by Graham Sheldon | 20th January 2017
The United States will have a new president at noon today and the National Endowment for the Arts is on the budgetary chopping block for the new administration, according to reporting by The Hill. Why does this matter for cinema5D readers? Since 1965, the NEA has given out thousands of grants to budding filmmakers and artists and a grant of $25,000 even sourced the creation of Robert Redford’s Sundance Lab in the late 70’s, precursor to the famed Sundance Film Festival — which started this week in Park City, Utah. This is bad news for indie filmmakers everywhere: Incoming President Trump’s team will be dissolving the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) according to reports coming out of transition team discussions. Beyond that, NPR and PBS will be privatized and the department of commerce, transportation, energy, justice and state will all experience large cuts and program cancellations, but let’s focus on the implications for filmmakers. The NEA’s funding has dwindled over the years, barely leaving enough to justify the cut given the overall deficit. For comparison, in 2013, Germany had a cultural budget of 1.63 billion dollars, but the NEA spent around 1/40th of that on arts funding in the United States. France, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Finland, and Ireland all spend more when adjusted for population then the United States on the arts. The NEA’s grant budget of $146.2 million amounts to 0.003847% of the United States 3.8 Trillion yearly budget and as the Washington Post‘s Jared Kushner points out: the NEA’s budget is about half of what Trump’s son-in-law paid for 666 Fifth Avenue in 2006. So there you go, entire body of artists across all genres and media in an entire nation, your collective funding isn’t worth even half a percent or half a townhouse. (Also, can we talk about that address???) Caption: Still from Mad as Hell! Feature length documentary funded by a $400,000 grant from the NEA. President Obama, now citizen Obama, made the point in his final press conference that the United States dominates the Olympics, especially with female athletes, because of a focus on developing the talents of young athletes with acts like Title IX. The arts, like athletics, will not continue to develop in the United States if funding is not devoted to fostering the talents of young artists, who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to practice their craft or even, simply, learn about it in school. Yesterday, when asked about how the Trump presidency would change filmmaking and the Sundance Film Festival in particular, Robert Redford spoke to the apprehension in the entertainment industry, but also spoke of hope: “You want to look for where the light is going to come. In this current dialogue, it looks like a lot is going to be taken away from us and that will galvanize the people. I hope and I think it will be followed by a movement.” Caption: Image of baseball player, Dick Allen, from the documentary: A Long Way from Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation — Film funded by $500,000 grant from the NEA. That movement will be necessary to fill gaps where support will no longer exist. Though it may not be as impressive an organization as European counterparts, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the good work that the NEA has consistently done. According to a report issued by the organization on their activities in fiscal year 2015 (last available data) the organization awarded some 2,300 grants to artists in every congressional district in the US. Here are just a few stats illustrating the NEA’s work in 2015: 36 NEA Fellowships in Creative Writing totaling $900,000. $9.9 Million Awarded to the “Underserved” as part of arts partnerships. Supported, through grants, broadcast television, radio, and cable productions that reached an audience of an estimated 360 million. When there is so much uncertainty on the world stage, some may find the arts less of a priority and be glad at redistribution of funds. When crisis comes a calling, the arts are very often forgotten: according to the National Arts Index 2013 report, arts funding reached a record low in 2011 following subprime mortgage financial disaster. However, I would urge readers to heed the words of Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam, who so wisely said the following at the Sundance Opening Press Conference today: “I don’t think this is an issue just for filmmakers, the question of the NEA… this is a human issue, this is about free expression and it’s about what role the arts play… It feels hard to imagine that being a real budget cut measure. It feels more like a statement about the arts and I think what people can do, not just artists, but all people… to speak up for what role the arts bring to our culture and to our lives and to our ability to understand our world. So, I think its a critical issue for all Americans.” Funding for arts is now more vital than ever. The NEA accepts tax deductible online donations HERE. What do you think? Should the National Endowment of the Arts be dissolved to reduce the national deficit by 0.003847%? Comment below! The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Source: The Hill, Washington Post, AlternetRead more
by Nino Leitner | 20th February 2016
