The making of a real independent feature film
• FROM THE SHOOT TO THE VIDEO STORE •
M.D. Selig (Director)
[Additional commentary in brackets by Director of Photography Jorge Diaz-Amador]
©2006 M.D Selig and Jorge Diaz-Amador. All rights reserved. Permission to link to this page is granted with the condition that the URL is not obscured in any way.
M.D. Selig with Southern Justice DVD’s at Hollywood Video in L.A.
We shot on film. Super 16mm. Based on the recommendation of my Director of Photography (DP) Jorge Diaz-Amador. (Award winning DP based in the Miami area).
I’m SO glad we shot on film.
0.[We did consider both 35mm and HD for this project. We were not willing to consider Mini-DV, which most micro-budgets were shooting back then, because it was just too low quality. I strongly felt that both 35mm and HD would impose extra costs and difficulties for this production. Super 16mm was the right choice. JDA]
Here is the postproduction workflow that I used to complete the project, which was picked up by THINKFilm, (the distributor) and subsequently sold to SHOWTIME with a June 2006 airdate. It’s in all the video stores now and you can certainly buy a copy on Amazon.com if it’s not in your local chain. Or rent off NETFLIX, Blockbuster, etc.
When you see how I finished, meaning film development through final Digital Betacam (DigiBeta) master, then you will see what proved important and what was an utter waste of money and/or energy.
Let me start with this: THE BIG PICTURE.
It was my TWO MINUTE TRAILER that got me my PRODUCER’S REP. (Attorney Mark Litwak)
It was Mark Litwak who shopped my movie for distribution. That’s what producers reps do.
So after Mark had seen my TRAILER. He then said “Okay, send in the “screener” which means the full movie and once he saw that, he called to say he wanted to represent me.
One year later, we landed THINKFilm and once they took over, SHOWTIME, AMAZON, NETFLICKS and all the VIDEO CHAINS followed. They buy their content from THINKFilm and other LEGIT distributors. There are ONLY a couple of LEGIT ones. (Be careful with your baby before you sign anything.)
So, to make a long story short. Almost ALL producers reps want to FIRST see your KICK ASS TRAILER. (and you will make it kick ass, right?)
Then (because everybody is pressed for TIME) if they liked the trailer, they will then request the movie and watch it.
It’s also protocol in Hollywood. Give them what they’re used too. It’s their game at this point. Learn to play. When you get to be Steven or Julia, then you can change the rules…maybe.
Let me say one last thing, BUT IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT I WANT TO SAY ABOUT THIS WHOLE EVOLUTION:
Your trailer needs to look FINE, not PERFECT
(A funky little trailer that ROCKS on Super 8 because of a great STORY LINE. Will any day perk the attention of a producer’s rep over a perfectly shot HIGH DEFINITION GOLD PLATED boring ass piece of technical perfection.)
Go to any short film festival and watch 30 shorts. There will be only one or two that hold your attention for the full 6 minutes and leave you feeling interested. And you don’t really care that they had scratches or some buzzed out focus or somewhat underexposed shots. You were lost in their cool story.
Guess what? So was everybody else. We ALL only liked those one or two shorts for the same reasons.
Get it? Your trailer needs to look FINE. Not perfect. You can still see my original trailer (highly compressed and all at HeavySouthernNights.com) check it out.
SHOT ON FILM. Down Converted to DVCam. Cut together using Final Cut Pro (FCP). And burned right off my computer as a QuickTime file. That’s what you’re seeing. It’s fine. Not perfect.
But it is INTERESTING more than it is visually striking. (Though I tend to think of it as a beautiful trailer nonetheless. It’s my baby. And my baby is beautiful.)
Just get a Trailer of good quality together. What Mark told me later is that he liked the story idea and the excitement of the trailer. He never mentioned anything to me about “Oh it’s a little pixilated or the Blacks aren’t black enough, or ETC.
He’s looking to see if you are a STORY TELLER and that you have the BASICS down of cinematography and sound. Can you weave it so that we get lost in the story?
WORKFLOW using FILM
Shoot the movie. We used 32,000 feet of Super 16 film (about 15 hours). It was all factory fresh film bought directly from Kodak. It’s not as expensive as you think.
- [The cost for factory fresh S16mm film in 2002 was $0.34 per foot for all the stocks we used except for 7245 EXR 50D which was $0.32 per foot. The total expenditure was about $10,250 and the shooting ratio was
- I recommended against buying short ends/recans because the differences in the age and storage of the film, and different emulsion batches, are much more obvious in Super 16 than in 35mm. Also, with short ends we would have spent a lot more time loading and unloading magazines – JDA].
