Southern Justice | Super 16 Feature Diary

Super-16 Feature Diary for SOUTHERN JUSTICE

by Jorge Diaz-Amador (Director of Photography)

14 June 2002: Recently I was hired to be the Director of Photography the feature tentatively entitled “Heavy Southern Nights”. [UPDATE 2/06: This film has been re-titiled “Southern Justice” and is now available on DVD] The shoot will take place in Arkansas in late July and early August 2002. This is my first long-form Super-16mm project in a while, since I’ve mostly been shooting 35mm and Super-35mm recently. There is a lot of new equipment, new techniques and new technologies available now that raise the bar for films being shot in Super-16. In this area I will share my experiences in pre-production, production, and post-production.

It was at CineGear Expo at the Universal Studios backlot that I got a chance to speak to master cinematogapher Roger Deakins. During the discussion at CineGear, of which he was a featured speaker, Mr. Deakins mentioned that he though a lot of young filmmakers were misguided in going to formats such as Mini-DV in order to shoot their film inexpensively. He said (I’m paraphrasing):

They should be looking at Super-16 with a digital intermediate instead. It looks great. The technology is reliable, and I’ve used it myself many times. That Super-16 camera is my digital camera”

Afterwards I got a chance to speak to Mr. Deakins about this and he recommended I get in touch Stephen Bellamy with Cinesite Hollywood to discuss it further.

Check this area over the next few weeks for more updates. I will be covering new filmstocks, new lenses, preparation of equipment to get the maximum in image quality, and other topcs. In the meantime, here are some links to Super-16 articles to pique your interest:

American Cinematographer, June 1970. An article about the first Super-16 feature, and the creator of the format, Swedish Cinematographer Rune Ericson, who recently recieved an Award of Commendation from the Academy.

Here’s another similar Super-16 article from the American Society of Cinematographers.

Update 1 July 2002: Principal photography of “Heavy Southern Nights” has been postponed to begin September 2002. I am actually grateful for the extra time to get some of my new prototype products ready for use on the shoot. The CinemaTechnic 16SR Superlite Bridgeplate is ready now. I am also working on our new Integrated Video Assist modification for the 16SRII, and some lens conversions.

Update 18 July 2002: We have selected Cineworks Digital Studios for our film processing and film to video transfer. I am very pleased to be working with Cineworks, as I have a long term relationship with cineworks president Vincent Hogan.
Our preliminary film stock choices are 7245 (EXR 50D), 7274 (Vision 200T), 7246 (Vision 250D) and 7277 (Vision 320T). In the past I have avoided stocks faster than 200 ASA in 16mm, in order to keep grain at a minimum, but with the 26% larger image area of Super 16, I feel more confident going with a faster ASA, in this case 320 as the maximum. AND I really think I am going to need the “speed” with the amount of exterior night scenes in the HSN script.
We will be transferring dailies on an Cintel Ursa Diamond with the ITK Y-Front. The off-line transfer will be to DVCam format, with BetacamSP as back-up. Mr. Hogan has strongly advised against using consumer MiniDV for dailies.

Update 23 July 2002: Director M.D. Selig has finished casting for HSN.

Update 27 July 2002: Here’s a thought on film from one of the masters of the cinema:

“…The only thing that will change will be the medium. In 50 years it will be all digital, there’ll be no film, no 35mm, except if I’m still making movies; I’ll still be making them in 35mm. I’ll be the last person.”

-Steven Speilberg, 2002 (emphasis added)

Update 13 August 2002: Director M.D. Selig and line producer Buzz Orlando are on location in Hot Springs, Arkansas to begin on-site pre-production for Heavy Southern Nights.

Update 23 August 2002: Heavy Southern Nights is on schedule to start principal Photography on 3 September 2002, in Hot Springs. We are scheduled to shoot for three weeks. We are looking for First and Second Camera Assistants, a Gaffer and a Key Grip. E-mail resumes to hsn@cinematechnic.com.