Production Insights is a new irregular cinema5D series, highlighting actual paid productions on which modern camera and production gear was used. We are talking about real-world issue-solving on real-world sets with real-world clients. As a director of photography, there aren’t many chances in the TV world to help shape an entirely new program and start something from scratch. All too often, we have to pick up where others left off, or reiterate the same style or concept repeatedly. TV is hardly a medium of innovation these days, at least in the field of news and reporting. Narrative fiction is a whole different story altogether. Around eighteen months ago, private TV channel ATV asked me to come aboard a new politics talk show concept in Austria. The show, “Klartext”, roughly translates as “frankly spoken” and is the brainchild of presenter Martin Thür. Martin and director Christoph Woska wanted to try something different and innovative. Most politics talk shows on TV, whether at home in Austria or abroad, are shot in the same studio location time and again. They are often roundtable formats, meaning you have a bunch of people with massively different viewpoints on any given matter sitting at one table. All too often resulting in a blur of blabber for the viewers at home, as a moderator tries to prevent their guests from talking over each other. As we all know, it’s impossible to understand a word said on TV if people talk over each other. It’s annoying to watch and a major cause of frustration whilst watching political debates on TV. Here’s one episode from season 2, dealing with jihadists in Europe. Unfortunately the video quality on the ATV website isn’t great, so I embedded one of the individual interviews from Klartext YouTube channel (just not the full episodes). And apologies, the series is in German only: Martin wanted to switch to a one-to-one format, shot on location – each interview in a different setting, often having three people interviewed in individual locations per twenty-five-minute show. This gives the show a unique touch, as the location can change so that it is related to the interviewee and or interview topic. In fact, Klartext has built constant change of scenery into its format, which fundamentally influences the scope of any given interview. Martin specifically approached me because of my experience with larger format interchangeable lens cameras and my focus on delivering a higher end “film look” to the projects that I handle. Their typical TV cameras are the classical broadcast ENG shoulder cameras, which we all know deliver the typical “newsy look”. Of course, this is something I never specialized in or was particularly interested in shooting. Now, realizing a concept like this in a tight TV type budget and under time pressure for a weekly half-hour show wasn’t an easy task. Usually, we have to shoot at least two interviews in one shooting day – sometimes far apart geographically – which makes planning the shoot hard for the production people. Occasionally, the show must be edited and go on air on the same day. This happens quite regularly if there is an election date imminent, like in recent shows for the Vienna election, with the lead candidates for each party. 4 Cameras, 3 different types, external recorders for DNxHD Due to the tight budget and shooting days that are “all over the place”, I had to go with camera setups that would be available on short notice. They also had to be replaced relatively easily, if other jobs coincided with Klartext shoots where one of my cameras was needed, for example. In total there are usually four cameras, three of them manned (with the exception of “special” episodes with more or fewer cameras, which I’ll speak more about below). The two close-ups (of the interviewed politician and of presenter Martin Thür) are shot with a Sony FS7 and a Canon C300. There is a “moving” Sony A7s (either on a dolly, a small jib arm, or a Freefly MoVi M5, depending on the location and requirements of each individual interview), and a second unmanned A7s that shoots a static fall-back wide shot. Why all these different cameras? As mentioned above, a very practical reason: because I own them and have them available at most times. Using multiple cameras also allows us to find a rental at short notice, rather than having to look for one specific model. Unfortunately, all of the cameras need to record 1080 50i, as this is a technical requirement of the TV channel ATV for their own productions. I would prefer to shoot in 25p simply to get rid of the “newsy” movement that 50i injects into the production, but it’s currently not possible and we have to live with it. Because of the fast turn-around that is required for the show (the show sometimes airs on the night of the shooting day) and the fact that we can’t shoot “direct to tape” because the interviews are shortened in the edit, we have to deliver in the editing format DNxHD straight from the cameras in order for the editor to ingest all the footage straight into AVID after we wrap. Shooting a special episode in Athens, Greece, following their near-collapse of their economy in summer 2015. For this, we are using various external Atomos recorders, among them the Shogun and Ninja Assassin, which can also serve as small preview monitors. We label all of the SSDs with camera names, so the editor knows right away which camera is which when transferring the footage. All the cameras still record internally for backup, and the two main cameras get fed the two audio tracks from the audio recordist’s mixer into their two XLR ports simultaneously. This is another way of having a backup of the audio recording, in case there is a problem on one of the cameras. External recorders never come without problems. If I had a choice, I would not use them. The problems lie not so much with the recorders themselves, but with the unreliability of HDMI wires and connectors. HDMI is terrible and was never intended as a professional standard, yet cameras