Sound was recorded during production to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) at 16bit/48kHz with 30 fps non drop-frame time code.
FILM LAB So, this just means that after you shoot your film, you take it to a motion picture film laboratory like CINEWORKS in Miami and they: (drum roll please)
PROCESS (develop) all your film negative. (This is not too expensive, you can get a quote based on how many feet of footage. In our case it cost $0.12 per foot / $3840 and this included cleaning and prep for telecine)
0.[The negative was also “punched”. In this industry standard procedure a small hole is punched in the negative well ahead of any usable images on each negative reel. The hole corresponds to “zero” time code example TC 01:00:00:00 -. In this manner there is always a physical reference on the negative that corresponds exactly with the video timecode. This is important if the negative is ever cut for a film print, of if it is scanned again, for example, to a High Definition transfer. JDA]
TELECINE (transfer to video) all your film. This is THE MOST EXPENSIVE PART. The process by which they take the processed cleaned film (very important that it be VERY CLEAN) and place it on what is essentially a DIGITAL FILM SCANNER and this machine is connected to a computer where your film is digitized.
- [Cineworks used an Ursa Diamond Y-Front telecine for our transfer. This machine uses a diffused light source and it excels at making Super 16 look good making the grain almost invisible while still retaining sharpness JDA]
At this point your footage is married up with your Production Sound DAT TAPES, MEANING you are now considered LOCKED UP…OR SYNCED UP. Big deal.
- [The Super 16 image was transferred at 16:9 aspect ratio (1.78:1 same as HDTV). The image was letterboxed, and two windows, one with video timecode, the other with the Keycode read directly from the film negative, were “burned in” to the image in the black letter box area. These were covered up by another16:9 letterbox matte superimposed over the image. The image you see in the final DVD is the full Super 16mm film image. JDA]
This is the most expensive process. For 12 hours of footage I paid about $15,000. This amount included color correction, synching of the timecode DAT audio to the image, and transfer to DVCam tape (and simultaneously to BETA SP tapes.)
- [The BetaSP tapes were my suggestion as a back-up in case the DVCam tapes, which were sent out to us on location via FedEx, were lost. If the only transfer tape was lost, you would have to put up the negative on telecine and transfer again, sync all the sound, etc. It was much cheaper to have a back-up. JDA]
This final stage is where your synced up digitzed footage, is placed on any medium you wish (starting with the lowest cost) such as DVCam tapes, Beta SP tapes, Digitbeta Tapes, HDCam tapes (which require an HD transfer).
This is sometimes referred to as a DOWN CONVERSION, but let’s keep it real, it just means transferring your film on to a lesser medium such as a DVCam which means your film has to be lightly compressed.
- [Vinny Hogan of Cineworks strongly suggested DVCam rather than the cheaper Mini-DV. Although the data rate and actual image quality of DVCam is the same as Mini-DV, the DVCam tape runs faster spreading the same data over more tape. Unlike the very fragile Mini-DV which can be damaged just by rewinding in a camera, the DVCam tape is much more robust and has real SMPTE timecode instead of the B.S consumer timecode which is very unreliable.
- The data rate of DVCam is 25 Mbps, inferior to DigiBeta’s 95 Mbps but superior to DVD standard MPEG-2 which is limited to 8 Mbps JDA]
It still looks fine for editing. Who cares if it’s a little compressed. I only ended up using the DVCam tapes for a number of reasons.
You have to rent or own a DVCam tape player to input your footage into the computer. So if you transfer to DIGIBETA TAPES, well guess what? To get them into FCP you have to rent or own a DIGIBETA MACHINE. Expensive.
Remember, just get your movie in your computer and edit the sucker together, a ROUGH CUT to see if YOU EVEN HAVE AN INTERESTING MOVIE.
You can always finish on FILM if you happen to be picked up by MIRIMAX or if Steven calls because he heard your rough cut was ass kickin’.
I had to rent a DVCam player to get my Sound Locked Footage into my computer. I captured the tapes using FINAL CUT PRO. It’s easy. Just have somebody show you how to LOG and CAPTURE using FCP and within a few minutes you can do it on your own. To give you an idea, it took me an entire weekend to get all my footage into the computer via the DVCam tapes. It was simply the amount of footage I had to LOG and that takes time. It goes into your computer in real time.