Waiting for a mag change while shooting one of the interior limo scenes. Director M.D. Selig (left) our limo driver (center) and Jorge Diaz-Amador (camera in lap) during production of Heavy Southern Nights.

Update 1 October 2002: Principal Photography on Heavy Southern Nights is completed. I’ll fill you in some more when I get back to Miami (and get some much needed rest).

Update 6 October 2002: Back in Miami. Checked with the lab, and it turns out we shot a total of 26,000 feet of Super 16mm film with not one scratch or gate hair.

The DVCAM Dailies look great (Cineworks Laboratory did a great job, thanks Vinny Hogan and Matt Perrin). I am now confident to shoot 320 ISO stock is Super 16, wheras in the past I had avoided anything over 200 ISO. Grain was not visible, even on a 35″ HD Plasma monitor fed by a DVCAM. Obviously some of the credit has to go to the advanced digital grain reduction on the ITK Y-Front Telecine, but I think a large part of it is the 50% larger image size (compared to standard 16mm) when going to 16:9 aspect ratio.

I found myself using the 320T Kodak 7277 quite heavily on this film, since a very large part of the action takes place outside at night. I mostly managed to shoot outside at night without the usual “major multi-hour set-up”, by taking advantage of this fast stock, and fast, sharp lenses. When I was under the gun, I was able to light one scene with just a pair of Kino-Flo’s (4 foot 4-bank, and a 2 foot 4-bank) and nothing else. Shooting stop was T1.6 on a 25mm Zeiss prime. I never, ever want to shoot without Kino-Flo’s.

Another advantage of the Vision 320T is that it’s lower contrast allows you to get away with less tightly controlled lighting ratios when you are shooting outside at night. You don’t have to worry about fill light as much as you would have to with other filmstocks.

Most of the film was lensed with my Angenieux 11.5-138mm HR zoom lens. It has got to be the best zoom lens I have ever seen in this format. It is sharp at every focal length, with no “weak spots” and focus accuracy is dead-on. Contrast is very close to the Zeiss primes, and the color saturation is excellent. We shot extensively with this lens at T2.3 for night exteriors. I joked that the iris could get stuck at T2.3 and we could finish the film!

I was also suprised by how much use I got out of my Illumina 8mm T1.3. This lens has the depth of field to allow you to get away with shooting at T1.3 when you need to. I mostly used it at around T2.5-2.8 in order to be able to switch to my zoom and keep the same stop. The results show that the Illumina is very much the equal of the Zeiss 8mm T2.1 in sharpness, but it covers the Super 16mm frame with room to spare, while the Zeiss 8mm does not even come close. The 8mm focal length in Super 16 is like a 6.7mm in standard 16mm, or a 14mm in 35mm 1.85:1.

I also used my Kinoptic 5.7mm T2.0 superwide prime (that’s not a misprint, it’s really a T2.0, the late model version). This lens provides an exceptionally wide feild of view in Super 16, similar to a 4.7mm in standard 16mm, or a 9.8mm focal length in 35mm 1.85:1. This lens lets you get into very tight places and still get a wide shot. It is excellent for creating a disconcerting super wide angle look. It has that same “feel” of the Kinoptic 9.8mm that Stanley Kubrick liked to use in “Clockwork Orange” and “The Shining”.

I also had a Zeiss 25mm T1.3 prime (courtesy of Andy Sparaco of Metafour, inc). It is a really great prime lens, and I find the 25mm focal length more pleasing in Super 16’s wider frame. I used it in some cases when wanted to shoot with a prime lens for camera size or close focus issues. It’s focal length is long enough to allow critical focus, so it is possible to safely use the exceptional speed of this lens.

Update: I got a chance to re-screen all the dailies for Heavy Southern Nights on a 1024 line digital projector fed by a Betacam SP though the component input. Watching all the dailies for an entire feature in one sitting really give you an opportunity to notice subtle things that you might not notice under other conditions.

