Film Short: Configuring a 21st Century Camera Crew

Published On April 21, 2010 | By admin | 3D, film, film production, filmmaking, television

Lewis Rothenberg, Andy Romanoff, Steven Poster, Jason Clark, Rodney Charters and David Geffner

One of the most interesting panel discussions I attended last week at NAB was The Twenty-First Century Camera Crew and How it Works, which was produced in Association with the International Cinematographers Guild.  David Geffner, The Executive Editor of ICG Magazine moderated the panel made up of Lewis Rothenberg, Digital Imaging Technician, TNS Productions, Inc.; Andy Romanoff, Technical Marketing and Strategy Executive, Panavision; Steven Poster, President, ICG, Director of Photography, International Cinematographers Guild; Jason Clark, Producer, Ways & Means Productions; and Rodney Charters, who spent nine years as the Director of Photography on the hit Fox Television show “24″.

Much was discussed about how to design a digital camera crew that can meet the working style of the director and cinematographer while handling  production pipeline needs,  the demand for digital imaging technicians, workflow options and the new game changers in filmmaking.  There are so many great detiails, that I decided to write about part of the conversation in this piece and then follow up with more of it  in my next blog post.

Lewis Rothenberg began his career as a video engineer and has over  30 years of experience in the industry.  He was one of the first to advocate having DITs (Digital Imaging Technicians) on television and film crews and explains his position clearly.  ”I pride myself on the fact that I feel my job is to make certain that the cinematographer that I work for, has his vision end up on screen, and it starts in preproduction with conversations about what it is he’s looking to do.  So, we make determinations on what kind of equipment we want to use, what kind of crew we’re going to be able to have, what the workflow’s going to be.   I also feel it’s incumbent on the DIT to understand post production.”

One of the reasons Lewis believes this is because many decisions made nowadays in production can easily effect post production and because of this post production can feel like they’re the ones “driving the machine”.  Rothenberg, however, takes issue with this train of thought and believes that production should be the guiding force, although he does concede that what they want is important.  Lewis feels that knowing the differences and being able to advise the Director of Photography as to which requests make sense and which ones should be turned down is a key duty for a DIT.

 ”That’s the first role that I think is important.  On set I’m very, very fortunate.  I’ve worked with Directors of Photography, who realize my vast background in different disciplines of this industry and treat me as a collaborator.  It’s why I do the job because I still get that creative satisfaction from it, so I work very, very closely with my Directors of Photography.  It’s not just about technical.  They respect my opinion on aesthetics.  We talk about a lot of things.  I believe very, very strongly in protocol,” he explained.

One thing Lewis tries to avoid is wasting time.  “It’s very, very important, as the DIT, I like to talk to all members of the camera crew.  A lot of times I’m the DP’s first call, so I have a lot of input on who is in the camera crew.  It doesn’t happen on all crews that way.  Rothenberg believes his good fortune in this area comes from the type of relationships he’s been able to develop with the DPs he’s worked with. 

One drawback for DITs is that they can be in a tenuous position where they’re often told they aren’t needed and even crew members have said they’re not wanted, which can be tough to handle.  The need for people with his skill set might be changing, however, with the growing interest in 3D.   ”I think with 3D there is enough technical things going on that nobody’s going to be stupid enough to try to do it without a DIT,” he commented.

The role of 3D came up quite a bit during the panel discussion and one aspect mentioned was the need for training camera crews.  Steven Poster, who co-chairs a technology committee he helped form, has been working on a way to train members in the language of three dimensions for about three years.  

Steven said, “Fortunately, not so long ago I was approached by Sony Studios and they said ‘we want to create a 3D technology center and we want you and your people to be involved in training, so that we can make sure that the 3D is done well all over the world.’  A gift.” 

He considers this a tremendous gift because it had been eluding them how to find a way to obtain the rigs, get people together for training and to decide what they were going to teach them.  Two of Steven’s colleagues sat down with some of the people from Sony and developed a curriculum for a three day course, one day in the classroom and two days on set.

Poster told us, “Sony gave us the stage and the lighting equipment and 2 sets to actually do hands on training.  I pulled rank and took the class the first week because I wanted to see what it was all about.   I had a very interesting experience because I’m doing this conversion from 2D to 3D, which is really different in a lot of ways, but after the three days of training that I took, I went in to see my first reel of 3D conversion.”  Steve said it was like being in a country where you don’t understand a word of the language and then a switch changes and suddenly you can speak the language.  “I had that experience after the training.  I thought I knew a lot about 3D, but what I got from the training was actually being able to speak the language.  It’s a much more complicated issue,” he continued.  Shooting 3D can be difficult because you can’t shoot the same way you do a 2D moie.  It’s different styles and uses different language to tell the story.  “The Director of Photography and the Director are talking to a stereographer, which is another person who needs to develop the concept of the 3D and follow through with it all the way from the beginning to the end of the movie.  There’s also another person necessary, which is under our jurisdiction and that’s the rig technician,” he added.

 The rigs used in 3D are very complicated  and so is aligning them and ensuring that they’re working all day, which also falls under their management. “There are dual labor divisions that nobody is arguing about because they’re necessary to accomplish the job.  Stereo’s a different language and it’s an interesting prospect, the idea between shooting 3D and converting to 3D.  It’s the big topic of the week and has been for awhile.  I’ll tell you this right now.  I know in my heart what we’re going to end up in the future is, we’re going to end up with a hybrid system.  They’re going to go out to make the movie and some of the shots will be shot in 3D with two cameras and some of the shots will be converted and you’ll do the best for each.  It’s not going to be a black and white world, unfortunately, because I love black and white.  It’s going to be a hybrid world that we live in and everybody’s going to need to understand the language of 3D,” he finished.

In the next installment I’ll have comments about cameras, such as the Canon 5D, and other aspects of filmmaking from Jason Clark, Rodney Chartners, Andy Romanoff and a surprise guest as well.

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