Tech Talk

To be successful as an indie filmmaker I believe you need to be both a creative person and a technically-minded one.

Can you be successful without knowing the technical side of things? Sure. Are you limiting yourself to being very dependent on others if you don't understand this stuff? Absolutely.

This is one reason I really like Robert Rodriguez. He has honed both his creative abilities and his technical filmmaking craft to very high levels (like his films or not).

Now understand of course, I'm not saying you should not collaborate with others who have expertise in certain areas. I absolutely think you should. Ever heard "jack of all trades, but master of none"? What I am saying is you should have at minimum a good understanding of all the technical aspects of making a film.

What format do you want to shoot on? 35mm? HDCAM? DVCPRO HD? HDV? DV? Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of each? How are you going to edit? Avid? Final Cut Pro? Adobe Premiere? Do you have an understanding of how non-linear editing works? How are you planning to distribute your final movie? A film print? An HD master? DVD? HD-DVD? Blu-Ray? What is the best solution for you and ultimately your audience?

These are really pretty general questions. Again, I'm not saying every filmmaker needs to understand the engineering aspects of high-def tape stock or an Avid editing system. I'm just saying please, please, please do some research and get a good general understanding of the process and how it will affect your project.

I consider myself to be a very technically-minded person (and pretty creative too). But notwithstanding, I have had some recent technical problems with the final color correction on "Killing Down". So it can and will happen to everyone - just try and prepare yourself the best you can. I personally read just about every industry magazine out there like Post Magazine, Millimeter, DV Magazine, High Def, Filmmaker, Indie Slate, Videography, etc - and I constantly read industry blogs like HDforIndies, DV Guru and many, many others.

These days technology changes extremely fast and so it's a good idea to stay on top of it. Just today I read a great story from Mike Curtis at HDforIndies about the first footage he's seen (or really anyone has seen) from the new RED Camera. This camera - if it even comes close to its proposed specs - will likely revolutionize ALL filmmaking (from Hollywood to indies and everything in between). Of course this phrase has been said a lot in the last few years, but again, technology has changed a lot too (and actually filmmaking has been revolutionized many times).

As for the new "Plan B" color correction on "Killing Down"... we're doing a very high-end HD tape-to-tape grading on a DaVinci system. So yesterday I had to output the movie from the Avid DS Nitris to D5-HD tape. The post house did not have a D5 machine so we had to rent it and get it shipped from LA. Supposedly there are over 400 D5-HD machines in LA - but there is only one in Dallas and it's at Video Post (where I'm doing the color correction). This was very costly, and I'll have to do it again after the correction to put it back into the Avid DS for subtitling, effects and final credits, etc. I normally don't discuss costs in too much detail, but I feel it's good for other indies to know how expensive this stuff is. The Panasonic D5-HD deck rents for $1700/day. Luckily the post house I'm using gets a discount, so with shipping it was $1400 to rent. Yep, that's a lot of money. Not to mention that the D5 tape stock - the 124 minute length - cost $291 for each tape. I bought two. One to output from the DS and one to color correct to. Again, not cheap.

So why D5-HD? I could have easily scored an HDCAM deck (maybe even gotten it for free as a favor), but I wanted the higher quality format. Here's where some of that technical mumbo jumbo comes in handy...

D5-HD is an uncompressed 10bit format with a 4:2:2 color space. HDCAM is a compressed 8 bit format with a 3:1:1 color space. My online edit in the Avid DS was uncompressed 10 bit 4:2:2, so I did not want to output to HDCAM. D5 was the best choice to retain the quality throughout. And, Video Post has a D5 machine.

So yes, it did cost me more, but in the end I will have a better master format and my technical know how helped me arrive to this conclusion (with the help of several other's input).

Of course now the business-minded side of my brain is saying "what the hell did you just spend that money for?".

But I'm an indie filmmaker, so I don't have any business sense. ;)


2 comments to "Tech Talk"

  • D-5 is full raster, but is still compressed (ALL HD tape formats are compressed). But it IS 10 bit, full raster (1920 pixels across recorded), and relatively lightly compressed.

    HDCAM is 8 bit, subsampled (only 1440 pixels across not 1920), and more heavily compressed. Off the top of my head at midnight on a Sunday I don't recall D-5's data rate, but HDCAM is 22.5 MB/sec - nice but not outstanding, considering uncompressed 10 bit 4:4:4 is 190 MB/sec @ 24fps.

    So advantages of D-5 over HDCAM:
    10 not 8 bits
    1920 (full raster) not 1440 (subsampled)
    lower compression ratio, higher data rate, fewer artifacts, more detail

    end persnickety rant,


  • okay, i don't know anything about technology. ;)

    i actually thought it was uncompressed or "lossless" compression as they say. anyway, i do know that D5 is the best format available to us and that virtually everyone in LA (i.e. distributors) wants D5. if i understand correctly the only possibly "better" tape format is HDCAM SR because of it's 4:4:4 color space (and low compression).

    thanks for the correction though mike!


Who Am I?

I'm a filmmaker who's produced & directed five feature films including the comedy SPILT MILK (available on iTunes), the new horror/thriller PHOBIA (on iTunes) and the action/thiller KILLING DOWN (which you can buy or rent at pretty much all the usual places).

I also created the Streamy and Webby award-winning web series PINK, which to date has been viewed online around 10 MILLION times at places like YouTube, Hulu, Koldcast and And speaking of, I also produced and directed an online thriller for them called EXPOSED. It was released summer 2010. And most recently I created a new online sci-fi series called CONTINUUM, which is part of the online indie TV network - Just The Story and NOW available via VOD through indie platform Distrify.

Oh, and I don't shoot weddings. Thanks for asking though.

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