IN THIS ISSUE
Tech Corner: 1080p or 4K — Let’s Discuss!
by Abner Collette
Feature: Cinema of Small Spaces
by Evan Bower
with Herb Theriault
The Shot List
Calls, Grants, Opportunities
1080p OR 4K — LET’S DISCUSS!
While 4K is quickly giving way to 5K, 6K, and even 8K(!) cameras, I still find myself in constant discussion about the merits of 1080p versus 4K, and how we can best use them as independent filmmakers.
When we talk about resolutions, we are really talking about pixels. 1080p, or Full HD, translates to 1920×1080 pixels, with 1920 representing the horizontal pixel count. Cinematic 4K, meaning 4096 horizontal pixels, captures 2176 more horizontal pixels than 1080p. Looking at it this way, it’s easy to see why 4K is being celebrated as a major difference in quality, as it captures significantly more information than 1080p. That part is kind of a no-brainer.
But how can we as independent filmmakers use 4K in a way that benefits us, while not breaking the bank when it comes to hard drive storage? Since we are typically working with limited budgets and smaller crews, this is definitely a question worth asking.
2K, which in cinema is 2048 pixels across, is not at all far from 1080p. A mere 128 horizontal pixels apart, it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye. Most theatres and cinemas still project in 2K. While some may scoff at shooting 1080p, you are actually shooting at a quality that is comparable to that projected in theatres. It’s funny to think that a film shot in 4K might be better viewed on a 4K television in your friend’s living room than in an actual movie theatre, but that’s the odd technical dilemma we find ourselves living in!
That said, why would you want to shoot in 4K as a low-budget independent filmmaker? It’s a data storage challenge because file sizes are so much bigger (and hard drives aren’t cheap) and you usually need to create proxies just to edit 4K, which adds an extra step in post. If theatres don’t project in 4k, why even bother?
There are practical reasons to consider. For instance, if you shoot a medium shot in 4K, you could turn it into a close-up in post. Because there are more pixels available, you can stretch out the image without sacrificing quality. This could be handy for solo documentary shoots where the action/interview won’t be repeated. This could also be employed on narrative shoots that are running short on time. Stretching 1080p footage the same way, in contrast, would result in unwanted artifacts and a downgrade in overall image quality. There just aren’t enough extra pixels there to play with.
Another useful way to use 4K is with downscaling. Downscaling is a post process wherein you take higher-quality footage (like 4K) and convert it to a lower resolution (like 1080p). This may seem counterproductive, but because you are capturing more information when you shoot in 4K you will have better-looking footage, even after downscaling, than you would have had from a native 1080p capture.
Shooting an entire project in 4K also means you can reframe or create “camera movements” in post without losing quality. However, because of the cost in terms of storage, this is best for projects with a decent budget that are aiming for festivals or broadcast.
The most important thing to keep in mind is your target platform. If you’re shooting projects for online platforms like YouTube, you’re fine with 1080p. 1080p looks great on smaller devices. But, if your project will be shown in theatres or on TV, it might be worth investing in hard drives and shooting it all in 4K. You can downscale it, use the same footage for multiple shots, reframe your shots in post, or create camera movements in post, giving you a lot of flexibility.
Instead of thinking in terms of 1080p vs. 4K, I think it’s time we started thinking about these resolutions as different tools in our toolkits. Each with its own use depending on the project, our target platforms, and our available resources.
Happy shooting, everyone!
Do you have a tech question that needs answering? Ask Abner!
Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
CINEMA OF SMALL SPACES
DP KEVIN A. FRASER TALKS ABOUT HIS TIME IN THE TIN CAN
by EVAN BOWER
For over 30 days, cinematographer Kevin A. Fraser was packed tight in a Burnside studio, capturing every conceivable angle of Tin Can’s titular chamber.
Much of the film’s story takes place in that profoundly confined space, and it really is as small as it sounds: a hexagonal pod, only about 30 inches wide, which Kevin happened to be manoeuvring around with the bulkiest camera he’d ever worked with.
“It was a pretty funny juxtaposition: we had this massive zoom lens that we lived on most of the time on an old ARRI AMIRA body. Giant batteries, a giant matte box,” Kevin laughed, “the thing was almost as long as our camera assistant was tall.”
Tin Can is the latest feature from Cut/Off/Tail Pictures, the filmmaking trio of director Seth A. Smith, producer Nancy Urich and writer Darcy Spidle. The film made its hometown premiere at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival last week, where it earned two awards, including one for Best Atlantic Cinematography.
Cut/Off/Tail has been making films for a decade—in 2012, they released their feature debut, Lowlife, a phantasmagoric film about a lonely musician’s descent into a shadow world. Their 2017 film The Crescent screened at festivals around the world and cemented their reputation as creators of thoughtful and surreal horror.
