon happy. As far as the metadata, again I heard no issues or complaints from editorial. And we did a test conform of a 2 minute sequence when we wrapped principal photography and that went smooth so all of the master footage and the editorial footage is matching up nicely it seems.
8. Was the investor happy with his iPad dailies?
Yes very much so. That is another function of this on set solution apparently – the operator can upload footage him/herself to a website that production procures. We didn't do it that way on "Innocence". I may explore that component on the next one. One step at a time!
9. Would you recommend other productions look at this approach to doing dailies?
Yes I think it makes a lot of sense for a production to look at it. There is a lot of versatility in how you can apply this system and I suspect you can come up with one that makes sense for your production, budget, etc.
10. Was there a budget savings in doing the dailies this way?
Compared to a DIT/lab scenario yes absolutely. I think the money was comparable to the loader/lab scenario but that isn't apples to apples. Again, being able to work with the footage within minutes of shooting it and being in control of our own transcoding / editorial delivery schedule with a dedicated operator/system is not something that the loader/lab scenario offers. And Gus, Chris and Ryan really had a lot to do with it. They were motivated to see the system work on a feature so they cut us a competitive deal.
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