A few observations: The Super 16 format really is a big step up from regular 16mm. I really think that with today’s filmstocks, lenses and telecine, the quality you get from Super 16 is equivalent to the quality you would be able to get from 35mm in the 1960’s and ’70’s. I’ve noticed that the Super 16 format tends to favor shooting relatively tight, and at relatively open apertures (T4 and under). You can get 35mm like depth of feild in Super 16 by shooting at focal lengths similar to what would be considered “normal” focal lengths for 35mm and using large apertures, 35-50mm. This is often too tight for the lens to subject distance that you can manage. Another approach is to use more normal focal lengths for Super 16, such as 25mm, and very large apertures (between T1.3 and T2.0). It is of vital importance that you have both a perfectly calibrated lens and camera. Back focus on lens, flange depth and ground glass focus need to be within a 0.01 mm tolerance window. It is important to have a better eyepice than the stardard ARRI eyepiece on the 16SR. I used a modified Arri SR3 eyepiece. Another excellent choices are the ARRI BL-4, P+S Technik Super Wide Angle Eyepieces.

Lenses: I was extremely impressed by the performance of my Angenieux 11.5-138mm T2.3 HR zoom. I honestly have never seen a zoom that could match its quality. It was just as sharp as the new style prime lenses I was using (Illumina and Zeiss). I noticed that it had a warmer, more natural color quality that was noticable in skin tones, wheras the Illumina and Zeiss primes have a cooler look. The Angenieux HR perfomed equally well at all focal lengths, and keep in mind that 90% of what I shot with this lens was at T2.3 (wide open) to T2.8. The Illumina and Zeiss lenses were amazingly close in sharpness, color and contrast. It seems to me after viewing the results that the Russian optical engineers must have used Zeiss as their benchmark in designing the Illumina lenses. The 8.0mm T1.3 Illumina allowed me to get some establishing shots outside at night with no additional lighting (other than existing building and street lighting), on 320 ISO filmstock, that looked nearly like what the same scene looked to the eye. I did not have a chance to use the Kinoptic 5.7mm as much as I thought I would. The shots I did do with it were all nearly wide open at T2.3 (my 5.7mm opens to T2.0). Initial impressions were that it had excellent contrast and very good resistance to glare, but does not have the “edge” of sharpness that the Illumina and Zeiss lenses have. It’s wide angle look is unmatched, however, and it does fully cover the Super 16 aperture.

Update 13 January 2003:
I just attended the demo for Kodak’s new Vision 2 500T 7218/5218 filmstock. I also screened the results of my test of the new film at the demo. This is really hot stuff. In the past, I would avoid shooting over 200 ISO stock in standard 16mm for the many projects I did in this format in the 1990’s. On Heavy Southern Nights, I used 320 ISO as my highest speed stock. With the larger Super 16 aperture, grain was not noticable. Now with the Vision 2 500T 7218 grain is not visible at 500 ISO! When I saw the transfer, I could not belive I was looking at a 500 ISO stock! The split screen 35mm demo (against 5279 Vision 500T) showed the more natural skin tones of the Vision 2 stock. This new film is going to make shooting Super 16 much more attractive in 2003.

Update June 28, 2003:
Sugartide Films has just released the two minute movie trailer for Heavy Southern Nights. You can view it here on our CinemaTechnic.com (temporarily unavailable, please view on HSN’s website above).

Update September 8, 2003:
Just got back from shooting the new ending to Heavy Southern Nights. Before we did, the actors and crew all got together to watch the rough cut on DVD. It’s amazing how close to 35mm it looks. Most people that see it, and don’t know we shot Super 16 assume it’s 35. The new ending takes place outside at night. We shot the new Vision 2 7218 filmstock. With the fast 500 EI and no grain, I was able to light a large area for a big shoot-out and fight scene with only a 3 ton grip truck. I’ll be going in to transfer at Cineworks in a few days. Will update then.

Update 13 May 2004:
Heavy Southern Nights has been picked up for foreign distrubution by Creative Light Worldwide.

UPDATE 21 February 2006:
SOUTHERN JUSTICE has been released on DVD by Velocity/THINKFilm. It is available from most major DVD retailers (such as amazon.com) and avaialble for rental from Netflix.

Check this area for more updates.

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