After making two music videos with Cut/Off/Tail, Tin Can is Kevin’s first feature with the group.
The film tells the story of Fret (Anna Hopkins), a parasitologist who wakes up in the chamber and is forced to piece together how she got there through strained conversations with other nearby captives. Outside the can, an invasive slime mould is plaguing the world, though the film was shot before our own pandemic started.
Despite the cumbersome gear, production designer Matt Likely constructed the can to be as shoot-friendly as possible. Each wall of the hexagon could be removed to get different angles from outside. Then there were the chamber copies, each with its own particular use: a version for stunts, one for exterior shots, one with a transparent bottom.
“In [the studio] we had all the sets built at the same time,” said Kevin. “We had the interior tin can, a 20×20 blanket fort that the tin can was in. It was a big black void we could fill with haze … and the rest of the studio lights could be on and people could work normally.”
The film was shot digitally, but there’s an all-consuming organic quality to Tin Can’s visual design, giving the sense that the same mould plaguing humanity has started to decay the image.
It’s actually the result of a carefully crafted grain treatment settled on during colour grading, says Kevin, and the luck of happening upon gear that both lent itself to the look and was affordable and available in Halifax.
“We didn’t have the newest or most advanced equipment, but what we did have ended up being exactly the right tools for this film,” he said. “The camera is not extremely high-resolution, which helped to begin with, and we also had a set of Super Baltars, these old vintage lenses that really have quite a look to them, you know, they’re from the ‘60s.”
Tin Can’s handmade aesthetic extends to its Smith-composed score, which rumbles underneath the film at a slow boil and haunts the images. Even the lighting and grip duties were split between just two or sometimes three people (Mark Kenny, Keith Mitchell and Michael Doucette).
“All these different lights flashing and changing all the time,” said Kevin, “that was always a human being with, like, a metronome or a beats-per-minute app physically working switches every take, every time.”
Kevin says learning to work in a small space “was a positive” for him. He could focus on getting the most out of the space rather than constantly shifting to a new location, but it also challenged him to work at a different pace.
“Compared to other movies I’ve worked on, we didn’t get so many shots per day, which was a bit of an adjustment for me,” he said. “But Seth and Nancy were always very calm about it, and I think the truth is that Seth just likes to take his time to tinker and make sure he gets it right. So once I shifted into that way of thinking … it ended up being really rewarding.”
Kevin has shot a few projects since, and while he’d like to say his time with Cut/Off/Tail Pictures has changed the way he works, he’s learned that some things have to stay in the can. When you leave the chamber, you can’t always take the lessons with you.
“As much as I’d love to work on everything the way we did Tin Can, it’s just not always possible,” he said. “It’s something that Seth and Nancy bring to their way of working that you’re only ever going to get with them.”
Evan Bower is AFCOOP’s Online Projects Coordinator and a programmer for the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival. He’s also a writer and reporter living in Dartmouth, N.S.
with HERB THERIAULT
Remember that year we spent watching movies in solitude? Every month, we’re asking AFCOOP staff and members to share a few memorable discoveries that have come across their screens.
Until the End of the World (Germany, 1991, dir. Wim Wenders)
My first time seeing this transcontinental road movie was the director’s cut in January 2020, just before the world started to shut down. It’s unhurried pace (almost five hours!) rolls out a retro future that is part prophetic, sometimes a bit goofy, and completely absorbing. I’ve seen it once more since, and again let it take me across cities, deserts, underground science labs, and mindscapes. It’s currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
Rouge (France, 2015, dir. Antoine Barraud)
One of my favourite things in a film is when characters spend time in a museum. In Rouge, a Parisian filmmaker visits museums and galleries in search of a painting to feature in his next film. While having a low key crisis, or two. The dialogue is often pitch perfect. Bertrand Bonello and Jeanne Balibar are brilliant. The spaces they visit are full of beautiful and challenging art, which the camera lingers over while it is being quietly discussed. There is a definite oblique quality to the narrative as, interestingly, this is a one-hour cut of a longer film. It really works at this length, though. The atemporality creates a world slightly out of pace with itself, leaving us free to sink into the artwork even more. Rouge is currently streaming on MUBI.
Point and Line to Plane (Canada, 2020, dir. Sophia Bohdanowicz)
Suffering the loss of a close friend, a woman uses art as a guide to contemplate existence, and its fragility. Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint (and a Bolex) provide insight into other ways of seeing. If you missed the HIFF screening, you might have to wait for it to pop up somewhere (hopefully on MUBI again), but it’s well worth the wait.
Herb Theriault works in technology and makes (mostly analogue) films about, and sometimes with, nature.
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