- Once in Final Cut Pro you simply edit your movie just like you do with video movies you’ve probably already done. If you don’t know how to edit with FCP, then LEARN. It’s so friggin’ easy and you’ll be glad in the long run that you are not at the mercy of an editor who doesn’t really care that much about working long hours for you for free.
- Editing is one of the fun parts of putting your movie together. Molding your clay the way YOU want to. You get FAST at editing in no time. So LEARN.
- So now your movie is edited together, with rolling credits, great color correction and a great soundtrack that you did completely in FCP with a little audio help from a buddy of yours who did a basic Digital Performer or Pro Tools mix for you and WOW, your film is LOOKING and SOUNDING PRO.
COOL. Now cut a two minute trailer. Seems like it would be easy?
FACT: It’s harder to make a two minute piece ROCK than a longer piece. It has to BURN from the FIRST NOTE to the LAST. It has to make a producer’s rep, PUT HIS DINNER DOWN and get up and CALL YOU. This is your FIRST IMPRESSON on him.
And it’s your ONLY CHANCE. If they’re bored. You probably won’t even get a call to say they watched it.
So how do you do it. Look at your FAVORITE TRAILERS and just copy them using your scenes. Seems easy, but it’s not, but this will at least get you started in the right direction.
SO GUESS WHAT? IT WORKED. Your thing is COOL and THEY WANT YOUR MOVIE SCREENER AT THE PRODUCERS REP’S OFFICE. WOO HOO!
Well guess what, you’re pretty much there. The final steps for outputting for a distribution company are based on what their contract calls for and so you simply give them what they want. In my case, I told THINKFilm that I could not afford to go BACK TO FILM.
WHAT IS GOING BACK TO FILM MEAN? $20 40,000!
It means paying someone to cut and splice the original rolls of film together based on my EDIT in FCP. Sometimes referred to as an EDIT DECISION LIST (EDL).
Then that spliced together version of the film is then SCANNED on an HD TELECINE producing an HD master (at least $750 per hour, and the WON’T get it done in an hour and a half) and this tape is essentially your final MASTER.
- [In the traditional work flow, the cut negative gets assembled into two reels, the “A and B Roll”. Then that would either get contact printed to produce a Super 16 answer print that looks beautiful but has no sound, or it would be put on an optical printer to do the famous Super 16 to 35mm blow-up. Most labs would insist on doing a Super 16 answer print first, then doing the optical blow up. From the 35mm blow-up interpositive, you could then make an internegative that combined the image and the sound, and from there your 35mm prints would be made. This was a VERY expensive and time consuming process.
- Today, we have available 1080p HD transfers (1080 x 1920 pixel with light compression) and DATA transfers (1152 x 2048 pixel with NO compression). Either one can be the start of a digital intermediate process and produce a very good looking 35mm print. The DATA process is much more costly than the HD process, but the DATA process can produce a 35mm print that looks sharper than an optical blow-up to 35mm. A 35mm print sourced from a Super 16 transfer to 1080p HD will look at LEAST as good as if you had shot 1080p HD in the first place and in my opinion much better. JDA]
BUT because I WAS A BROKE MO-FO by the time I had a final cut that I liked, I had no way of giving the distribution company my movie on FILM. I could only afford to come off my computer on to a DIGI BETA.
So I simply said if you want it delivered on FILM then you can pay for it, to which they said, NO, WE WILL ACCEPT IT on DIGIBETA. (‘cause they don’t want to spend any extra money on you if they can help it. It’s not personal, it’s just business.)
So, I ended up coming RIGHT OFF MY COMPUTER on to a DIGIBETA TAPE and that’s what you see when you watch the DVD.
Now you have the BIG PICTURE of the workflow above. What I didn’t cover are some options depending on your budget.
Because my film was DOWN CONVERTED to DVCam tapes, it lost some of its original resolution. So to get back to your original film resolution, you would have to GO BACK TO FILM.
- [Or you can spend the money up-front to transfer to a better 480i SD format like DigiBeta, or an HD format. Even 480p is superior to SD. Also, today it is more common to transfer directly to hard disk which can give the option of using a codec which is superior to the DV 4:1:1/8-bit/5:1 compression codec. JDA]
I simply couldn’t afford it, but as you will see from the movie. It still looks DAMN GOOD. Yeah, you can see a little pixilation here and there, but hopefully my STORY keeps you interested enough for you to cut me some slack.
The BIG BOYS (Major Studios) will Transfer their FILM to HD TAPES and then EDIT using either FCP or AVID. It stays on the computer until a final cut is given the green light.
