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HD Cinema Blog: ‘Closing Escrow’

Here’s the first blog entry for HD Notebook subscribers who wish to follow the blow-by-blow account of producing an HD motion picture (HD Notebook, July 27, 2005). "Closing Escrow" is a SAG Modified Low-Budget Feature that will be shot entirely in HD in the greater Los Angeles area in the next few weeks.

Executive Producers: Armen Kaprelian, Randall Dark
Co-Directors: Armen Kaprelian, Kent Llwewllyn
Producer: Kristen Cox
Director of Photography: Scott Billups
EIC: Sean Fairburn

Armen’s blog…

“A year and a half ago, I wrote a script about three families searching for their next home. Because my background was primarily in documentary/reality TV, this script took on a similar structure as a “mockumentary.” It didn’t make sense for me to do it any other way. You’ve got to go with what you know.

“This format represents a few technological challenges. I knew I wanted this to ultimately be projected on film, yet I didn’t want an overly stylized look. That means I would need a camera that can handle environments that are not perfectly lit. If the lighting is too perfect, we lose the raw look of a documentary.

“Also, I never wanted these actors to look like their lines were scripted. The script has very defined scenes and structured beats, but is virtually void of dialogue. This will allow the talent to actually react to a home the way that their character would. This organic way of filmmaking requires a lot of takes for the cast and director to explore the different ways to accomplish each scene. The required shooting ratio would not fit within our budget if this were done using film.

“So, what technology was available that would affordably do the job in less than perfect shooting conditions?

“After consulting with Kristen Cox and Randall Dark, it became clear that my story was destined to be told with the High Definition acquisition format. HD will allow me the flexibility to shoot in almost any lighting environment. The tape stock and “processing” are relatively inexpensive, which will allow me to keep the camera rolling in search of the perfect moment.

“The next question I had was which flavor of HD to employ.

“After a few weeks of research, I found all sorts of different types of HD… 60i, 30i, 24p, 1080i, 720p, VariCam, Cine Alta HD Cam, HDVZ mini DV, F900, F950, D5, Genesis. This spun my head around pretty good.

“Kristen told me to hook up with veteran effects guy and HD guru Scott Billups. He had just written a book called ‘Digital Movie Making.’ It was a very informative book, a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how technology is changing this industry. So I met with Scott and he basically confirmed what Randall and Kristen had been saying.

“Since my goal was to ultimately have this projected in theatres, it would be important for me to have enough resolution. That meant I would need to go with the Sony version of HD. So which Sony HD Cam should we use?

“I knew that the F900 was used by Robert Rodriguez in ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico,’ and George Lucas used it for the one of the new Star Wars films. But, the F950 had recently been released and was soon followed by the Genesis camera. Those cameras are capable of a lot, but were a little too high for my price range. These are great if your story requires a lot of effects-heavy cinematography. Since ours does not, we made the decision to go with the Sony F900 Cine Alta, and to record on the docked onboard recorders. This should be sufficient.

“The next question will be how to tweak the Sony F900 to deliver the desired look of our film. We will be running our F900 through some tests over the next few weeks in pursuit of the right look. More details to come, after I get my head around those results…

~Armen Kaprelian