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‘The Wordz Project’ offers firsthand look at RED ONE to 35mm film transfer

Rick Shaw, owner and founder of Pinlight, a Hollywood-based production and post facility, recently tackled a project that gave him firsthand knowledge of what can be accomplished when footage shot with the RED ONE digital camera is laid back to 35mm film for distribution.

While working on “The Wordz Project,” Shaw and his crew shot footage in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles for the five-minute short, which later was offlined at Burbank-based Kappa Studios using RED proxy files with Final Cut Pro and conformed at Kappa in an Avid Nitris online suite.

This week, “HD Technology Update” speaks with Shaw about his experience with the RED ONE camera and the results achieved when his master was laid off to 35mm film at EFILM in Hollywood.

HD Technology Update: Could you tell me a little bit about the concept for “The Wordz Project”?

Rick Shaw: A couple of years ago, I bumped into a guy named Bigg Slice who builds low-rider cars for Snoop [Dogg]. He’s a great guy, and we kind of got to know each other. We shot a pilot for him, and he took me all through Watts. I began to understand how these guys grew up, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

So my friend had written this book called “The Wordz.” it’s basically if you just took all the words of Christ out of the New Testament and put them in a book — that’s what it is.

He asked me if I thought Bigg Slice would just do a read for us. I said, “Yeah, I think he would.” One thing led to another, and through a friend of mine by the name of Warren Holden, he introduced us to Layzie and Bizzy Phone from the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and a bunch of other folks, and the project has now grown into this mammoth thing. We’ve got almost three CDs of music.

During that time, when we where recording all of this stuff, we did HDV of all of it, mostly on the Canon XL-H1 camera. Then recently we had an offer to shoot a 35mm short for theaters on the new Red ONE camera, which we just completed.

HD Technology Update: What was it like working with the RED ONE camera?

Rick Shaw: Since I had never used the camera before and they’re kind of hard to get your hands on still, I found a guy my friend Paul at Kappa Studios suggested we work with. His name is Gianny [Trutmann]. He actually owned a RED camera. So we all met in the parking lot at Denny’s right outside of Watts, which is our location to shoot, and built the camera out in the parking lot, and took it in with us.

It took some really amazing pictures. This camera has an incredible CMOS chip. It’s a full-frame size 35mm chip, so you end up with an enormous amount of resolution to work with; it was quite impressive. It was also a learning experience for all of us to use this camera more or less in a documentary format because it is a pretty big and unwieldy camera to carry around, unless you are putting it on a tripod, so we had to adapt to that. The pictures we got were really fantastic.

HD Technology Update: How did working with RED ONE compare to your experience working with film and HD video cameras?

Rick Shaw: Well, it’s almost like in a category by itself. It shoots a resolution that’s really larger than HD cameras do. Most HD cameras shoot at 1920 and this shoots at 2024, I believe, if you are in 2K mode. It also has a 4K mode, but in this case since we had a small budget, we didn’t want to have to deal with that big of a resolution in post.

It’s actually different than shooting with an Arriflex or with an HD camera. It’s very unique in the way it works.

HD Technology Update: What lens did you use?

Rick Shaw: We used the standard Cooke lens that comes with the RED ONE camera.

HD Technology Update: How did you approach posting the project?

Rick Shaw: When you are shooting with the RED, you are recording to a hard drive that basically clamps on to the frame of the camera. It’s a 325GB drive; it makes different images for you. It records in RAW format, which is the actual RED output from the CMOS chip, and then it also creates a proxy, which, in our case, is about a 50 percent representation of the full-resolution image. Then it has a metadata file that it generates that you can use to colorize the images without affecting the RAW file.

Kappa Studios over in Burbank wanted to get involved with this project, so they opened up their Final Cut Pro suite, and we edited over there. Basically, I was editing with the RED cam proxy files in Final Cut Pro, and it just edited like you were doing any other HDV project. It was just pretty much flawless in that regard.

When we output, we took my EDL and took it into their Avid Nitris suite and output everything at full resolution in there. It was kind of a two-step process.

HD Technology Update: You mentioned that before the RED ONE shoot, you had shot a lot of HDV footage for the project. I was wondering if you integrated any of that into the short you were making, and if so, what was your experience mixing the two?

Rick Shaw: Well, it was very interesting. We realized that we only had the camera for a couple of days, and this was really kind of documentary-esque, so it was unscripted. I had been with Bigg Slice before, who was kind of our liaison in Watts this time when we went to shoot. Consequently, we were going into Watts about two weeks after four guys were murdered, so the situation was kind of tense. There were a lot of cops running around the neighborhood, so we had to be careful what we were doing.

When we got back and realized we really needed to tell a little bit more of the story, and we had so much of this Canon footage we had shot over the past year, we decided to integrate some of that into the timeline. So we did.

The main difference we saw was the Canon footage was shot at 1080i 24f mode, which is Canon’s own format, but it integrated well. It was just slightly smaller from a horizontal aspect ratio than the RED cam was. So that had to be expanded in post a little bit, and our Nitris editor, Igor Ridanovic from Kappa, did that for me to make all of the formats work together. The only thing we noticed was that the Canon tended to flatten white areas out a bit more, whereas the RED cam seemed to have a bit more latitude in highlights and dark space.

HD Technology Update: What did you expect of the film transfer? Did what you ended up with meet your expectations?

Rick Shaw: We had never done this before, so we went over to EFILM, which is one of the best digital transfer houses in Hollywood, and met with some folks. They were very interested in our project and decided to jump onboard and just do it for us, because they believed in the concept of the project and they also liked what they saw. So we took it on as a project together as a test for the RED ONE camera to see how it would look on film.

What they first asked us to do was output a few representative frames from the Nitris and send it over to them and then look at that on 35 and see how it looked. What we did was go through the sequence, which is about 5:15 in total, and we pulled out about 1:30 of footage. We just cut that together rather crudely and sent it over to EFILM. We all went over there the following week and looked at it, and it was really impressive. We kind of walked out of there thinking if we had shot this on an ARRI, we would be hard pressed to tell any difference from what we got with the RED cam.

HD Technology Update: You shot your feature film “Beat the Drum” on 35mm film. Would you consider using the RED ONE for another feature project in place of film?

Rick Shaw: I think we actually could. The film cameras are a little bit easier to manage, especially if you only have a 400ft mag on them; they’re not quite as heavy as the RED cam. They don’t require the weight of accessory items that the RED cam does. But once you get past those things, what you end up saving is the expense of doing a DI on your film, which is still a really huge investment to make.

Essentially, with shooting with the RED, you’re making DI as you go. You don’t have that expense, and it makes it easier to color time digitally and do some of the other things you would be doing to the film digitally anyway. Then you can go back to film with it.

But the longer we get into this, if you are doing something for theatrical release, the more theaters seem to be adapting to the digital output where people are walking in with D5 decks and hooking them up, and it looks really fine.

I think the RED cam is a really viable alternative to that. We’re currently thinking about producing another documentary and shooting it all in RED this time.

HD Technology Update: Where does “The Wordz Project” go from here?

Rick Shaw: We have all this music that we’ve done. We’re currently talking with some distributors, and we’re considering producing a one-hour direct-to-DVD special. And also we are considering producing, if we can get the budget to do it, a feature-length project, like an HBO special, something in that regard. We should know more about that within a week.

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