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Filmmaker’s New Brush

Filmmaker’s New Brush

I was thinking ‘one word’ paints a big picture, by adding the ‘second word’ the picture becomes much smaller. For example, ‘beautiful…’ take your choice of second words and you’ll see how much smaller it becomes. Beautiful – sunset, beautiful – woman. I guess this is illustration to the saying “The more the words the less the meaning and how does that profit anyone?”

Thus my dilemma for coming up with a clever short title for this blog – ‘Storytellers, Gamers Merge’ or maybe “Melding Media”. In actuality, this blog is probably more of melding technology into tools to tell cinema stories.

As a filmmaker I am in the process of discovery. I suppose this is much like a fine artist who discovers new dimension with a different brush or new mix of colors. In the past month I have attended a Digital Workflow seminar at Technicolor in Toronto, a seminar on 3D filmmaking sponsored by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, and a workshop on Motion Capture, held at Humber College in Toronto, sponsored by the Director’s Guild.

I have to admit my interest in these technologies is that I see a ‘coming together’. As a filmmaker I have always strived to use technology for the benefit of story. I am not one to showoff the technology and that’s probably why I hold certain films in high regard; Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” To me these are illustrations where story is supported seamlessly by technology.

The ingredient leaping to the front of this mix is 3D. Yeah 3D has been around for years and has come and gone as a fad through the decades, but there seems to be something different happening in the industry this time. Recently at a symposium given by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television we screened a variety of scenes from various 3D movies. Leading the 3-D Technologies and Techniques session was Toronto’s Creative Post’s Ken MacNeil and stereographer Paul Taylor (“Adaptation”, “Being John Malkovitch”, “Virtuosity”, and “Star Trek-The Next Generation”). The objective of the session was to remove the mysteries of production and postproduction for 3D stereoscopic projects. Immediately questions popped to mind as the discussion wore on of which I addressed a few personally to Ken and Paul later. Ken commented on editing a 3D picture took on a different rhythm than 2D because he felt at times to hold a shot longer than he would in 2D. For me there seems to be a developing language to cinema, rhythm in editing comes into play, so I asked Ken personally about this. He said he cuts with the 3D glasses on but has done so many now he can see the ocular focal perspective change without the glasses and instinctively knows the cut. For me as a director this poses interesting new horizons. As the language of cinema has developed over its 100 year history to what we know today, how does this new subtly come into play for me as a storyteller? I also spoke personally with Paul Taylor. Ironically Paul and I had met before, about 10 years earlier at the Film and Television Workshops in Rockport Maine. The question I had for him was the extreme close-up and what does that mean in 3D. Paul said to me, “If we were having a conversation in real life you wouldn’t talk to me like this!” and with that Paul moved super close to me, really invading personal space. I laughed and said, “Guess not.” The suggestion he was making was that 3D stereography was seeing as if it were our eyes. Being a stereographer (cameraman) I can understand his point of view. I said, “What about the OTS?” (Over the shoulder) He responded, “I would tend to include both shoulders of the person in the foreground rather than the typical one shoulder.” I said, “It poses an interesting challenge, one that I will be thinking about.” As more and more 3D films come on the screen I believe this line of thinking will merge with the more traditional filmmaking, storytelling we’ve grown accustom to.

According to a July 30, 2009 article from MediaWeek in the UK, Sky in Europe is planning on broadcasting in 3D to its customers by next year.

According to Studio Daily, 3D films outperform their 2D counterparts at the Box Office by a margin of about 4-to-1. Maybe the language of 3D cinema will be established much faster than anyone would expect.

As I screened these new unreleased 3D films at that symposium my mind began processing the images as if I were looking through a ‘moving window‘ rather than bringing the audience into the story with close-ups as we do in 2D. I believe there is a marriage here that hasn’t been fully explored. For example a lot of 3D movies bring things OFF the screen toward us, different than 2D filmmaking where we are taking the audience to the extreme close up. If we approach this as the ‘moving window’ – who’s to say that we cannot bring things OFF the screen as we take the audience into the screen.

