Friday, July 17, 2009

DSLR/Video Interview with Zak Forsman

In the last four months, I have written three articles on digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) that can shoot high definition video. The first one was for a periodical published in both print and online formats, Filmmaker Magazine. I wrote the second piece for an online journal produced by Focus Features called Film in Focus. The third article I pitched to Filmmaker Magazine, and they deemed it different and interesting enough (and the first one popular enough) to have me do a follow-up.

That the first two articles were assigned to me although I am a freelancer is an indication of the amount of buzz this new technology has generated at least among the readers of these periodicals. The first article was about filmmakers actually making long form films with Nikon and Canon DSLRs. Scott Macaulay, the editor of Filmmaker, furnished me with email addresses and phone numbers of three filmmakers and away I went. The article about the new technology and how it was used by Andrew Disney, Tom Quinn, and Zak Forsman is called Shutterbugs.

The interviews with the filmmakers were conducted as background for the piece and for occasional quotes. I was sorry I couldn’t use more of each one in the finished article so I am publishing them here. Zak Forsman is directing and shooting a feature called Eloquent Graffiti with a Nikon D90.

RQD: You seem to be working on multiple projects right now. What are your plans regarding distribution for each film?

ZF: I'm currently using the D90 to shoot a feature titled Eloquent Graffiti, as well as a short prelude to the film called Model Photographer. The plan for this project is to create a work using available resources and a bare minimum budget so we can release the film online for free at the end of 2009. It will be part of a larger universe residing online called WANDERLUST and preceded by ancillary content such as in-character video diaries, internet radio shows, an online comic book, the short film and a faux social network -- an entire universe that our growing audience/community can navigate with our portal. Eloquent Graffiti will not be the only project that is part of the WANDERLUST network, but it will be the first.

The purpose of giving it away for free is to expand our audience/community while capturing their metadata and using that to leverage sponsorships and advertising opportunities to keep it free. Minimizing the budget to a nano-budget also minimizes the financial risk making this kind of experience with evolving models of distribution much easier to stomach.

RQD: Does shooting your films with a Nikon come up when you meet with a distributor? Does it help or hurt your chances of distribution?

ZF: As we are distributing this 100% ourselves, it hasn't come up.

RQD: What are your plans regarding future use of a still camera to shoot your projects? If you raised, say, $250,000 for a picture, would you still use the Nikon? What amount is the tipping point between a Nikon and something like a Red camera?

ZF: I use the camera by accepting its shortcomings and playing to its strengths. It doesn't look like a film or video camera so you can shoot incognito when needed. It has the visual characteristics of 35mm, it is extremely sensitive and excels in low-light situations to the degree that one can shoot under street lights. However, the reality is that the D90 is going to be improved on very soon, if it hasn't already. It won't be my "go to" camera for much longer. A recent photo of a stripped-down handheld Red Scarlet prototype shows it has the same advantages of a DSLR form factor, plus a sensor with 5K resolution and a fast read-reset to
eliminate image skewing. So while I'm not delaying ELOQUENT GRAFFITI for the Scarlet, I expect subsequent films by SABI PICTURES to be lensed on that line next year.

RQD: The footage I saw has a lot of hand-held camera work. Isn’t the D-90 awkward to hold for this kind of shooting?

ZF: The D90 is very comfortable for handheld shooting given its DSLR form factor. I hold it securely with my right hand while cradling it and pulling focus with my left. The camera's sensor has a slow read-reset which results in skewing of the image when panning left and right. This effect is minimized in much the same way you soften handheld camerawork -- with wide lenses and stabilization. I won't shoot with anything longer than my 28mm without a tripod. Even so, it takes a good amount of familiarity with the D90 to work within its technical limitations.

RQD: is your eye up to the eyepiece while you're shooting hand held like that? Or does the image appear on back of camera?

ZF: I compose the frame and pull focus simply by monitoring the LCD display on the back of the camera.

RQD: how do you record sound? Wireless?

ZF: The camera has a built-in mic that is nearly worthless. It records a mono track at 11khz resulting in audio that is good enough for a scratch track to sync your double-system recordings to. There is no auxiliary input for sound so we use a variety of double-system solutions. For ambience, a Zoom H2 provides a 4 channel surround recording for building a 5.1 mix. For dialogue we stick with a Sennheiser 416 to a Sound Devices 702 compact flash recorder. When necessary, we use a wireless kit.

RQD: What is the workflow from the last time you say "cut" to the end of post?

ZF: My goal for post is to get the captured media into a form where the image quality is protected from subsequent renders and the format meets broadcast specifications. This means two things, transcoding to Apple ProRes and retiming the framerate from 24fps to 23.98fps. I have created a droplet in Compressor that does both. As with any double system shoot, dailies need to be synced in post. There is no timecode here to automate the process so my editor, Jamie Cobb, uses the slate or an alternate means of a sync mark such as clapping hands.
Here is an article written by Zak Forsman titled My Nikon D90 Workflow
Zak’s web sites are:

This interview was conducted for "Shutterbugs", an article in the Spring 2009 issue of Filmmaker Magazine

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