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HD changes economics of filmmaking, sets stage for boom, says Dark

Shooting in HD changes the financial equation of filmmaking, says “Closing Escrow” executive producer Randall Dark.

The HD Expo, opening Nov. 3 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, will feature a seminar on the role of HD in the production of “Closing Escrow,” a new independent film shot in high definition.

Randall Dark, president of HD Vision Studios and executive producer of the movie, will discuss making the film, which currently is in post-production, and how other filmmakers can rely upon HD filmmaking to make their creative vision a reality without the traditional expense of film production.

High Definition Technology Update caught up with Dark to discuss the new film and how high-definition production and post are empowering independent filmmakers.

HDTU: Discuss from a budgeting perspective the impact of shooting HD rather than film?

Randall Dark: The fact that we were able to shoot HD had a huge financial impact on this feature.

We knew we would be following a style much like “Best in Show,” and we would be shooting an incredible amount of long takes. If we were shooting in 35mm it would be very, very expensive. Everything about shooting 35mm is expensive — buying raw stock, developing, processing, transferring, etc.

With HD, it’s about $80 for 50-minute loads. We were also using two cameras most of the time. This enabled the director to get multiple camera angles during a single take but also doubled the amount of tape used.

When producing this sort of film, we knew we had a tight shooting schedule — 14 days to shoot what really should take a lot longer. Incredibly, in 14 days we were able to shoot 57, 50-minute loads, which is huge. We were just shooting, shooting, shooting, during an organic process of actors working in that improvisational environment.

As executive producer, I was extremely pleased that the director, Armen Kaprelian, got the coverage he wanted shooting with two cameras.

You can only afford so much. Every time you squeeze the trigger of whatever camera you're using, you're spending money. The least expensive line item for “Closing Escrow” was tape stock, and we shot an incredible amount of footage.

We couldn't have done this with film. I guarantee it.

HDTU: New tools, new economies, new players in filmmaking. Is the traditional distribution model up to the task of HD film distribution? How is it changing or how must it change to do so?

RD: I think what will be changing — what is in fact changing — is that we have a very cost-effective way to distribute programs. For a normal theatrical release, you do a print for about $3000. As digital cinema evolves, that’s changing. We’ve already sent programs to digital cinemas using just one tape that was broadcast to 16 digital cinema locations. As this system evolves and expands, it will be a very inexpensive way for independent filmmakers to get their product in theaters. This will greatly impact the way we distribute content.

Another aspect of shooting a feature in HD is that you're saving money but you're not losing an analog theatrical release. We can transfer 24p tapes to 35mm and go after traditional distribution methods. When shooting HD, we are not jeopardizing any traditional revenue but are gaining auxiliary revenue.

We are going to enter “Closing Escrow” into expos and film festivals to get distributors to look at it. If it's good, people will buy it and distribute it for us. This feature is very timely and funny. Remember that at any given time, 2 million people per day are buying or selling a house in America. We think our timing for this sort of project is perfect.

HDTU: As the film's executive producer and president of HD Vision Studios, how does HD change the equation of deciding what projects you'll take on?

RD: A good story is a worth its weight in gold no matter what technology is used. My decisions are based on non-technical reasons.

That being said, I also look at how a story can benefit by using HD, and I believe that list is growing every day.

I knew that “Closing Escrow” could benefit from using two HD cameras attached to Paintboxes, feeding real-time through a Miranda to a G4. This system allowed for real-time color timing and the creation of a rough cut in the field.

The end-to-end solution using HD is available with all the bells and whistles, and it is very cost effective. I couldn't say that a few years ago. Today, the savings are substantial and the end result is indistinguishable (from film). I guarantee no average consumer who watched “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” or “Sin City” sat in the theater and pondered whether it was HD or film. They couldn't tell the difference and they couldn't care less.

We are about to see the independent marketplace explode because of the cost effectiveness of the tools. Look at sitcoms. How many programs now being shot in HD and on consumer TVs at home look like they were shot on 35mm? I'm not saying that I love HD rather than film. Film is an incredible art form. I'm not out to replace an art form or say one technology is better than the other. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. What I am saying is that the main reason to switch to HD is not because it's such a phenomenal tool because it is. But the main reason is its cost effectiveness. Period.

HDTU: The SMPTE annual conference will open later this month in New York City. What issues would you like to see SMPTE or other standards making bodies address to improve HD film production?

RD: Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD is a huge issue. That is our after market. If we could resolve that issue, it would help greatly.

Recently the studios have pretty much agreed on release resolution for digital cinemas. With those issues resolved, there will be a boom in digital cinematography and digital display.

Worldwide we're going to see this take off. It is going to benefit the independent filmmaker and the studios. There’s less chance of piracy and all of these elements help level the playing field for young creative people. You don’t need to raise $3 million to shoot your first feature. There are a lot of new voices on the horizon about to be heard because they can now afford to do this, and that is exciting.

HDTU: You've been involved with HD production for about 20 years. How would you compare today's HD production climate with your initial experience?

RD: So many horror stories have been written about HD. It’s like any new emerging technology. Some may have tried in its infancy when HD filmmaking was not fully developed. There has been a fast evolution of this technology, and I think those who might have been turned off by HD in its infancy should revisit it —not just the technology, but the price structure.

As a cost factor - a way to get a quicker return on investment- I think people should look at HD.

For more information on “Closing Escrow” visit

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