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Snow Leopard, the first feature film shot on a Sigma fp

Image: Svenja Sabatini.
3 minute read
Image: Svenja Sabatini.

A German production looks set to be the first feature film shot entirely using the Sigma fp full frame pocket camera.

Snow Leopard, an indie project from first time director Marius Fischer, is also possibly unique in being the first feature length film to be shot without dialogue.

Fischer explains, “This is a mono-drama where we follow just one actor and there are no spoken words which is something no one has ever done before to our knowledge.”

True enough, the Robert Redford on-a-boat drama All At Sea has him reading a letter and also railing at the conditions. Buried (2010) seals the fate of Ryan Reynolds while he is talking on a mobile phone underground.

Even 2019’s Cannes film festival entry Arctic has Mads Mikkelsen’s stranded survivor interact with another actor at one point.

“I wrote a story that could be done quickly, easily and cheaply,” Fischer says. “This was, at least, cheap.”

He explains, “In this film, our lead actor (Sebastian Edtbauer who also co-produces and co-writes) acts like he is a Snow Leopard. Those animals are always alone and they never make a sound (except if they want to mate).”

Shooting the Snow Leopard on a Sigma fp. Image: Svenja Sabatini.
Image: Svenja Sabatini.

Fischer isn’t revealing any more plot details, not even to say whether Edtbauer’s character is a hunter.

The film was shot in just two weeks at the beginning of the year with a ten person crew in Germany and in landscapes similar to the region where the creatures live (which according to Wiki is in northern and central Asia's high mountains, including the Himalayas).

Fischer knew he needed a compact, cheap and lightweight camera. He had been working on an Amazon series as DIT with AC Franziska Hurm in Munich when they came across the Sigma fp.

“The Sigma fp was being used as director’s viewfinder and crash cam so we were able to take a look at it and get to know it. We tested it on set and saw the material and were really surprised about the quality of the footage. Franziska(Snow Leopard DoP) started to believe in it for our project.”

The camera’s director’s viewfinder function allows the user to simulate different angles of view and how an image looks, on cinema cameras.

“The camera is very light and small [112.6×69.9×45.3mm] so that’s a big benefit when you have to be quick. We shot a lot of scenes in a tent - which is the lead character’s base - and in such a tight space you have to keep as compact as possible. We couldn’t use the huge bodies of an Ursa or Alexa Mini.

“Also, when comes to grip we had the benefit that we could use cheaper arms since the camera only weighs 422g, battery included. Some takes were about 30-minutes long and handheld so the weight of the unit was another factor here.”

Sigma fp with Video Assist 12g. Image: Svenja Sabatini.
Recording was done on a Blackmagic Design Video Assist 12G monitor/recorder. Image: Svenja Sabatini.

Recording format

They recorded via Blackmagic Design Video Assist monitors in BMD RAW at 4K. “That was important to me to have the BMD RAW codec because I work in Davinci Resolve.”

The Sigma’s firmware v3.0 can handle the codec recording to Samsung SSDs at a ratio of 3:1.

“That’s a lightly compressed so we got all the information we needed. In Resolve you can bring down all the highlights. It’s super great setup that I would recommend to everyone.”

The Sigma fp is also claimed to be the first DSLR that supports external recording in 12-bit CinemaDNG format. It further supports All-I (All-Intra) recording, which makes it possible to maintain high image quality while reducing file size, allowing light data available for recording and editing.

“We went into the project aware that what we’d see is what we’d get - especially when it comes to low light. The camera has 13 stops of dynamic range so we knew we had to pay attention to the highlights and low lights but it turned out that all the information in the highlights was still there, it wasn’t clipped. We shot a lot with available light in woods where there no power to set up lights.”

Snow Leopard Sigma fp. Image: Svenja Sabatini.
Image: Svenja Sabatini.

They shot with Sigma’s high speed primes 14mm 20 40 50 and 105mm. As an L-Mount camera, the Sigma fp can be used with various L-Mount lenses offered by Leica and Panasonic, in addition to Sigma lenses.

There are other pocket cameras on the market. Fischer owns a BMD Pocket Camera 6K but wanted the full frame of the Sigma.

“It meant there was no crop at all for lenses. If you’re shooting inside a tent which is not very big you have a problem if you always have to choose a short lens because you’ve got to crop to accommodate the full frame.  But with the Sigma we didn’t have to. Plus, there are no other mirrorless full frame cameras out there especially in this price range.”

Snow Leopard is in post with the filmmakers targeting a local cinema release and a run at the festival circuit in early 2023. The movie will have a soundtrack, it’s not a silent film. FX for a snow storm will feature, among other things.

Fischer is an editor and post producer who runs his own studio [https://www.marius-fischer.tv]. Last year he supervised post on a three-part documentary for Sky Deutschland’s HD channel Sky Comedy which was shot almost entirely in 12K resolution. For details on that head here.

Tags: Production