They then go BACK TO FILM by giving their FILM GUY an EDIT DECISION LIST and then, WHEN HE IS FINISHED SPLICING AND CUTTING THE REAL FILM……he SCANS the finished MASTER back on to DATA at an extremely high scan rate.
From this HD TAPE they then make DVD’s etc.
The FILM MASTER is then copied (directly film-to-film) and this ANSWER PRINT is then MASS DUPLICATED if the film is going to have a THEATRICAL RELEASE where theatres across the nation will need a THEATRICAL RELEASE COPY for their PROJECTIONIST to play for you when you are eating buttered popcorn and makin’ out like a big daddy in the back row.
Let me say this as one who knows that you will be “LUCKY” as I was to get a distribution deal with a reputable distributor…DON’T go back to film until SOMEBODY at a legit distribution house says you are going to get A THEATRICAL RELEASE.
In many ways, most people in the industry would rather go DIRECT to DVD than to chance wasting lots of money on a THEATRICAL RELEASE .
WHY? FACT: MOST theatrical releases are MONEY LOSERS not only for THE DISTRIBUTION COMPANY but more importantly, because you will only get what they hand down after their costs are recouped…YOU the INDEPENDENT PRODUCER, LOSE MONEY on a theatrical release.
0.[The theatres deduct their expenses plus 10% from the ticket sales and remit what’s left to the DISTRIBUTOR who deducts their expenses prints, advertising, overhead, plus their percentage. What’s left over is your net profit. This will almost always be LESS THAN ZERO. JDA]
So, for now keep your life simple. SHOOT FILM cause distributors see you as LEGIT and it’s not EXPENSIVE if you have your ducks in a row during production. Then CUT your film together by getting the cheapest DVCam telecine. Remember. See what you got before you throw good money after bad.
If your film ROCKS when you watch it cut together on your computer from a simple DVCam telecine. Then you are probably on your way to a distribution deal anyway. If you’re really lucky they will pay for you to go back to FILM.
Writer/Director/Editor/Sound Mixer/Producer/Bottle washer
- DVCam digital video is 480 x 720 pixel; 4:1:1 color sampling; 8 bit quantization, giving a total 25 Mbps data rate.
- DigiBeta digital video is is 480 x 720 pixel; 4:2:2 color sampling; 10 bit quantization, giving a total 95 Mbps data rate.
- DVD digital video is is 480 x 720 pixel; 4:2:2 color sampling; 8 bit quantization. The data rate is varible but most commercial DVD’s have a data rate of about 4 Mbps for the image.
Color sampling refers to the ratio of how many samples of each color, per pixel, are saved. Basically 4:2:2 sampling has one sample for every green pixel, and only has half the red and blue samples. In other words, half the red and blue pixels were not saved. 4:1:1 has the same number of green samples, but it has only one-fourth (25%) of the red and blue samples. The reduction in spatial resolution in the color channels in not easily noticeable with 4:2:2 sampling, but it becomes noticeable with 4:1:1 sampling.
Quantization is the number of bits available to record the variations from darkest to lightest tone in each color channel. 10 bit quantization gives smoother gradations of tone from dark to light compared to 8 bit.
Check this area for more updates.
Last Update: 1/28/16
©2002-2006 Jorge Diaz-Amador and M.D. Selig, All Rights Reseved
M.D Selig (left) shooting one of the “back of the limo” scenes with Jorge Diaz-Amador (with his ARRI 16SRII camera in lap, waiting for a fresh mag).
Note the prototype CinemaTechnic Superlite Baseplate and 4 x 5.65 Matte Box. Lens is Angenieux 11.5 – 138mm T2.3 HR. This was the configuration used to shoot about 90% of the film. Other lenses used include Kinoptic 5.7mm/T2.3 Illumina (wide shots in the limo) 8mm/T1.3 and Zeiss 25mm/T1.3 Mk. II.
This camera is now owned by a camera rental house in Burbank and is still being used today (2016).
On the set of Southern Justice in 2003. Jorge Diaz-Amador with his modifed Arriflex 16SRII-E with ARRI 35 BL-IV eyepiece Jurgen’s color video assist, Cinematography Electronics Precision Speed Control II, ARRI 15mm Bridge Plate/Dovetail Plate and ARRI Follow Focus FF-2 and clip-on matte box MB5. Lens is an Angenieux 11,5 – 138mm T2.3 HR. Fluid head is a Sachtler Studio II sitting on Cartoni sticks.