I think back to one of my favorite books, “Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors” by Peter Bogdanovich. In it, he interviews silent era film directors. I marvel at their comments about the first close up, “The studio said, where’s the rest of the body? Nobodies going to believe a head bouncing across the screen not attached to a body!” Also the first dolly move, it was so unexpected by the audience that they grabbed the arms of their chairs because they thought the cinema was moving. Although we have seen 3D before, maybe we are still are in the infancy of the language of stereoscopic storytelling. I have got to tell you I can’t wait to get my hands on it and make a 3D movie. At the Academy symposium I took along with me as my guest a producer who has been talking to me about a few projects, one of them being a big sci-fi movie “The Seeds.” I took him along to spark his imagination, I believe it did. Our conversation on the drive out of Toronto that day was filled with possibilities.

I did mention two other stops I made this past month, one being at my favorite post house, Technicolor in Toronto These guys have worked with me on a number of things, one being “The Enemy God” movie I wrote and directed. It is pretty rare for a director to ask for a colorist but my cinematographer on “The Enemy God” didn’t have objections… before I get off on a rabbit trail boasting about the project management skills of James Kwiatkowski and colorist Colin Moore at Technicolor, let me brief you on the evening. The audience was made up of DGC (Director’s Guild Canada) and Academy members. A lot of good information, too much to share in a blog but suffice it to say part of the talk contained storage back up of your digital media. The idea that to fire up a media filled hard drive a year or two after it has been sitting on a shelf, is iffy. Back up on tape. I won’t go into detail but I am sure they’d be happy to advise on your next film. Something that we talked about that I really enjoyed was, “It is not the resolution – it is the bit depth – because in the bit depth is the latitude.” Some of the better cameras like Arri D21 has the bit depth that allows the information in the blacks and the highlights. Also the Viper is naturally green (in it’s uncorrected state) because on the color spectrum, green is the color the human eye sees the most of – so the information on the red and blue chip is far less than what the manufacturer puts into the green chip because we can’t see it anyway and never will. So as much as resolution is important, color – bit depth is the thing.

One other cool thing to come out was a comparative look at the D-Cinema cameras. We looked at comparison charts. It was also interesting to see the image results of these cameras side by side at Technicolor.

Last month I also spent two days in a workshop on Motion Capture (MoCap), at Humber College in Toronto. The workshop was put on by the DGC. It was not as well attended as it should have been but I cannot speak for my fellow directors. One of my peers present, shared with me how he was up for directing a video game but was passed because of his limited experience with MoCap. For me the idea of directing a video game is interesting but allow me to push the envelope again; I believe there is another merging happening, subtly but consistently. I can see it, I know others can too. The merging of gamers, storytellers and filmmakers. The freedom to move around the world, the finely crafted story in the shared experience of cinema. Can you imagine that? We looked at the technology and had fun playing with it. Our instructor Cory Avery started to share production stories and referenced a visual effects company he did work for. His story had references to people I thought I knew, so I questioned him after and found out it was indeed people I knew. They were all good stories but it just goes to illustrate again how small the industry can be. It was Keyframe Digital Productions, Clint Green and Darren Cranford that he had done the work for, again another long time collaborator . These guys did the amazing vfx work on “The Enemy God” . Cory walked us through the motion capture software, procedure and the outcome. To see MoCap in action take a look at “Beowulf.”  In the MoCap workshop we learned about the importance of the “T” pose as a slate, because it truly is the only thing that can line up the clip beginning and end. The “T” pose is an actor holding out arms and legs in a static position “T” to mark the beginning and end of a scene. The only thing the infared camera sees is the markers on the actors. All of this takes place in the “Volume”. That’s MoCap talk for the stage that is seen by the infared cameras. There was so much more we learned but as I mentioned too much for a blog. Hopefully I retain enough of all this good stuff, D-Cinema, MoCap and 3D information for my next movie. I guess the proof will eventually be on the screen.

Christopher Bessette

Christopher M. Bessette is  a multi-award-winning writer, director, producer. He is an author, educator, public speaker and a member of the Director’s Guild of America and the Writer’s Guild of America.Twice honored with a nomination by Niagara College Canada for the prestigious Premier’s Award for outstanding achievements in Creative Arts & Design, Bessette has garnered many accolades at film festivals worldwide, including ten Best Picture, three Best Director, and a Best Screenplay award.

Married to his college sweetheart, he is a proud father of three and grandfather of two. He makes his home in Southern Ontario, Canada living on an acreage deeded to his family by the Crown of England over 200 years ago.

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