26 Oct 2019

What's it like using a top-end camera (the Sony F65) on a low-budget indie film?

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F65 in La Vie Nous Appartient F65 in La Vie Nous Appartient Penny Lane/Alex lee




Our choice to use a large high-end camera posed several challenges to various departments. Perhaps the biggest, for the production team in general, was that the entire movie takes place outdoors in a rocky terrain. This not only implied a constant exposure to the elements, but also required some logistical “creativity”, felt also by our camera department.

Throughout the entire shoot, our DOP, Marco Zimprich, who mostly operated the camera himself, needed to move on the uneven ground, using just an Easy Rig when necessary. Capturing some angles also required him to be secured by ropes, hanging from a cliff with the heavy camera on his shoulders. Not so easy, considering that while Alex opted for a hand-held camera, he didn’t want one that was so jerky that it would distract the viewer from the dialog.

The option to use only natural light was also risky, since we would be placed at the mercy of what nature provides. Strong sunlight gives strong contrasts, dark shadows and white surfaces in the same frame. Clouds arriving in the middle of a take bring changes in light that have to be incorporated into the scene.

Our main concern, however, was that the Sony F65 was a new camera at the time (we filmed in 2012), not yet tested in Austria with respect to the workflow both on set and in post-production; Marco was the first cameraman in Austria to use it. The sheer amount of data produced by the camera was particularly overwhelming, especially when also considering dailies, backups, and processing times, all of which we had until then only tested on a much smaller scale. And all this of course raised another question, faced by all indie film producers: how will it affect the budget...




How it worked out

Despite our initial hesitancy, the choice of a hand-held camera proved valuable in the end: We had only 11 days to shoot the entire 90-minute film, so not having to move around tripods or set up tracks (with few exceptions), saved us a lot of time. In addition, the weight of the F65 actually made the picture more stable than if we had used a light DSLR, for example. A smaller camera may have lured us into using other, unusual camera angles, but none that would have supported the two characters in our story. In any case, mountain security on set allowed us to go wherever we wanted, without endangering equipment or team.
The Sony F65 proved an excellent choice for shooting outside in natural light, allowing us to save on the logistics, manpower, and time necessary for setting up lights. In the words of our DOP Marco,

“With the tendency nowadays towards smaller and lighter cameras, we chose to do the opposite, and picked one of the largest camera on the market. Why? Because it gives us a picture that we would otherwise not get. We worked very quickly, with the camera giving us everything we need contrast-wise, the white rocks, shadows and sun - you can move directly from the dark woods into the glaring sun, and all the information is still there.”

This leads us to what was our greatest concern: the untested workflow.


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