like the Sony a7S and many others only have HDMI as a video output – and even HDMI micro. If you think that normal HDMI is bad, HDMI micro truly is the devil. The connectors get loose or break easily and you absolutely NEED to find a way to make the connector more reliable. This is one of the biggest reasons to use a camera cage (click here to read our extensive Sony a7S cage review or here the new Sony a7S II cage review) or something similar. My preferred solution is the LOCKCIRCLE LockPort a7M2 Kit, which transforms micro HDMI into a proper HDMI port, which is much more reliable. For me, this is an absolute must-have for any user of Sony a7 series cameras (and many other small cameras, such as the GH4 which come with the dreadful micro HDMI connector). The LOCKCIRCLE Lockport a7M2 Kit on a Kessler Crane Pocket Jib Traveler …. the only way to make an external recorder / preview monitor work with Micro HDMI Unfortunately, the Lockport device is incompatible with most cages except for the LOCKCIRCLE Birdcage. It’s a very basic but useful cage which gives you mounting options for things like external recorders. Convergent Design recently started shipping their Apollo 4-channel video recorder (you’ll find our news post explaining the device here), which is a variety of their popular Odyssey 7Q+ recorder (which we have reviewed here). A paid upgrade is available to get the Apollo functionality. I’m looking into switching the production to using the Apollo recorder to record all four video sources simultaneously into one device, instead of four Atomos recorders. However, we first have to wait for the DNxHD update to be released for the Apollo, plus convert one of the two HDMI signals from the two a7S cameras to SDI, because the Apollo only comes with one HDMI-in (and four SDI-in). I will review the Convergent Design Apollo as soon as possible on one of our shoots for season 4 of Klartext. Matching cameras This definitely is an odd mix of two different cameras, but we have figured out a way to make it work – it admittedly took a while and on some episodes we didn’t manage a 100% even look that we were happy with after. There was a lot of trial and error in the beginning. It’s understandable, though, as you don’t always get everything right first-time on fast turnaround TV content. Matching different camera brands and models … hard to do, but not impossible. We have wrapped season 3 of the show in November, where we have used a camera color settings and color grading workflow which are feasible for the fast turnaround that the show requires, with virtually no time for color grading in post-production. Together with a colorist, we ran a series of color tests on each camera and figured out picture profiles for each camera model that would make them look as close as possible, using DaVinci Resolve and Avid Media Composer. For the fine-tuning, our colorist created LUT presets that could be easily applied to the Avid editing workflow at the channel headquarters where they are editing the show. Inside a conference room in the Austrian Parliament Lighting In most cases, our lighting setup needs to be as simple as it is effective. We generally shoot daylight (5600K) in 95% of all locations. My gaffer, Bernhard Rieber, uses different sizes of HMI’s with chimeras in front for the two crossed-out key lights, and most of the time we go for a slightly harder HMI as a kicker. Of course, lighting is the one area where I often wish we had more time for refinement, however, this is exactly where the circumstances and turnaround time of a TV shoot simply do not allow us to “go as crazy” as on a corporate, commercial or narrative shoot. Style Together with director Christoph Woska, we decided from the beginning that in addition the “special film look” that we figured out, we wanted to create a high production value with the limited resources we have available. We consciously decided to “see the set” every now and then. We didn’t want to pretend that there was nothing going on behind the scenes of these interviews, quite the contrary – being a news-type report program, we want the audience to be aware of the artificial environment that is created – simply by putting cameras up and choosing angles and perspectives carefully. That is a departure from a film-type look that is immediately associated with narrative fiction because of our viewing habits. While we wanted the film look, the film feeling of “fakeness” wasn’t the intention, which is why we are grounding the audience in reality by showing them the surroundings of the set. Special episodes – in Part 2: In part two of this post, I will write about some special episodes that required specific setups to the production and camera setups. Specifically, I will write about an episode in which we accompanied Syrian refugees across the Serbian-Hungarian border, with XLR audio transmitters recording straight into two Sony a7S cameras. The challenge was to stay undercover and embedded with the refugees without attracting too much attention to us. A series of other special episodes were the candidates for the Vienna elections in late 2015, shot with even 5 cameras, one of them a C300 on a large crane, plus utilizing a large TableConnect multitouch device for Martin to present the candidates with facts during the discussion. Another special episode includes the Paris Attacks episode, recorded only days after the terrible terror attacks in Paris in late 2015. On short notice we managed to organize a local team to man the additional cameras. More about all that (including embedded episodes) in the next part of this series.Read more
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