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Trends: Making movies, dSLR style


Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut tells Siti Syameen Md Khalili about his experience in making movies with dSLR cameras

“WHEN Canon came out with Canon 5D, the video function was for Associated Press to get snippets with sound bites. Never in  its wildest dreams did it think that filmmakers would  shoot movies with it. It sparked a revolution among filmmakers,” said Shane Hurlbut, the cinematographer behind films like Act Of Valor.

Seventy per cent of Act Of Valor were shot using dSLR camera Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Hurlbut remembers speaking at an American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) event. He said: “One guy raised his hands and said ‘What’s inspiring is Shane Hurlbut using the same tool that I have, to make a major motion picture that is going to be screened in 6,000 theatres’. That is where we are at,” said Hurlbut about the dSLR film making movement now.

“Now they have the power in their hands. When I was a kid, a Bell & Howell Super 8 was not heading for the big screen, but now it is possible with a US$2,500 (RM7,500) still camera.

“The movement has been unique and special. I think dSLR filmmaking is going to create its own genre,” said the ASC cinematographer.

Having shot films using dSLR cameras for four years already, Hurlbut says the dSLR formfactor doesn’t look like a film camera. “There are quirks with dSLR that you have to understand. It doesn’t come out of the bubble wrap and films look spectacular. You have to do things to make a film look unique, but once you know the pros and  cons, this (EOS-1D C) is an incredibly powerful tool.”

In Kuala Lumpur recently to promote 4K capture on the Canon EOS C500 and EOS-1D C via Canon Cinema EOS 4K Product Seminar, Hurlbut was accompanied by writer and director Po Chan. The two filmmakers recently released The Ticket, a short film that showcases the capabilities of Canon’s latest digital SLR camera, the EOS-1D C, which offers 4K capture on a very small platform.

“The camera’s (output) looks like 35mm film — cinematic and organic looking. And it comes in a package that weighs only 1.6kg. It is a device that can really expand your scope, increase the amount of set-ups and keep a small footprint for a production. Using these devices somewhat raises your production value exponentially,” said Chan.

“The small footprint is phenomenal. We created a lot of unique camera perspectives with the small footprint. While you can put the camera on a helmet, next to an actor, or put it in harm’s way, it can deliver the main story. It is definitely a first camera, or A and B cameras.”

In one of the night scenes in The Ticket, two main actors hop into a taxi to get to a pier. Hurlbut used the EOS-1D C  to film the scene from the trunk to get the over-the-shoulder shot.

“We chose a Prius for its 4K sensor and to prove the point of small footprint. We were comfortably shooting at 3200 ISO and there was hardly any noise,” he said.

There was also a scene in the bucket of a ferris wheel in The Ticket. “There was no way you could haul a large film camera into such a tight area. With the EOS-1D C, we (Chan, two cinematographers and two actors) were able to hop into the same bucket to film the scene 21m in the air,” said Chan who also pointed out the savings in costs.

The 4K sensors matched with high sensitivity range also helped the team film night scenes with ease. “The higher  the ISO, the more noise you generate. We found 1600 ISO the best for street scenes. We cranked it up to 3200 ISO for long shots, but across the board, the camera noise looks like film grain.

“And all the fixed-pattern noise that we see in 5D has been eliminated,” added Hurlbut.

“The EOS-1D C and EOS C500 is a wonderful marriage. The EOS C500 becomes your A and B cameras if you are making a movie while the EOS-1D C becomes the intimate camera you use on helmets or when you are with the actors. Rather than using long lenses, you are literally at where it is happening. It gives you a totally different style in making a movie.”

Chan pointed out that the cameras help directors maintain the artistic vision of the story without looking like a video. “These cameras help us create a bigger platform to manipulate. 4K is also better for the visual effects team as it has more definition to play with. This also means faster turnaround so that is beneficial for small productions with only days to work on effects,” he said.

Summing up his experience working with the Canon EOS-1D C, Hurlbut said: “When I first got the EOS-1D C,  there were wires coming out of it and engineers were on standby feeding us new firmware as we worked. When I turned the camera on,  I knew it was going to shake things up.”

While most manufacturers in the high definition industry try to deliver 24 frames per second HD video recording, Canon has a different approach.

“Canon tries to deliver one frame 24 times. That is a huge difference because it is looking at that single frame and how  it can emulate a 35mm film.”

Both Hurlbut and Chan believe the time is ripe for filmmakers to embrace the dSLR movement. “Technology will change, but the heart and soul of filmmaking will never change. The dSLR filmmaking is like a gold rush and people are still thinking whether or not to join the rush. I believe it is a gold mine,” said Chan.

Hurlbut advised filmmakers to adopt a strong work ethic and to react quickly to challenges. “In a sense, every production is like a war. You battle weather, nature, animals, schedule, equipment failures and there will be curve balls thrown at you. So you have to have Plan A, B, C and D and the ability to use opportunities.”

Details about the cameras can be found at the Canon website. The Ticket can be viewed online at To view what went on behind the scenes, Canon North America has  posted a video titled Canon ‘The Ticket’ Behind The Scenes On The Short Film Shot With The EOS-1D C on YouTube.


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